A simple line by Brian Whelan, is the title of a book published by the artist and alumnus of the Royal Academy Schools (RAS). I recall chatting with him in the life room and corridor. Brian was in the third and final year of studies, I was in my second year.
We discussed one of his paintings which at the time, was done in a graphic style including the depiction of some curtains; Brian’s father had recently passed away. I pointed out how the term ‘curtains’ can be a euphemism for death, which he hadn’t yet noticed.
Peter Greenham was always saying to Brian ‘Get back in the life-room Whelan’. Obviously Brian deviated from the path of painterly representation. After he’d moved out of London, Brian urged me to do the same (change habitat). He said it’s healthier, and it is.
Decades later, the internet enabled us to renew our conversation, even though Mr. Whelan is ‘across the pond’. Brian has made progress with his life and work. In America, being of Irish / Celtic provenance has stood him in good stead, many Irish fled the Great famine of the mid 1800s to ‘the New World’. We share Irish heritage, differentiating us from the UK’s (monarchist) society built on deferential elitism.
A simple line by Brian Whelan discusses how Brian made a series of portrait drawings of elderly people in care homes throughout East Anglia. He waxes lyrical about how a simple line can be used to express and encapsulate a sitter’s form, though I wouldn’t refer to my subjects as victims! (which implies they are passive).
In my opinion any work depicting another human being (when they are present during it’s making), is a joint effort. Doesn’t matter if it’s Victorine Meurent (Meurende?), Elizabeth Windsor or Vincent’s own fizzog. It takes two. Having recently witnessed artificial intelligence being used to make artworks, there is no greater case for perpetuating this timeless, classical bond between one human being and another.
Brian’s drawings are presented with comments made by each sitter, poignant, humorous and at times tragic – in a few words these dear people celebrate their existences, often deflating youthful pride. The combination of Whelan’s artistry plus snippets of thought can be humorous – humour is currently being eroded by political correctness and general Wokery.
Brian ‘got into the habit of carrying a sketch-book and pencil, cultivated from my days at art school’. It is arrogant to suggest this practice is outmoded. It would be the same as the Royal Academy of Music proclaiming it is no longer necessary for aspiring musicians to practice scales.
Objective drawing is the best way to refine the perceptual faculties of would be/wanna be artists (students at the RAS are nothing more than that). At one point the RAS appointed Tracy Emin as ‘Professor of Drawing’. More of a publicity coup than anything else, at least Ms Emin ‘had a go’ though the results weren’t as spectacular as her role would suggest they might be.
There is a saying: ‘You never stand as naked as you do before your accountant’. In Fine Art practice the same applies to making a drawing in front of others. It’s the acid test; fortunately people like Brian Whelan (and myself) are willing to take such a test.
A Simple Line by Brian Whelan is available for purchase on Amazon and via Brian’s own website. Brian Whelan and Alan Dedman are alumni of the Royal Academy Schools and are members of the Royal Academy Schools East Anglian Group (RASEAG).