The Art of Remembering
Howard Ikemoto teaches artists how to be young again.
Thursday, November 11, 2004
There’s a Howard Ikemoto story that has proliferated across the Internet like only a good story on the Internet can. It reads, “When my daughter was about seven years old, she asked me one day what I did at work. I told her I worked at the college—that my job was to teach people how to draw. She stared back at me, incredulous, and said, ‘You mean they forget?’”
Children draw unselfconsciously, Ikemoto says, yet adults frequently lose the ability to create without fear of judgment. In other words, we forget that we can draw. When he says this, the self-effacing Ikemoto is referring to himself as well.
“Drawing still teaches me a lot about myself,” says the longtime artist and teacher. “It’s very liberating but at the same time it tells me exactly how uptight I am. I am confronting that same self-consciousness while I work.”
This Saturday, Ikemoto comes to the Carl Cherry Center in Carmel to conduct a life drawing workshop and remind us that art is not all about technique, anatomy and proportion. It’s more about physical energy and emotion. It’s about allowing yourself to draw.
“The first thing I tell my beginning students is that you have to give yourself permission to draw. The rest will come very naturally,” he says.
A native Californian, Ikemoto spent 34 years at Cabrillo College in Aptos, reminding people how to rediscover a child’s inhibition with a pencil or paintbrush in their hands. His long tenure at the college is legendary for his respectful and illuminative teaching style.
He rarely teaches anymore. In fact, Saturday’s workshop is only his second this year. He retired from Cabrillo in 2000, taught part-time every other semester for a while, and then pared his teaching duties back to the odd workshop. His well-deserved retirement allows him the time he needs to paint landscapes and practice his figure studies, primarily in watercolor.
Although he grew up admiring the West Coast figurative artists and still has a nostalgic fondness for their work, his own work around the figure has taken its own aesthetic direction.
“One of the things that interests me is what makes a figure feel more alive than the depiction of a figure. Namely, I’m not interested in proportions or anatomy. There’s more to depicting life than that. It’s an added bonus, but it’s not necessary.
“The main thing is that the figure has some life to it. When you see people on the street, you don’t just see anatomy and you certainly don’t just get engaged in their proportions. With drawing the figure I’m more interested in my subject’s psychology and emotions…whether aggressive or shy or lonely or whatever.”
It’s clear that Ikemoto still truly loves teaching and his enthusiasm for this weekend’s workshop is evident. “I like to share my ideas in the workshops. It’s a release for my own artistic energies,” he says.
For inspiration, he points his students towards the work of Hokusai Katsushika, Rico Lebrun, “all the great Italian Masters and some of the French Masters,” but doesn’t want his workshops to be an academic experience.
“The workshops are a lot of fun. It’s for learning at all experience levels,” he says. “You’re practicing awareness. Everyone succeeds in being aware.”