Figure Drawing Night

It's rare that I have the time to attend a figure drawing class, but I always relish the chance to draw for a few hours . Its on par with yoga as a form of meditation and focus to take me away from my quotidian cares.  Its even better if you get a few good drawings out of the deal... 

Ann Riley

This weekend I began taking seriously the notion of decorating my studio - now that I've had some time (a year...) to settle in, which led me to pull out the large trove of drawings and paintings I have by my Great Grandmother Ann Riley, thinking I'd have a few framed.

I spent a few hours on the floor pouring over sheaf after sheaf of century-old paper (remarkable paper too - toothy and leather soft - unlike any made today) and found it such a personal way to connect to an ancestor - to touch a piece of art they made, a record of what they saw, how their hands moved...

I grew up looking at Ann's paintings (the only original artwork hanging in my parent's house) - being told as I developed an aptitude for drawing that the artistic gene ran in the family - but until a few years ago, I hadn't seen most of the extant work of G.G. Ann, which include many paintings completed in her maturity, but also a huge amount of student work, sketches and studies.  

Anna Tully at 21 - Perhaps just after graduating from Pratt Institute

I was, very fortunately, given these drawings to safeguard by my cousin Elizabeth Riley Bell, the educator and Scotch expert (a taste for which is another gene that seems to run in the family...). Smartly, Elizabeth retains the true masterworks of Ann's oeuvre, which she kindly allowed me to photograph - and perhaps I'll eventually share some here.

However, it's these pencil drawings that I reached to as I cast about for something to adorn my walls.  I've had, each time I look at these images, the most profound sensation - one of conspiratorial intimacy with the artist (the telepathic quality of viewing observational art - seeing through someone else's eyes) - of admiration at the skill and precocity of such a young woman (she was 19 when she completed many of these) - and a sense of my own smallness yet belonging in time (which is, after all, what family and history give us) - but most remarkably, an uncanny recognition of myself, like a shared family handwriting quirk, in the mark making of this woman, who died before I was born, and yet without a doubt, perceived as I do and responded with the same inclination toward hatching, value assignment and shorthand.  

This is something I've never felt looking at another artists drawings - as though I'd drawn it myself and forgotten I'd done so. Its a dreamlike illusion. It feels like a strong argument for nature over nurture - even in the arts, which are so dependent on practice and attention. We certainly have many differences as artists, her strengths are not necessarily mine, and vice versa - but there's a similarity I can't ignore and I have to conclude its a comforting feeling. Art is so often about being alone - feeling alone. Great grandma Ann's art makes me feel less alone - and that is a profound epitaph for any artist.  

A world traveler late in life - Ann Riley exploring antiquity in Greece.

I'd love to write up a more complete biography of Ann someday - She led a remarkable life, not only traveling and teaching as an artist, serving as a leader in the arts in her community and of course painting, but also raising 3 boys through the ordinary trials of life and the unique torments of the mid 20th century (All 3 went to war and her oldest son died fighting in the Pacific). But today - I just want to share a few of her drawings and describe some of the reactions I've had living with them and the connections they stir in me.  

I hope you can feel some of the same things I do when you see them.













Electoral College Petition

I created this illustration in support of the Electoral College Petition and their efforts to enlist electors to vote their conscience on December 19th.  Happy to see it heading their post today!  I hope terribly that posterity considers my take hysterically dystopian and not sickeningly prescient.  Time and our actions will tell.


Designing this has been a long journey - sparked by my deep interest in a family history that spans centuries, and yet was unknown through my childhood.  The Beckwith's were landowners and martial lords from Yorkshire (via the Norman invasion of C.E. 1066) and emigrants to Connecticut in C.E. 1635.  Their exploits and conquests earned them hereditary arms which have been recorded since the 12th century.  I wanted to create an image to use in my personal and business life that reflects both the history of the men bearing my surname and my own aesthetic values.  Rather than simply display my full heraldic achievement, I decided to create an icon that visually rhymes with the standard born by my ancestors, yet means not just "Beckwith" but "Ryan D. Beckwith".  The effort took me deep into my family history, and into an exploration of technique and picture making that challenged my habits and assumptions about what kind of "art" I make.

Here are a selection of flavors that emerged.  I'm very proud of this first step and look forward to evolving the design over time: