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King Carlos by Phyllis Trowbridge

  • Title: King Carlos
  • Artist: Phyllis Trowbridge
  • Medium: Charcoal
  • Size: 15"h x 22"w
  • Added to collection: 2014
  • Donor: Purchased by Portland Community College, Rock Creek Campus
  • Campus: Rock Creek
  • Location: B7/2 N Hallway gallery rm 225

"King Carlos" rests with a complex expression (skeptical, imperious, sly) in the rear of the second floor south hallway of B7 in earshot of the vet tech labs. The miracle of this drawing is its straightforward simplicity – drawn with a seemingly offhand spontaneity, yet with an uncanny precision as well as vitality. A drawing like this might take only ten or fifteen minutes, yet it is the culmination of a lifetime of hard looking.

The artist, Phyllis Trowbridge, is known primarily for her plein air landscape paintings in oil (of which there are six excellent examples in the Rock Creek art collection), but this artist has also made an equally impressive series of drawings of her cats. In an age when most artists might approach this subject using photographic sources as a short cut or reference, it is important to note that this drawing was made from real life in real time; this fact is not significant because the drawing's execution deserves our admiration as an athletic performance (which it certainly does) but because the nature of its looking is arguably different from the kind of looking in drawings made from photographic sources. As the author John Cheever once said of prose written under the influence of alcohol that he could sniff out even "a drop of sherry," so we might cultivate the ability to whiff the camera eye's influence in a drawing. Although many excellent drawings have been made using photographic sources, a great many more bad ones have as well; the camera filters information differently than the human eye does and one can often tell by the flat, fussy and creepily uniform results. Fewer and fewer artists know how to make a drawing like this one.

Writing of her process of painting a landscape on site, Trowbridge notes "What is most compelling to me in the landscape – its unpredictable light, weather and moods – can be its most frustrating aspect. These changes can drive me crazy, yet I embrace them because they change the way I think, forcing me out of ruts I am getting into, and opening me up to new ideas and unexpected directions." One might say all this also applies to drawing live cats – as anyone who tries to do so soon discovers.