The Beauty of Charcoal

Museums rock. You can not possibly leave a museum without a sense of awe. Especially art museums. Beauty, even if it is in the eye of the beholder, is never over-rated.

Take my little walk-around at the SAM recently. I went there for Xu Beihong. But ended up overwhelmed by a spectrum of styles of 3 artists in my fave medium, charcoal.

What took my breath away was not Xu Beihong’s huge piece of a foolish old man trying to remove mountains but his small, delicate, careful charcoal renderings of himself, Gandhi, an Indian lady and others. As I look at the few soft, fine lines criss-crossing to give form to the strength of character or the elegance of a posture, I can imagine the intensity of the artist’s concentration and the skill of his hand.

Then there was Alberto Giacometti’s quick sketches of Annette. His continuous, scribbly curves of an Annette seated and staring out at me spoke in quiet tones of the silent energy of a static form. I can’t really see Annette’s features or her expression but you get a sense of wide-eyed hesitancy but yet you know from his other sketches you see the confidence in her poses.

I ended my little walk with a Jimmy Ong.

I was floored. I felt my heart dropped and all I knew of form, of strokes, of techniques, slided languidly from me. I mumbled repeatedly, “How did he do that?” It was an incredibly awesome piece of dark, forceful swirls coming together to form a man sitting in the middle surrounded by two resting animals. He is bending towards one of the animals, his gestures suggesting a conversation he is having with one of the animals (that and the title “Hearing the Master’s Voice”). It was a composition of rest but it vibrated with dormant energy and movement. It was a contradiction of what I saw and what I felt. Jimmy Ong’s charcoal works always seem to overwhelm and writhe with intensity but I must say, this SAM piece is one of his most inspiring works.

For a moment, his piece stripped away all earthly pretensions and reminded me of the sublime beauty that sits in the heart of every created work.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.