Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Flamenco Sketches


We are back, my friends! Back from our travels, our adventures, our eye-opening experiences. Oh, it is always so fascinating to go to another country. Even going to Canada is fascinating (I remember once going over to Windsor and being fascinated by the whole new array of snack ketchup-flavored Ringolos!). But Spain felt somehow even more exotic than Canada, if you can imagine. Especially as we headed south from Barcelona and went down to Andalucia.

To give you a brief and probably inaccurate history lesson*, most of southern Spain was once occupied by the Moors, who were Muslims that came up from Africa (southern Spain is just a hop-skip-and-a-jump from Morocco, after all). And with thanks to the mighty Pyrenees mountain range that separates Spain from France, much of Spain, especially the south, was sealed off from the rest of Europe for a very long time--including the dark ages. So while the rest of the people in Europe were knocking two rocks together for luck and eating their left foot for sustenance, Spain flourished under Moorish rule, building amazingly grand palaces, and encouraging intellect in the city centers like Cordoba and Granada, with Jews and Muslims and Christians all coming together to share their latest learnings in grand libraries (until the Christians decided to take it all for themselves in the 13th century, which paved the way for that whole crusade thing). But despite the reconquista, a lot of the cultural traditions and the architecture from that time can still be seen today. And because Spaniards were so shut off from the rest of the world for, you know, a few centuries, all sorts of strange traditions were born which are still practiced today. Two of those traditions are bull-fighting and flamenco. And because I am not so big on blood sports, Robb and I decided to go see some flamenco in Sevilla.
The thing is this: flamenco is absolutely a living and breathing traditional art form, and if you walk down certain streets at certain times of night, you can see glimmers of dancing, you can hear the hands clapping, and not-shy voices burst into song. But if you want to see a show--like with the long ruffled dresses and the castanets and the whole nine yards--you have to go to one of the places in your guidebook. Which is how we wound up sitting elbow to elbow next to a tour group from Japan, drinking kool-aid flavored sangria. But the good news is that the performers were phenomenal.

About 30 minutes into the show, I went to jot down a thought I kept having about symmetry in my journal (more on that later), and then for some reason, I started sketching what I saw on stage. Robb and I kind of giggled at my line drawings and so I handed the book and the pen over to him.
When I looked over at what he drew, I almost snorted sangria out of my nose. His rendering of this poor, lovely singer on stage looked not unlike the Crypt Keeper. 

He handed the book back to me.
Now, in my professional art training (i.e., one semester of basic drawing skills at community college 15 years ago), I really grew to like the type of sketching where you look at the object, not at your hands, and you just let the pen move as your brain is seeing it. What you wind up with on paper is never ever actually what you are seeing, but you do manage to achieve all sorts of curves and expressions that actually do match the object--much better, in fact, than if you tried to drawn them exactly. And sometimes you wind up drawing something that looks like what a drunk Picasso at age 9 might have produced. (I like to imagine that the woman's right breast, above, is not sagging, but has "movement.")
Robb's style is much more precise (see isn't this fun?). See how this man's guitar is in proportion to his limbs? Well done! I was also very impressed by how he captured the player's man-bun on top of his head.
My guitar player, however, was a little less proportional. Why he needed to have such a large head and such tiny legs, I am not quite sure. But he makes a nice match for Robb's passionate, twirling senorita.
And I finished with this drawing, knowing when it was time to leave well enough alone. I looked down after I finished her skirt and thought, well now that's actually kind of elegant. And then I put the pen away and enjoyed the rest of the show.

It was such a strange thing for us to do...go to a live performance and sketch throughout. But I must say, it was actually an amazing way to appreciate what was happening on stage. I find that if I just keep my eyes on the stage during performances, I sometimes start to tune out...all of those hand-claps and the heels clacking a million miles a minute, it all starts to sound the same if you aren't careful. But somehow having a pen in hand occupies a corner of your brain that allows you to really hear, to really appreciate the shape, the movement, the curves, the flow.

OK, but really, why did Robb and I start sketching during a flamenco performance? 

I think that, perhaps, we were inspired by our surroundings. What I will remember most from this trip is that there was art everywhere. Or what I call art. Which reminds me, this is what I wanted to say about symmetry. As humans, we can't get enough of it. Our eyes love geometry and repeated shapes. But where true artistry seems to come into play is when the symmetry is flourished. A flamenco dancer's even micro-stomps are not just a series of even beats--they are accented by half-time hand claps, and the rest of the space is filled in by the finger picks of the acoustic guitar. Meanwhile, on the walls of the Alhambra, ancient plaster walls were stamped over and over and over again with a swirling floral design, leaving an impression that is still there 600 years later. Stand back and it seems random. Look close, and you can see where the design begins and ends. As long as we can detect the steady pulse, it is no longer chaos and we can follow the path of the artist. We can understand the creation, and sometimes even the person behind the creation. And that is what I learned about art in Spain.

And because I firmly believe in the practice of showing, not just telling, here are some photos of some of the prettiest examples of artistic symmetry I saw in Spain.
Tiles on the walls of the Alhambra, a Moorish Palace built in the 13th century.

Plaster relief in the Alhambra, created using molds.

Original flooring in the Alhambra. (BTW, on these very floors, Columbus asked Isabel and Ferdinand for a little cash to go to the New World.)

Star shapes cut from the ceiling. Highly impractical, but very beautiful.

A newer palace at the Alhambra, it wraps around in a perfect donut.

Lovely scalloped ceilings in the Mezquita of Cordoba.

More scallops in the Mezquita.

Newly planted olive trees, as far as the eye can see.

And perhaps my favorite artwork of all--this sketch on a blackboard at a bar, just some person with chalk making the most perfect matador and bull I could ever imagine. Oh, to be so gifted...

*Note that everything I stated in this blog post has been learned from museum pamphlets, B&B hosts, and Rick Steves. No facts have been cross-referenced or closely researched, which is to say that nothing here should be used for book reports or when trying to "make a point" at a party.

1 comment:

  1. Two things:

    1) I love the drawings! I actually really love the saggy-boob sketch. And I like the odd, *asymmetrical* mix of your style and Robb's. I think you should frame them.

    2) I totally appreciate the beauty of symmetry, but sometimes that art makes me a little...crazy. Like, it triggers some OCD impulse in me and makes my head spin. I have to keep following the neat lines, and part of me wants to find the crack in it, the interruption, just so I can stop. Does that make sense? Is that weird? (Yes, it's weird.)