Finding meaning in still life drawing. When it comes to still life object designs, sometimes a bowl is just a bowl, a vase is just a vase, and a pear is just a pear. But in the work of many artists, each object has a meaning apart from the visual interest it provides, a sense that may be obvious to a demanding viewer or that no one but the artist can know. John Rise, a painter, and cartoonist from Savannah, Georgia, see still life as an opportunity to explore everything from personal memories to national tragedies. In the large graphite drawings of him, everything has a meaning: the objects themselves, their arrangement, and even small details that at first can only be read as errant signs.

A growing fascination

Like many artists, Rise first came to this topic out of practical necessity. For many years he has worked in the art supplies industry, producing and selling easels and stretchers. Business went well, but he consumed most of his time, and study sessions were few. I thought starting a business would allow me to be an artist, but it was the other way around. Drawing landscapes was out of the question, as companies consumed their daytime hours. The numbers were precise since he could not program a model regularly. The most natural thing I could do was begin drawing objects, and I had to choose objects that would not be damaged or degraded.

It didn’t Rise to develop a deep fascination with the genre and its history. As my business grew, it offered me the opportunity to travel. Most of my clients were in the big cities on the coast, and when I was there, I always took the time to go to museums and see their collections of paintings. When looking at a large image, I find myself looking at the corner of a table or things scattered on the floor. I saw it as more interesting than the rest of the image. I became more interested in still life and came to admire the Dutch and Spanish masters. The suspect bogged down, with several decades of still life drawings to show for it.

Objects and intrigues

still life drawing

Rise arrangements range from seemingly simple assortments of some isolated objects, as in Coil, to elaborate collections. Generally, he eschews frequently used, picturesque still life objects (glass bottles, copper teapots, silver trays) in favor of less glamorous tools, machines, and artificial debris fragments. The artist admits a long fascination with the appearance of such objects. When I was making trestles, I was always surrounded by machinery and industrial parts. And long before that, I used to go to the sawmills with my father, with large machinery produced in the 1940s. There are so many exciting ways to look at it.

Personal and universal stories

Many of Rising’s symbolism tells a unique report. Others serve as a means to explore universal narratives. Sometimes a drawing does both. Information, for example, has an autobiographical origin while documenting a broader cultural change. The artists inspired the design in 2005. Rise and his wife, Karen, traveled across the country from New Mexico. When they arrived, they had to call their real estate agent to collect the key to their new home. But since none of them had a cell phone, they unsuccessfully drove to their new hometown searching for a public telephone. Public tee phones had disappeared from the landscape, and I wouldn’t say I liked them. I never needed to use them. I thought I had to document that cultural change. These types of phones are part of our panorama.

Public and private

An even more accurate sense of the passage of time comes from the visible graffiti on the back tile wall, which Rise and his wife custom-made for the drawing. The graffiti is a record of the things that happened while he was drawing, explains Rise. Some annotations document the news of the day: the abdication of the Pope, the death of musician Dave Brubeck. Other notes are personal, like the one marking Karen’s anniversary. She got a few mad at me for making everyone remember how old she was that year.

Many of Rising’s designs share this duality, speaking of events in public and private spheres. In the early 2000s, Rise’s father died shortly after the September 11 attacks. In response to these two significant losses, Rise has produced a series of cheetah drawing, including Flight of Wait that use objects to meditate on events symbolically. The group was caused by the 19th-century trompe l’oeil painter John Peto, who previously used still life to recount the deaths of his father and Abraham Lincoln, intertwined personal and national losses.

Go with the graphite

The Rise has enjoyed a lifelong fascination with art supplies, which comes as no surprise to someone who once made a living as an easel maker. For his finished designs, he often prefers the simple and classic combination of graphite and white paper. My use of graphite dates back to Robert Conine, my old drawing teacher. With a penciling that still amazed me: he was super imping with penciled pencils of different hardness that made the covers of his drawings beautiful. So I grew excited about graphite as a universal, applicable. It can transform into something very special. What several people can do with that machine? 

Using graphite for large-scale stained drawings offers some challenges, which the expert highly appreciates. There is a certain unforgiveness in graphite that I find intriguing. If you make a blunder, you can remove most of the evidence, depending on the work and the hardness of the tool, but it will print your mistakes and your successes on your image.

A new medium

Lately, Rise has been experimenting with new tools, like using a watercolor brush as the primary tool. I was given an online watercolor brush made by Escoda that produces an excellent tip. I’ve always been intrigued by branding and this brush offered a very unusual watercolor mark. I am not a traditional watercolorist, so I started drawing with watercolor. I use it like a pen, except it’s a paintbrush. 

The different properties of Rising’s new medium determine much of the appearance of the finished work, a phenomenon that the artist enjoys dealing with. Sometimes it becomes a challenge for me to control the medium rather than the medium that contains. Explaining the truth in the drawing contrasts your will with the will of the medium. Sometimes the element wins, sometimes you win, but the issue is always apparent on the covering of the design. It opens doors you never would have foreseen, and enthusiastic observers will see and appreciate this fight for what it is.

Also Read: Art Studio As A Theme


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