1) Tell us a bit about your background. What do you consider your greatest artistic accomplishment?
I was born in Detroit, MI. but have lived most of my life in Grand Rapids, MI. on the West side of the state. I received my BFA in Illustration with a concentration in painting from Kendall College of Art & Design in Grand Rapids. After freelancing for several years I returned to KCAD to achieve my MFA with a concentration in drawing, where I’m currently an adjunct Professor in the Illustration Department.
I can’t say what my greatest artistic accomplishment has been – I don’t think I’ve created it yet. I may never be able to point to any one piece or body of work and declare, ‘This is my greatest thing’. I will leave that for others to determine. But I am pleased that my drawing has made significant advances in a relatively short period of time. For many years my drawing served as a vehicle for other things; underdrawings for paintings, small compositional sketches in my sketchbook, an occasional portrait study or drawing from life – competent, but very little in the way of evolution, very static in its application, and rarely a vehicle for artistic expression. When I determined to improve my drawing I immersed myself in the study and practice of it. I experimented heavily, explored different drawing materials and surfaces, and took inspiration from artists who used drawing extensively. Most importantly I drew every day, sometimes for hours on end, problem solving and essentially relearning a skill in the hopes of becoming a better artist. At times it was very frustrating, but the practice yielded invaluable experience that eventually led to charcoal becoming my preferred medium of expression.
Figure Study / 18” x 24” / Vine charcoal on paper / 2016
2) In your opinion, what sets charcoal apart from other artistic media?
Every drawing medium has its own unique set of properties, but I’ve found that charcoal embodies the best of the more popular drawing tools. Its versatility can create a range of tonal shifts comparable to graphite or conte’, but smudges and lifts easier than conte’ and gets a significantly darker tone than graphite, from subtly translucent mid-tones to velvety or opaque darks. Its density can render both hard and sensitive lines similar to carbon pencil for those who enjoy a linear or crosshatched finish to their work.
Drawing is an intuitive process for me and I use charcoal like a blunt instrument to create an aggressive form of marks that are rough and often spontaneous in their application. It readily responds to my intent, working as a direct extension of the thoughts flowing from my mind through my arm and into my hand. I don’t experience that in quite the same way with other drawing mediums as I do with charcoal. And I love that it is a messy medium. Nothing makes me happier at the end of a drawing session than to look at my hands and find they are black as soot. I often jokingly tell my students that if they’re not getting messy, they’re not doing it right!
Drawing from Life / 24” x 18” / Vine charcoal on paper / 2016
3) What is the greatest challenge to working with charcoal?
When I begin a drawing I initially have control over the process and the material. Charcoal sometimes has other ideas and will assert itself in ways I hadn’t intended. Quite often I’ll put down a mark that has no business being there but immediately piques my interest. There’s a shift in thinking away from my preconceived narrative, and suddenly I no longer control the drawing but instead react to it and see where it takes me. Sometimes I arrive at a successful destination that reflects my original idea in a new way. Often I end up in a ditch. It’s the reconciliation between material and artistic intent that I find most challenging. I have to be malleable in my approach to charcoal drawing and be respectful of the voice emanating from the surface and the medium.
4) What is one thing you cannot live without in the studio?
My erasers! I have at least five or six going at any time ranging from kneaded to plastic to click erasers, all in various shapes and sizes according to my needs. Much of my art embodies the juxtaposition of unfinished areas with fully realized elements in sharp relief, and my erasers are essential to this technique.
Sketch Head / 18” x 14” / Vine charcoal on paper / 2016
5) What is the strangest response you've ever received for a piece?
At a group show some years ago I was told by a very serious person that a mixed media drawing I had on display was evil. I took it as a compliment that a viewer reacted so intensely to my work. I must have done something right!
The Things I Do / 36” x 42” / Charcoal, sumi ink and acrylic on Mylar / 2012
1) What is the last art show that you saw? What did you take from it?
It wasn’t the most recent show I attended, but my local art museum hosted the traveling exhibit Marks of Genius: 100 Extraordinary Drawings from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in late 2014 – early 2015. There were drawings by a few of my favorite artists like Klimt, Schiele, Van Gogh and Degas, and some by artists I was not familiar with like Norbert Goeneutte and Charles Milcendeau. The most exciting drawing for me was a head and hand study by Kaethe Kollwitz. It depicted an exhausted home worker slumped on a table, and as I stood in front of an original work by my favorite artist I became a bit overwhelmed and choked up a little. I walked away with my hand over my mouth just to stay in control. That’s what I took away from the show: the undeniable power of drawing, its ability to psychologically envelope the viewer in the most subtle of manners, its capacity to convey the most profound ideas using the simplest of tools.
Drawing does all these things in a way quite removed from other visual arts. Painting often uses color, and color is how we see the world. It creates contrast, but also provides the viewer with an extra dimension of emotional recognition. We make familiar associations when we see color and it helps us to ‘know’ a work, e.g. ‘Here is a representational landscape painting of a summer day containing trees with green leaves. Green signifies spring and summer, sun and warmth. I can identify this painting as having a summer setting and it makes me feel good.’ Black and white drawing removes the ‘knowing’ and suggests the viewer address it on different terms. A drawing may take a moment to process since the exclusion of the extra dimension of color can make it harder to readily identify a subject, e.g. ‘This representational still life drawing has some apples in it. At least I think they’re apples. They might be peaches. I can’t tell without inspecting it closer and I’m not sure how I feel about it.’ That’s how drawing pulls you in; it demands that you slow down and take some time with it, get closer to it and sort out for yourself just what you’re looking at and what you think about it. I am by no means declaring the superiority of drawing over painting. For me it’s the comparison of apples and oranges (excuse the pun). One is not better than the other; they’re different mediums with different ways of communicating.
Study for Every Day I Feel the Same I / 18” x 14” / Charcoal and grey pastel on paper / 2016
6) If you could buy any one work of art, what would it be, and why?
That’s a tough one. I would very much like to own a Kaethe Kollwitz drawing, simply because her work resonates with me on a deeply personal level. Her drawing skills place her in a class of her own, and she had the uncanny ability to strip an idea down to the most economical yet expressive forms. Every line and tone is purposeful and brimming with conviction and emotion. When you look at a Kollwitz drawing or print, you get the whole package. Her work has influenced me like no other artist.
Having said that, I’m going to do an about face and state that the one piece of art I would like to own at this moment is a small sketch by Francisco Goya. It appears in his Bordeaux Album G, #54, and was drawn between 1824-1828. It depicts an old man bent with age sporting a wild white mane and beard using two canes to get around. At the top of the page Goya wrote 'Aun Aprendo' ('I'm still learning'). It’s a wonderful little gem of a drawing. Goya would have been between the ages of 78-82 when he drew this in his sketchbook. A lifetime of artistic achievement behind him and he still believed that he had something to learn. Goya...gone for almost two hundred years and still taking us to school…
Figure Study / 18” x 16” / Vine charcoal on paper / 2015
7) What inspires you in the studio?
Each time I begin a drawing I recognize that I get to participate in a ritual that has existed for thousands of years. It’s a fascinating and humbling experience to think that this act of committing thoughts and emotions to a surface with nothing more than a burnt stick of wood (or ground pigment for those of you who paint) has proceeded uninterrupted since the early humans attempted to reconcile both the natural and supernatural world through creative expression. It’s a wonderful legacy to be a part of.
It’s also comforting to be reminded when things go south and I’m having a particularly rough day fighting with my materials and my drawing that I’m experiencing what so many others have before me: the struggle to transform ideas into tangible reality. Art is about creation and communication, and for me the inspiration is the consistent challenge of abstract problem solving, of recording a specific thought or moment in a particular place and time in history. To see more of Damian's work, please visit: www.damiangoidich.com