Some people sit riveted and try to taking in everything that is happening on stage. Others glance upwards and down as they read the surtitles. And others may close their eyes and simply let the music and singing overtake them.
Not artist Val Nelson.
Val draws the opera when the lights go down. Ever so discretely and imperceptibly that her fellow seatmates do not even know this was happening. Val first came to our attention when she drew at Madama Butterfly last season.
On opening night, she was once again armed with her drawing pen to help us record the world premiere of Lillian Alling.
Last week I went with my husband to see Vancouver Opera‘s production of Madama Butterfly. I wanted to see if I could do some drawings of the production. Since you can’t see what you are doing while sitting in the dark, there is little opportunity to self-edit, and no choice but to be free to make marks, constantly obliterating the actions that have just been carried out, without preciousness. The resulting drawings are records of movement through space and time.
This way of working reminds me of something I read about Cy Twombly, who reportedly practiced drawing in the dark when he was drafted into the army and worked as a cryptographer in 1953. Having seen “primitive” mark-making in North Africa, he was intent on recovering the directness of the unschooled, unselfconscious artist. One can’t help but also think of the drypoints and drawings of Ann Kipling. This is the kind of drawing that I find very exciting to do, something that retains the essence of a state of mind in focussed absorption.