The Art Fag City Emerging Artist Summer Series: The Drawings of Saul Chernick

by Art Fag City on July 27, 2006 Events

Creation myths are a response to the unanswerable question: Where do we come from? Like gods, those who assign meaning and purpose to our existence also determine who and what is most valued. I am interested in understanding ways that power is asserted by the Judeo/Christian mythologies concerning creation and the afterlife. Using a mark language that carries the same sense of weight and authority that religious images tend to possess, my drawings are set in Protosapia, an Eden-like environment that serves as both laboratory and breeding ground for an alternate human species. It is a place where ideas about creation, sexual politics, and iconography coalesce to create new possibilities embodied by its inhabitants, the Protosapiens.Saul Chernick
Chernick names the inhabitants of his early world Protosapiens, which literally translated means before we were wise. Most of us will probably interpret this term to mean trial, or first humans, which is correct, but lacks the elegance and specificity of the former. I emphasize the definition because it underscores the idea that perfection may never have been part of original creation. The Protosapiens depicted suggest not only that the physical and psychological evolution of man was rocky and sometimes painful, but that it is an ongoing process.

As is illustrated above, the characters in Chernick’s drawings suffer for God’s failings. The half breasts of the manish figure in Portrait of an Unfinished Person, implies that a greater force has removed man’s ability to nurture, and The Glutarian and Serpent depicts a man whose sexual organs have been reversed, limiting his ability to cover or defend himself.

In this creation myth, if there is temptation, it can only be found within the voyeur. The serpent gazes upon what is either the cock or ass of the Glutarian with sinister interest, and the figures within the arched cave seem to be paying equal attention to this organ. The temptation of the viewer lies in what we cannot see or know.

Works depicting blandishment were especially popular during the sixteenth century, so it is not surprising that Chernick draws inspiration from Renaissance engravings and drawings. The ideology of the church dominated virtually all forms of creative expression at this time, which translated into a myriad of metaphorical depictions of spirituality. Chernick’s ability to reproduce precisely how and where this happens in his own work is a rare skill that takes most years to develop if at all.

A good example of this can be seen in the drawing above, which is inspired by the cloth depicted in renaissance art. As Chernick explained to me in his studio, the draped fabric in these drawings is frequently abstracted to the point that it becomes a metaphor for the philosophical concepts of spirituality. It is for this reason that the artist never looks at fabric to create his drawings, but rather the reproductions of Old Master work.Ascension uses the premise that spirituality and cloth feed each other in these works, but rather than draping the figure with a metaphor of spirituality, it literally depicts the rising while the fabric itself is transformed and alludes to the figure. Such forms may not be readily identifiable for those who don’t have a background in the subject, so for this audience I recommend identifying the contrapposto pose within the shape of the material so that you can find the figurative elements.

If the figure still does not become obvious to these readers the combination of Ascension and Father and Child, should solve these issues, as it brings together the ideas in the previous paragraph about ornate drapery of fabric, and offers another take on the masculine nurturer.While the male figure is dominant in this drawing, the creation myth does not exclude the feminine, which is represented behind the figure as a faintly vaginal form reinforces the idea of life, light, and warmth. Elements of voyeurism maintain a presence in these works as well, this time with a mottled moon looking up into the fathers dress.

The moon itself is taken directly from a lesser known Albrecht Durer drawing, though the original avoids the dirty elements that Chernick brings to the work. Such decisions may at first appear to lighter aspects to the drawings, and indeed this is a part of it, but what is important to remember about these ideas is that they are a deliberate effort to ration perversity with the spiritual. It is unclear if the artist believes one cannot exist without the other, but at least in the world he creates, this much is true. Ultimately, the land of Protosapia is not a garden of fruits and pleasures; it is place where strange desires and hopes are shaped by the hands of unknown gods.

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