November 2, 2010

Justin Wisniewski Week: "After Twenty-Seven Months..."

This week I'm going to present my own work. I'll give some background information as well.

"After twenty-seven months in the forest--alone, frostbitten, bleeding, starving, muddy, wet and tired, staff sergeant Stephen Paul Chapman realized the war would finally be over."

I asked a colleague of mine to pose for this drawing. I chose him mainly because I could see a great deal of myself in him and, despite all other interests my work is centered around myself. I had no interest in drawing him per se.

I dressed him up in something called a "great coat" that belonged to a Scottish soldier from World War II. The boots were my Timberwolves (which I love.)

Although I had ideas in mind before starting, I had to take many photographs of different poses and different versions of this pose before I settled on this one. My original thinking for the pose was that he was wiping sweat off his forehead, but some people read the image as a person putting his hands to his head in a swoon--which I would never draw. I shot the photo in my studio and invented the background. The finished drawing probably took about a week.

Before the piece was finished I had no idea what I was going to draw in the bottom left corner until I eventually decided upon a corpse. I can't remember where I found the reference for the arms--I think it was from a statue. This is one of the few pieces of mine that depicts more than one figure. I usually don't include multiple figures because I want the image to represent a character (like a description in a novel) and adding more than one figure tends to confuse the issue, but I suspected that if one of the figures was dead that problem would be avoided.

When I decided to put part of a figure in there I thought it would serve two purposes. First, it would give the main figure something to be looking at (and therefore the figure could interact with his world more) and second, it gave me a stylistic excuse to add an area of contrast in an otherwise dark and empty corner. Adding this contrast allowed me the chance to spread out the area of focus as well as create a scene that looked less staged and more realistic in that sense.

I imagined that perhaps this character was a soldier on a mission to assassinate an importent figure in an enemy military force and I wanted his victory to have been achieved despite great struggle like Jean Valjean and Howard Roark.

I was making a lot of artwork at that time (and still to this day) where characters were living in a world similar to the one in Ayn Rand's Anthem. I have always been interested in the war that was mentioned in that book and I wanted to draw a character that might have been involved, but I could just as easily say I was drawing characters from some future war fought over the same issues.

Originally I was going to name the character "Stephen Mallory" after the sculptor from The Fountainhead, but the more I sat with it the more I realized it was a bad idea and that I wanted to come up with my own name. As time went on, I also kept adding months to the amount of time he had spent in the woods. I was a little worried that I was going too far, but I am really satisfied with it as it stands now. Twenty-seven months seems like one hell of a long time to be alone in the woods, but doable for a real, dedicated hero.

I spent a great deal of time designing the composition for this image in order to make it more powerful and I applied a great deal of mental effort in integrating the subjects into the composition.

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