Katarina McCourt is a young artist from a tiny Canadian Atlantic province called Prince Edward Island. She’s twenty now, but she has dedicated the last four years or so to drawing anything and everything that strikes the fancy of a wholesome adolescent girl focused on being a figurative artist. Over time, her vision has matured, as has her considerable skill.
What I really admire about Katarina McCourt’s artistic output is the fact that she is rigorously building her future artistic career (which I think is going to be a highly successful one) on the very solid foundations she has built over the last few years. I’m talking here of putting years of work into mastering the human figure, architectural structures, facial expressions, still life, human and animal anatomy.
Katarina has taught herself to master critical skills in perspective, anatomy, tonal value, volume, and proportion – in short, things that way too many artists don’t have a clue how to do. Take Damien Hirst as just such a hopeless paradigm. If you’ve read my article about the world’s richest living artist, then you will know that the man can’t paint an orange on a table top in a convincing manner. An orange.
Let me break this down with utter clarity. We live in a time where anybody can go to the local art supply store, pick up a few stretched canvases, some paint and a few brushes and go home and enthusiastically let out that inner child by slinging paint about in a carefree manner. I applaud that. Go for it!
But my ire is raised when the person who has produced about a half a dozen of these play time paintings puts them up online and expects me to write about them with reverence and awe. Now you may ask: if I take Joan Mitchell’s work seriously (and I do) why wouldn’t I be on board with your inner child? I’ll tell you why… because your inner child has no solid foundations and more often than not, it shows.
Okay… granted, not every artist builds their career on the same foundations. Pollock never was a very good draftsman and neither was Rothko. But they still had solid foundations.
Here’s what I’m saying: if you call yourself a figurative artist and expect to be taken seriously, consider the description of Katarina’s pencil crayon drawing called The Horse Tamer she sent us:
“The Horse Tamer is a pencil crayon drawing I did in 2012. It is an anatomical study of a man and a horse with parts of their muscles exposed. The reference I used for the drawing is from a bronze statue in St. Petersburg, Russia. In the scene, the man is holding the reigns of his horse, taming him.
When creating this piece, I felt like I was portraying the connection between animal and human; the horse and man are together, as one in the statue and the muscles show the conspicuous similarities between animal and human. I have another version of this piece where I put a sheet of acetate plastic over this same drawing, and individually labeled each muscle to illustrate it, as a medical diagram.”
Did you get that? There is a version of this drawing (it’s on her website) that has every single muscle on the horse and man meticulously labeled. Think about that. Meditate on it. Also note that she’s working from classical statuary – a long standing and respected method of learning how to draw people and animals properly.
I see a lot of work that strives for figurative realism that is fraught with problems that make me cringe: torsos with too many ribs, or not enough ribs; heads that are way too small, or way too big without meaning to be; feet that are doing things that feet don’t do in a piece that is aiming at being realistic; non-existent muscles in incongruous places, skeletal structure that evokes a rubber chicken more than a human being… the list goes on.
I’m not talking about deliberately distorted forms like we see in a lot of Picasso’s paintings (take note that Picasso was an excellent draftsman and he could pull off a realistic figurative painting with no trouble at all when he felt like it). I’m talking about pieces of art where it is clear that the artist wants to achieve figurative realism but falls short by virtue of a lack of skill (which ultimately boils down to a lack of practice).
My advice to such an artist is this: take a page from Katarina’s sketch pad and apply yourself to that level of rigor.
You can view Katarina McCourt’s impressive foundational portfolio here: katarinamccourt.com