Pushing Graphite

These drawings are selected from a series of works focused on the idea of pushing graphite. They are executed on gessoed Arches Cover with graphite (i.e., pencil, stick, powder, and wash). Many include acrylic texturing and some also incorporate pearl white and antique silver powdered pigments. Around sixty of the drawings are sized at 22” x 22”, and the remaining hundred or so are sized at 7” x 7”.

A Drive through New Mexico
The Pushing Graphite drawings were inspired by a handful of sketches done en route during a drive through New Mexico. This was on a return trip to Tucson after visiting galleries in Santa Fe. Previously, on the first leg of the trip, we had been reading aloud Willa Cather’s Death Comes to the Archbishop when we passed beneath a string of Air Force F117A Nighthawks in training. The juxtaposition of past and present in the context of the majestic New Mexico landscape made an impression that lingers even still, several months later. Later, on the return trip, speeding through the vast landscape under its immense blue sky, listening to the pounding rhythms of electronic music over loud car sounds, and pondering the confluence of New Mexico’s geography, history, science, and culture, I was seized with the desire to draw.

More precisely, I wanted to make marks – to do so automatically, letting only the mood guide me in expectation of the emergence of something resembling the grandeur of the experience enveloping me. So there I was sketching from the passenger seat, cruising at 85 MPH along Interstate Highway 25 between Albuquerque and Hatch. The shifting horizons, evolving cloud patterns, and passing landscapes were my points of reference, but I wanted to reflect upon them in terms of the movement, time, energy, and thought that was shaping the experience. Above all, I wanted them to reflect the spirit of where I was, non-literally, in way that intertwined what I saw, how I felt, what I knew, and magically, even what I didn’t know about the place. Only a few of these sketches were done, but their energy, approach and intent provided the much of the foundation for what I was to do when I returned to the studio.

The graphite pencil is one of the most common tools of modern society. Some time ago, it occurred to me that I had never truly appreciated the unique character of this extraordinary, soft, steel grey medium. On of the intentions underlying the Pushing Graphite series was to explore the limits of this hexagonally crystallized allotrope of carbon as a drawing medium. To this end, I pushed graphite through its uses in hard to soft pencils, graphite sticks, graphite powder, and gum washes. I also kept a mind open to its wide array of uses beyond drawing and writing (e.g., lubricants, electrodes, sporting goods, crucibles, and rocket nozzles), not to mention those of its elemental base, carbon. In other words, the process of drawing with graphite in Pushing Graphite is intertwined with the metaphorical implications arising from its other uses. Themes like electricity, atomic energy, weaponry, lead, paint, and ash are layered within the concepts underlying these drawings.

The Pushing Graphite drawings are done spontaneously. Each drawing usually begins as an improvisation to music – rhythmic, automatic scribbling, more or less. It continues in this vein until it begins to coalesce into something more tangible – something that resonates with the imagination as though it were almost recognizable, as from a distant memory or forgotten dream.

The drawings are the offspring of a marriage between chance and control. Relying heavily on accidents and allowing them to evolve into whatever they will be. Chance is my portal – the access to things I intuit but not comprehend, the link to the physical laws that govern our existence, and the archetypal threads that interweave our dreams. My role is to develop the strategies for exploiting chance without undermining it. Other, more intuitive decisions, include deciding what types of marks to use, where to employ them, when to push forward, and when to stop. Like in a dance, knowing when to lead and when to follow is critical.