I originally entitled this series of drawings Strangers on a Train – a bit like the old movie, but mostly inspired by The Sports song of the same title where a relationship had failed and they had literally become like “strangers on a train”.
Public transport must be the only contemporary environment where you can intimately share a confined space and have no known relationship with your fellow citizen. My daily commutes have become an obsessive mission to record my fellow travellers, almost all of whom are locked into a trance pray on their smartphone.
I guess I’m like them. The purchase of my first smartphone was a cheap Samsung 4 that featured an inbuilt application called S Memo. This simple tool opened up a new genre of drawing for me. Primarily it’s meant for hand written notes, shopping lists, and reminders. But it’s also a very simple app for an artist to use – no fancy filters, just a drawing tool with a few added options for colour. The simplicity of the app, no smudging or tones, just clear, confident, simple, bold lines, results in drawings being a success – or a spectacular fail.
I have always been fascinated by the prosaic of everyday life and commuters on their smartphones on their daily commute is as prosaic as it gets. Except for the extremely odd talker on a phone, it’s a strange stillness that exists in our train’s carriages. People on their smartphones sit unnaturally still; it can’t be a good thing for their physique, but a boon for sketching. They bring to mind the subjects in Edward Hooper’s paintings.
Negotiating my unwieldy app, in its sterile glass and plastic case, and contorting it into lines with my cheap $2.00 stylus, I give myself 10 minutes to produce a drawing. 10 minutes being the travel time of my journey between Bondi Junction and Town Hall. I have produced hundreds in the last couple of years. Too shy to strike up a conversation with my frozen subjects, they’re unaware they’ve become my intimate ‘friends’ for a few minutes. This is just enough time to capture the nuances of the man spread, observe the drapery and the folds of office attire, the pattern of a three-day growth across a man’s jaw, or cascading hair across a face.
I’ve lately introduced white lines to highlight certain points, a device that the great 15th century draughtsman Albert Durer masterly applied. Each 10-minute session sharpens the skills and the decision making. After all, drawing is series of concise decision making, the bolder the more rewarding.
In the two or so years, I have been drawing these intensely absorbed sitters, I never been caught out by anyone. I am not sure that this either a good or a bad thing. But the pleasure of observing my captive subject, and drawing them on a device the size of my hand, has made my commuting a joy and a journey of creative adventure.