“It’s very simple. My drawings are the key to my work,” declared the renowned sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840-1917). It's true that he's remembered for his sculptures, but he also ought to be remembered as one of the most prolific drawers of his time. The sheer volume of his drawn oeuvre is impressive: some 10000 drawings, most of them not exhibited during Rodin's life.
When Rodin's sculptures were shown in exhibitions in the late 19th century, they were often considered to be too daring and realistic, or perceived as unfinished and lacking a narrative context. He tirelessly strove to portray the moment and the lifelike corporeality in his sculptures. In many ways he broke with antiquity and paved the way for modernism. Rodin's living and spontaneous idiom was something entirely new. At the same time, the intense interest in depicting the human body makes Rodin one of the last classical sculptors. The muscles and movements of the figures express strong feelings, and the creative hand's imprint in the clay or the stone becomes part of the artistic expression. What the outside world perceived as unfinished was for Rodin perfection.
But the drawings are even more so imbued by the obsession of capturing body movement, vitality, and life itself. A sort of artistic counterpart to "let there be life." The ink of the "black drawings" hint suppressed dramas of violence, sex, anxiety. The starting point was Dante's Inferno and the figures are part of the process of creating a portal, "The Gates of Hell", to the Directorate of Fine Arts. It was commissioned in 1880 but Rodin continued to work on in until his death in 1917.
The infinitely fascinating female body and the pursuit of undiscovered movements drives Rodin further. The exotic poses of the Cambodian dancers and the free movements of Isadora Duncan unleash the pen. Without taking his eyes off the model in movement, he quickly sketched down the impressions. They were then transferred to a new piece of paper and finished with color. The limits of paper gave rise to collage experiments. And it was here that sculpture and drawing coincided. Rodin saw sculpture fragments and the unfinished as full works of art, not least due to his obsession with Michelangelo, fragments which could also be joined together. A new totality is created with cutting and pasting.
A rust-red reclining woman can as easily be a shooting comet. The paper sheet becomes its own space. Weightless bodies hover in skies of color in the timeless universe of water, nebula's, clouds, dreams. Rodin's confident lines and thin color layers capture a supreme sensibility and serene sensualism. Now and then we crash land in challenging drawings of women's genitals or a sexual act. But the drawings never become pornographic or voyeuristic. The living, sincere and tender is ever present. It should be said though, that eroticism permeated through everything that Auguste Rodin created and this "parvenu" and somewhat of a playboy had a huge appetite for women. But it wasn't about fulfilling temporary lusts, but rather about a consistent attitude to life and art. Rodin's friend Balzac suggested that the author's sperm was the emission of pure cerebral substance. The penis initiated the artwork. For both Balzac and Rodin, the artistic creation arose much thanks to erotic drives.
Rodin radically stretches time, space and bodyliness. The markers also point out the time-typical and forward-looking in the drawings. There rests a sense of something both primordial, classical and boldly innovative over them and I often think of them as a bridge between Michelangelo and the forthcoming abstract expressionism.