The perpetual learner by Alessia Belsito-Riera
Wairarapa and Wellington-based artist Jack Giles is off to The Barcelona Academy of Art to study classical drawing, which he tells me is a “tradition that was dominant in Europe up until the end of the 19th century before the style became more modernist”. It focuses on capturing something realistically but not impersonally, depicting its essence as well. Up until recently, Jack studied at Anthesis Atelier on Cuba Street, a private school that teaches traditional drawing and painting. I caught up with him before he set off across the world in September to hone his craft and visit every museum in Europe.
How did you delve into visual art?
It was just by chance really. I was interested in concept art, so I started to think, ‘How do I get better at this?’ I started looking for courses and learning how to draw until I came across Anthesis Atelier, run by Tatyana Kulida. She’s the one who showed me art art. So it went from being a more practical thing that I was following not particularly seriously to something that has become more and more meaningful.
What is it about visual art that you really enjoy?
It’s very meaningful, and I find it very hard as well. The more I push into it, the more meaningful things become. On the other hand I’ve just always made things, so there’s almost no real decision, I just sort of do it. Since I started with Tatyana my practice has become almost spiritually meaningful, whereas before that I was much more lost in a way.
Can you explain what classical drawing entails?
Classical drawing is about representing things that you see realistically but not in a mechanical way. When I say realist, people tend to think of a photo where every part is exactly as it is. Whereas in the technique I have been learning, it’s more about sitting down in front of something to take it in. It takes time, and it’s across time. Particularly a person: their face is always changing, you’re learning about them, it’s not like a photo that takes a hard copy of everything at once. There’s something behind it and it’s more of a process-based thing.
I came in completely ignorant of it and it’s something I still feel I am learning, obviously. I think I will probably always be learning it.
What kind of art do you enjoy making and what is your preferred medium?
Currently I have mostly been doing drawing types, so pencil, charcoal, sometimes you can use things like silverpoint where you draw with silver itself. It’s what they used before graphite became popular. I’ve been doing that mainly because it’s in the training method. You want to develop your drawing before you go into painting because it makes the painting easier to learn. It’s the foundation. The style is representational, so you take things and try to represent them in your art as they appear to you. There is not much exaggeration or abstraction.
You do portraiture as well, correct?
Yes, a lot of what is on my website is commission work, which tends to be people’s loved ones, often from a photo. Ideally in the future I always want to work from life because, again, when you work from a photo there is less connection. It’s not quite the same thing. Live portraiture is more difficult, but it seems like it’s more meaningful too.
What is Wellington’s classical drawing community like?
I’ve been mostly in student-focused mode, and I’m a fairly low-key kind of person. I know that there’s a growing interest in representational and more traditional ways of drawing and a couple of different schools. I think New Zealand is a small place and with something that’s so particular, I don’t think there’s a huge amount of enthusiasm for the classical realist thing, but I think it’s growing. I have received a lot of support from local art groups in the Wairarapa, which I’m really grateful for. There’s a lot of enthusiasm for the arts over there.
Why did you choose The Barcelona Academy of Art?
I chose Barcelona because it’s one of the best places to be for this particular method and it’s in Barcelona! So it has culture and artwork everywhere. I can’t wait to see the old masters. There isn’t a huge amount of the old masters’ stuff here, so I am excited to be able to just go into somewhere nearby and see my favourite work or something. I think my favourite is in Barcelona actually. The work I am talking about is by Marià Fortuny and it’s called Nude Old Man in the Sun. It’s almost very loose in a way, and it’s this old man with the sun falling on his face and he’s in this state of bliss. It’s very beautiful.
Have you been looking Barcelona up online constantly? I would be!
Yeah! There are some Spanish artists whose work I really want to see, so I have been looking up where I can find them.
What are you most looking forward to doing while studying?
The drawing from life models every day. I love drawing people and it’s quite hard to do it outside of a school environment. So that as well as the opportunity for growth. I really want to go down the painting road. I still haven’t done a huge amount of it and it’s daunting. I’m very excited.
Are you learning Spanish?
I definitely want to learn Spanish. I feel like it will unlock a whole new world of understanding.
What kind of knowledge do you hope to leave with?
I want to keep developing. I think beyond that I want to keep exploring and getting to that place of discomfort and growing and finding more meaning, and more meaning, and more meaning, and hopefully expressing that. Maybe, hopefully, other people can see that in my work.