As artists the study of the human form is traditionally the first thing we learn. Life class is where we learn about form and light, composition and line. The technical skills of foreshortening and human anatomy. for myself I began life study at the age of fourteen and continued at least once a week for the next eight years. What you learn quite quickly is the art of the life study is in the “Life”. To convey a sense of a living, breathing real person, to let go of the ideal, to go beyond those technical skills and breathe life into a simple drawing.
For me, and many, no artist was better at this than Egon Schiele (1890-1918). Described as odd, a poor student and orphaned Schiele studied art in Vienna where he rebelled and balked against his traditionalist training. The young man met Gustav Klimt in 1907 who would become a major influence in his life. The young and expressive modern work of Schiele got him arrested. Having procured his models from the prostitutes and street urchins from the local area he was accused of child pornography, and eventually arrested for offering lewd images to children. Although not fighting in WWI Schiele died 1918 from the Spanish Flu pandemic at only 28 years old.
Today Schiele is regarded as one of those rare disturbed genius art rock stars that dies young which has only fueled his legend. Today his work is still inspirational and influential as they fill the galleries of the world’s finest museums. The brutal honesty in his life drawings is what I have always found so compelling. The skeletal fingers, bony hips and knobby knees put one in a mind of corpses laid out naked with cadaverous complexions and haunting eyes. His expressive technique is aggressive with raw lines and jagged negative space is almost primitive. There seems to be no artifice, no facade, no fakery to his work. It was honest and simple like he was quickly writing down everything he saw, just the way it looked and felt, hurriedly as if he knew he didn’t have much time.