Binebrink’s Drawing

Critique by Max-Karl Winkler

To depict beautifully a beautiful human body has been the aim of ages of artists, and Wilson Binebrink was an heir to that ancient tradition. This drawing was made to be a polished work in itself, not a sketch intended to capture some visual event nor a study intended as an intermediate stage in the production of a painting, say, or a sculpture. It is, in some ways, a simple treatment: a single figure against an almost empty ground, a surface barely suggested by the figure’s few cast shadows.

Binebrink has chosen to describe his subject with both line and tone. In a few places (the right hip and thigh, and the right shoulder and arm) we can see the light tentative strokes of the preliminary drawing; but for the most part those lines have been absorbed into the lines and tones of the finished piece. Some of the lines, especially the calligraphic swirls that describe the right thigh, are beautiful in themselves. At the same time, there is a satisfying rightness to the way that the line separating the thighs describes the weight of one thigh pressing upon the other. And there are several points—the right hip and thigh, and the right arm—where the line thickens to suggest the dark side of the limb, and fades, thinning, as the form turns toward the light.

Binebrink applied tone to the drawing with a sure hand: it appears that the tone on the right arm and the thighs was made with single strokes of a crayon laid on its side for maximum coverage. Like the lines, the darker tone was applied with a burnt umber crayon; but the lighter tone was made with sanguine. The important highlights appear to have been determined from the outset (ie, not erased from an area of light tone). The description of light and dark on the model’s back is impressive, with subtle lighting and shading to describe the shoulder blades and the dark of the spine. Note, too, the attention to reflected light, especially on the lower back and the thighs. The complicated transitions around the neck, collarbone, and shoulder are described very capably within a very few square inches. The description of the hair is surprisingly cursory, as if Binebrink were trying to direct the viewer’s eye past the head to the torso. It is in the strokes of the hair that we can most clearly see the rate at which the artist drew.

One gratifying quality of this drawing, and one which most viewers fail to appreciate, is the composition. Separating our mind from the subject, we see that the picture is a large zigzag formed by the legs, torso, and left arm—all right angles with horizontal and vertical orientation, relieved by the diagonally-turned right angles of the right arm. There are also interesting triads of parallel lines: the lines of the thighs, the lines that describe the upper right arm and the front of the hair mass, and the single line describing the right arm, together with the upper and lower edges of the hair in front of that arm. Such geometric considerations were perhaps not in Binebrink’s mind as he drew, but they certainly contribute to the harmony of the drawing, as does the felicitous placement of the figure in relation to the picture space. Binebrink himself was surely aware of the role of horizontals in conveying the repose of the figure.

Wilson Binebrink
Self Portrait

Wilson Binebrink was born just three years after the Armory Show of 1913. He came of age as an artist at a time that American art was struggling to absorb the lessons that European art forced upon a strait-laced America that had difficulty distinguishing between a nude and a pinup. His understanding of those lessons is apparent in his work, even as he chose a more traditional, realist approach to making art.

(c) Copyright Max-Karl Winkler 2021 All Rights Reserved

Insurrection

On January 6, 2021, a joint session of Congress met to formally count the certified electoral votes of the 2020 presidential election.  That morning, outgoing President Trump addressed his SAVE AMERICA RALLY at the White House Ellipse claiming that he won the election in a landslide and thus its theft was an assault on our democracy.  He told his supporters that they must march with him to the Capitol and stop the count or they would lose their country.  Thousands in the incited mob led by three White supremist groups did just that.  The Capitol Police were overwhelmed and the Capitol was violently breached.  The insurrectionists successfully interrupted Congress. The Vice President, Senators, Representatives, and staff were led to hiding places by the Secret Service and Police. The rioters vandalized the Senate and House Chambers, offices and media.

Belatedly, the acting Defense Secretary authorized the National Guard and regional police forces to reinforce the Capitol Police. That evening the President thanked the mob and asked them to go home.  After 6 hours of fighting, five people died and 140 police officers were seriously injured, but Congress returned to complete its work that night.  Over 500 rioters are now charged with felony offences for the violence that day.  

Insurrection”, a hand-pulled reduction relief print, is a symbolic representation of the events of that day.  I use the dramatic exterior façade of the Capitol that witnessed most of the injuries to make clear to future viewers the importance of where they took place.   The red caps of the Make America Great Again (MAGA) Trump following represent the thousands of rioting participants.  I show a Confederate battle flag, of which many were present, in order to represent the White supremacist leadership.  I show their violence against a Black police officer in reference to the nature of the historic divide.  The clubs represent the hand-to-hand weapons used.  The rioters also used such things as bludgeons, Tasers and strong chemical sprays against the largely unarmed police. 

Taming Adam

Epic of Gilgamesh – [Mesopotamia 3rd millennia BCE]

“Aruru, you are the one

who created humanity?  Now go and create

a new hero, let them balance each other

perfectly, so that Uruk has peace.”

When Aruru heard this, she closed her eyes,

And what Anu had commanded she formed in her mind.

She moistened her hands, she pinched off some clay,

She threw it into the wilderness,

kneaded it and shaped it into her idea.”

Adam (Enkidu) was the wild man in the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh who was created of clay and water by the goddess of creation to rid the king of his arrogance.  Gilgamesh, the tyrant king, sent the priestess of the temple to tame Adam and bring him to Uruk, the center of this first civilization.

Taming Adam is in The Art League’s Poems and Prints show March 2021 (Alexandria, Virginia) and in the Art of the Mill spring show (Millwood, Virginia).

Lafayette Square 2020

Peaceful Protest

Free speech is protected by the U.S. Constitution. While peaceful public protest may be the only way to be heard and have grievous injustice finally corrected, it has risks in provoking violence. Today most protesters try to follow the effective examples of Gandhi, King and Mandela in peacefully seeking human rights justice. Some will bear the pain experienced by their heroes. I have created a few relief prints in sympathy with their cause.

In the nation’s capital on June 1st 2020, National Guard and mounted police cleared Lafayette Square of peaceful Black-Lives-Matter protesters with violence, flash grenades and tear gas.  This event reminds me of the colonial protest events in 1770 when a child of 11 died in Boston at the hands of a British customs employee. After the child’s funeral, British Redcoats overreacted to an argument at the customs house between a wigmaker’s apprentice and a soldier over an unpaid bill. The apprentice was struck down with the butt of a gun; a mob formed, threw snowballs and stones, and five townspeople died in what is now known as the Boston Massacre. 

Structure of the Work

Fruits of Arbitrary Power — Lafayette Square 2020

I patterned “Lafayette Square 2020” after Henry Pelham’s 1770 engraving “The Fruits of Arbitrary Power”.  Paul Revere made a similar contemporary engraving from Pelham’s example. 

In my work, Saint John’s Episcopal Church replaces the Massachusetts Courthouse, teargas replaces black powder smoke, and protesters fall before armed US soldiers instead of British Redcoats. 

I created Lafayette Square 2020 as a reduction relief print on handmade paper. That is: I carved, inked, and printed (10 copies) a single linoleum block three times, once for each color. I used archival paper made from a mixture of cotton and abaca pulp.

Short Tour of Lafayette Square

In my print, you are looking at Lafayette Square while standing at the curb of Pennsylvania Avenue with your back to the White House.  I took some visual liberties in that the park is larger, about two blocks square, and contains mature trees and corner statues that would obstruct some of the view. The Executive Mansion became known as the White House when it was painted after the British army ransacked and torched it, the Capitol, and other public buildings during the War of 1812.  The supporters of the last President ransacked the Capitol again seven months after the events depicted.

Across the street on left side of the picture is the Blair House which was built just after the White House was first painted. Internally Blair House has been joined with its neighbors to become the President’s guest house.  Assassins attempted to invade the Blair House and kill President Truman when he as living there while the White House was being renovated.

At the end of that block is Decatur’s house. Commodore Decatur was a hero of the 1812 War.  Like Alexander Hamilton, he died in a duel of honor. His house was designed by Benjamin Latrobe who also designed the US Capitol and helped President Jefferson add balconies to the White House.

Continuing right around the square you come next to the 5 Star Hay-Adams Hotel.  It is smaller but more elegant than our former President’s hotel, which is housed in the old post office just up the street on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Central to the park across from the White House is Saint John’s Episcopal Church.  St. John’s was providing refreshments to the protestors when the police fired gas and projectiles at the crowd to make room for a presidential photo-op in front of the old church.

Andrew Jackson’s statue is in the center of the square.  Jackson was the hero of the astoundingly successful Battle of New Orleans at the end of the 1812 War.  Important allies in his military campaign were the Choctaw tribes and Caribbean pirates.

In 1859, Daniel Sickles gunned down Francis Scott Key’s son on Madison Place in Lafayette Square in broad daylight.  Sickles believed Phillip Key was having an affair with his wife. He got away with it.  Sickles went on to become a Civil War hero at Gettysburg.

On the right side of the picture, I took liberties with the profile of the houses on Madison Place.  I used instead the profile of the Boston Custom House drawn by Pelham and Revere.  I wanted to draw a connection between these two violent events.