What are some of the differences between copying and referencing other artists’ artworks?
To coincide with an exhibition of my drawings presently being shown at the
, this discussion focuses on
my drawing practice and the relationship between copying, translating and
interpreting artefacts and prints by other artists. James Cook University
If there is truth to the view that an artist’s intention for creating artworks is the keystone to his or her art practice, then I had better offer an overview of my aim for this exhibition. Broadly, the primary goal is to create a visual dialogue based on comparison between my perception of featured subjects and other artists’ perceptions of the same subjects. By this I mean that I like to reflect upon the art practices of other artists (like Piranesi discussed in the earlier post, Artefacts and Meaning), and to see points of difference and congruence between their approach and my own. For example, my drawing, Referencing Jacque (shown below), features the same subject as Charles Emile Jacque’s (1813–94) etching, Mendiant (also shown below), but there are noticeable conceptual and physical differences between both artworks. Whereas Jacque’s print depicts a beggar drawn with confident and quickly laid marks suggesting that the artist was looking directly at the subject, my drawing is clearly a studio-based image constructed over time though a layering of marks, colours and many adjustments. Beyond the pictorial differences, conceptually, Jacque’s unconstrained candour in his rendering of the beggar presents a slice of reality—arguably so authentic a representation that this print could be seen as an iconic representation of a historically fading rural life in nineteenth century France. My drawing, on the other hand, is far from a copy of Jacque’s vision. This is a drawing about a play with light and shade in which soft French light is substituted with stronger and warmer light of the tropics. In short, both Jacque and my images feature the same subject but there is a large gap in the meanings expressed.
In terms of conceptual focus, Referencing Millet (shown below) shares the same exploratory base as the last drawing in that it is also a practical experiment examining how patterns of light and shade can connote differences between
and the tropics. Here, the referencing of Jean-Francois Millet’s etching, Peasant Returning from the Manure Heap
(also shown below) introduces changes to the lighting arrangement resulting
from an unexpected event. One morning, when contemplating the previous night’s
adjustments to the drawing, I noticed light beaming through shutters onto the
middle-left of the paper and recognised that the shadows cast by the shutters
added the shadow pattern needed. Although such an adjustment may seem minmal,
the process of making each alteration to Millet's original image was guided by
small models made for the purpose of study (see further below). France
Jean-Francois Millet (1814–75)
Peasant Returning from the Manure Heap, 1855–56
(left) plaster model for Referencing Jacque
(right) plaster model for Referencing Millet
Although the above drawings acknowledge their source images reasonably closely the pictorial and conceptual gap between the referenced and referencing artwork can considerable. In Referencing Le Clerc (shown below), for instance, the focus is again on adjusting the lighting of the original print (also shown below) to match my perception of light in the dry tropics, but this drawing goes further. Here, Le Clerc’s figure allegory has been erased and replaced with an image that I see as identifying with George Seddon’s interesting comment that “Australian landscapes are seamless. They rarely compose so neatly into identifiable ‘scenes’” (see Seddon, George 1997, Landsprints: Reflections on Place and Landscape,
Cambridge University Press, p. 138). Cambridge
Of course, the idea of referencing other artist’s practice is not uncommon. In fact there is a tradition of reproducing other artists’ images stretching back to the Renaissance with the Weirix brothers, Hendrick Goltzius and Marcantonio Raimondi amongst many others who translated their peers’ paintings, sculptures and drawings into prints. This tradition culminated with the reproductive engravers of the nineteenth century who offered the only alternative for recording artwork for dissemination in books and folios before the advent of photogravure.
From a personal standpoint, there is a distinct difference between reproductive illustrations intended to be accurate representations of a subject and translations or interpretative illustrations intended to reveal an artist’s perception of a subject. With the former type of illustration the goal is about a object replication of the subject at least with regard to some of the more obvious features of the subject whereas the latter involves subjective transcribing of the subject into a new vision of it.
In the sample of drawings shown below, the process is not so much copying plaster casts taken from early sculptures as a process of translating three-dimensional form into the two-dimensions of a drawing. There is more to the process, however, than measured drawing and tonal rendering of form. Each drawing references another artist but the drawing itself is not a representation of another artist’s practice but rather a conceptual shifting of meanings that personalises it as my own practice.