“All art is illusion” – Interview with Sheila Dick

Posted on 29th June 2022
Life drawing is a form of art which captures the human body and has been around for as long as humans have walked the earth. Life drawing can be dated back to 17,000 BCE from prehistoric cave paintings, and, although they were of a basic depiction, it stands as a part of the art form’s origins. Life drawing through the years hasn’t therefore always used a pencil-to-paper medium as we might think of it today. We see Greek and Roman statues displaying the human form with either fabric draped across the body or without. Artists would often create statues of gods or warriors, with mighty figures and a strong physical form. In many classical artworks depicting the human form, the proportions of the body and the relation to other figures were a reflection of accomplishment or societal stature. For example, Laocoon and His Sons show Laocoon as a much larger figure than his sons, with a muscular form and a snake coiling around him. Whereas if you look at the statues of Aphrodite, her physical form is soft and gentle, without tension in the muscles.

“An emotional response, analysing and exploring through the mark-making”

Life drawing today is not always a straightforward depiction of the model, but an expression of the artist, and we can see in modern-day life drawing how the art form has evolved. I spoke to artist Sheila Dick about the importance and relevance of life drawing today and how she came to choose it as her art form. Sheila studied art at the Goldsmiths University of London and always had an interest in the challenge of the human form and her work has always been conceptual. When studying, the majority of Sheila’s art was done in charcoal with elements of colour. Today, Sheila uses black ink and forms the image through a series of mark-making. Sheila describes mark-making as “an emotional response, analysing and exploring through the mark-making”. Part of the appeal of this art form to Sheila is that it can be done in fast strokes and so she enjoys her models going through numerous quick poses. Glancing back and forth between model and canvas. Sheila will often set the model’s poses, she told me this is because she prefers to work from “a non-passive pose”. This gives the final piece an indefinable charisma, and Sheila describes her finished work as “sculptural”.

Sheila is one of the original members of the Drawn From Life group, which is a collective of accomplished local artists who meet weekly to draw, paint and sketch the human form. The group began in 1997 when a group of art teachers decided to spend Saturday afternoons together creating. When the group formed there were no art clubs locally and the artists wanted to be somewhere without tuition, but rather a space for them to use as a studio. Some of the group members have studios, some do not. Sheila does her artwork only on a Saturday with the Drawn From Life group as she doesn’t have a home studio. All of her artistic focus is poured out in these Saturday sessions. The group is still running today and its members have formed an awareness of each other’s processes, and their sessions together are meditative. Creative work is done in silence and members rarely ask for a glimpse of one another’s work. Sheila has been part of the group since it first formed in 1997 and her work has drifted and changed since she first began.

Now retired from teaching art, Sheila spoke of the importance of life drawing as part of art education. She would often teach an art lesson where the young people would take turns to pose while their peers would create quick sketches. (Of course, these models were fully clothed.) Sheila told me that learning how to draw the human form is “like learning a foreign language. You have to have a conversation with your materials.” We spoke about how teaching art is much like teaching any other subject. During her time teaching in secondary school, she found that without being taught the technique, the process, and the materials, how is one to know? “You wouldn’t be able to do mathematic equations without being taught how to? Art is no different and those who say they can’t create are often because they haven’t been taught.”

“There is an indefinable quality shown in people’s art, a sort of charisma.”

“All art is illusion, it is by definition a flat surface,” Sheila tells me. After thinking and pondering this, I think I know what she means. What you are creating on the page is not what’s in front of you, it is your interpretation of what exists in the world. I tell her, “Sheila, if I were to put the same marks down on the page, the same as you have done them, my work would not look like yours. It wouldn’t look good.” She chuckles and replies, “there is an indefinable quality shown in people’s art, a sort of charisma. I call it soul.”

You can see Sheila’s art along with all other members of Drawn From Life in their first exhibition since 2016. They will be displaying their work at Creation Space from 2nd July till 15th July, you can come and view the works for free and speak to the artists themselves.

By Isobel Smith
Drawn From Life exhibition
Art Classes at Creation Space
Upcoming art exhibition and workshop

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