I share Roberta Smith's views about the special quality of drawing:
Drawings are the most overtly delectable of all art forms...Drawings in general are like love letters. Personal in touch and feeling, physically delicate, they reflect the artist's gifts, goals and influences in the most intimate terms... [They are] a direct extension of an artist's signature and very nervous system.Some drawings turn out to be more intimate than others. Take for example the secret drawings of Malcolm McKesson (1909 - 1999).
McKesson was not a professional artist. Heir to a pharmaceutical company fortune, he grew up with privileges and attended the best private schools. But he was a fragile soul and had a hard time surviving in the business world. At a debutante party he met Madelaine Mason, a strong willed poet. He married her and gradually withdrew from society to devote himself to a life as her full time servant.
|"I am Chastened."|
McKesson said he was in awe of the "the strength and wisdom of the female" and wished he could be a woman, if "only for a day."
McKesson and Madelaine were married for 48 years before she passed away. During that time, nobody knew much about their private life together. We would still know nothing today if McKesson had not drawn thousands of pictures about their relationship.
McKesson wrote and illustrated a little manuscript entitled Matriarchy: Freedom in Bondage. Wiki summarizes the plot as follows:
Matriarchy follows the sexual transformation of Harvard undergraduate Gerald Graham, who willingly subjects himself to the authority of the stern Lady Gladys. She teaches him to "curb his manly nature" by forcing him to take on the role and costume of a lady's maid named Rose. The house is a matriarchy because, as Lady Gladys explains, "in this house all things feminine are blessed, all things masculine are bound in slavery."
. . . .
Gerald's first transformation into Rose is described thus: "From a closet she removed some padded silken forms. These were strapped tightly to his shoulders and waist, adding a more feminine shape to his thighs, breasts and buttocks. In this upholstery Rose was indeed a proper woman prepared to assume the black dress, the slip and the elegant apron of a serving maid."
Measured by traditional standards, McKesson's amateurish pictures may not appear to be great drawing. We don't see sensitive lines or decisive, telling strokes; there is no real economy or vigor here. Instead, these pictures are comprised of thousands of worried little circles, overlapping and repetitive, turning around and around on themselves.
In this sense, they are the "direct extension of an artist's... very nervous system" that Roberta Smith described. To the extent that McKesson was cringing and dithering, those characteristics are embodied in his line. To the extent he was obsessive, that too shows up in these densely inked pictures where McKesson went back over his images again and again in little circles. We are witnessing drawing as an extension of the sex act.
Drawings need not be skillful to have merit. I think these drawings do a marvelous job of portraying McKesson's personality. You can almost smell the rooms where these scenes took place, with heavy curtains drawn.
For me, the following drawing is easily as compelling as anything R. Crumb ever did. It gains power from an ambiguity that R. Crumb lacks.
|I love that immense leg coming in from the right|