Sketches of an Old City

pen and ink on paper by Matt Shane from his Turkey sketchbook

 I recently discovered Matt Shane's work at Cuadro Gallery in DIFC, then scoured his website for more. His paintings are monumental, terrifying and wonderful. Everyone should see them.

However, I like his sketches even more. When Shane sketches he captures the contours of the land. He seems to see scenes from multiple angles all at once. The images here are from his Turkey sketchbook, which I like even better than his drawings of the UAE. Maybe it's because he's capturing something special about very old cities that I couldn't in my drawings.

 He captures how the land moves up towards you and sinks away. This is something that I think is unique about ancient cities, which were constructed before there was technology to flatten and contort the land into orderly symmetrical planes with perfect right angles. It's something I also experienced in Italy, where the cities were built with layer upon layer of shifting and contorting walls and foundations, and you could trace the Etruscan, Greek, Roman, Medieval, Renaissance and Modern civilizations in layers of stone. In these places artistic conventions like one point perspective are completely erased. Every couple of feet of land rests on different plane, and if you try to organize it the sky becomes a dizzying constellation of vanishing points. Shane's work captures this feeling without being overly composed.


The thing I like most about these sketches is all the white space. By drawing shadows rather than outlines Shane leaves the eye to fill in the missing shapes. It's clear how the land moves even when it's not depicted. There is something very effortless in his sketches. Shane is free from the desire (which I often struggle with) to fill everything in. In a way these drawings remind me of a Giacometti sculpture because all the extra bits are chiseled away. I think I will be experimenting with pen and ink very soon, with the vague hope that imitating his media will help me to capture a bit of this magic.