Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Sumer Is Icumen In

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in Backyard. Ballpoint Pen Sketch from memory by Ken Januski.

The confluence of the startling revelation that it is already mid-July, with summer half over, and my reading of The History of Western Music, 7th Edition, at least 75% of which is beyond me brought Sumer Is Icumen In to mind.

I first heard of it in my first college level English literature survey as I recall. Weird! And old, very old! It was mentioned in The History of Western Music as a very early example of English polyphony. I'm always pleasantly surprised to see that some parts of human experience, like the return of summer, have been celebrated for centuries, in this case almost eight centuries. You can find various sung versions of it with a quick web search. Here is one version by  the Lumina Vocal Ensemble. Unfortunately there is an ad to start it so you might want to quickly skip by it.

I enjoy the music, but also the notion that there is much to look forward to and enjoy in summer. We watch PBS Newshour  most nights and I'm always struck by the fact that one bad piece of news is always followed by one with worse news, one seemingly insoluble problem followed by another. It's nice to be reminded that there is also something enjoyable going on in the world.

In any case this is all a bit of a pretext for showing these two sketches from memory of two Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in our backyard over the last few days. We have no feeders but they feed on Monarda, 'Alabama Crimson' Honeysuckle, and just about every other flowering plant. And they are probably the most visible avian sign of summer.

Since my last few works shown here have been based on photos I wanted to get back to something in which photos played no part at all. The bottom sketch was done this morning about 24 hours after seeing this hummingbird. The reason that I can make a sketch from memory is that I've trained myself to spend a lot of time looking at birds. So when I go to sketch them from memory, even though I don't have much of a mental image in mind when I start, I find that as soon as I put pen or pencil to paper the memory seems to return guiding me as I draw. It's always a pleasant surprise.

The top drawing was interesting, at least to me, because I was reading outside when I turned my head to the left and saw a hummingbird less than two feet away. What was most interesting was that he seemed to have four wings, like a dragonfly or many other insects. Of course he didn't. But somehow the fast movement of his wings created that illusion. So this sketch tries to capture that.

In writing and thinking about artists such as Cezanne, Winslow Homer and others I've noted some of the things that strike me about their work. But one thing I think that I don't mention all that often is something that is unique I think to animal art and some art based on humans, e.g. Rembrandt's sketches. That is the sense of animation. So much wildlife art lacks it. This is no surprise since so much of it is based on photos. But birds and other animals move, they put some weight here and some there, they stretch this way and that. I think that capturing this can be one of the most enjoyable aspects of realistic art.

But today it doesn't seem very important in the art world. Animation has been left to the film animators. That's good for them but bad for art.

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