Thursday, March 27, 2014

Remembering Agathe Bennich

Agathe was my first figure drawing teacher at City College of San Francisco back in the late '90s. Through her, I discovered my love of working intuitively with gestural marks and exploring a variety of mediums. We worked mostly from Nicolades' "The Natural Way to Draw", a book she read from in class pretty often. I somehow took to her teaching methods right away in spite of her cryptic instructions like "draw the weight". There was a freedom in not knowing what I was doing and letting the drawings happen without a lot of labor and analysis. I can still feel her standing behind me, completely silent until she moved on to the next student. Apparently, I "got it" well enough for her to let me work with minimal instruction. She let me know that she saw me becoming a painter, and that I should go to SFAI, but accepted that I was an illustrator at heart.

I took my first oil painting with her during my last semester at CCSF. This was when Agathe encouraged me to "spread my wings a bit" and go out of state to study at RISD. I remember her as a tall, strong woman with long gray hair and a strong presence in the classroom. She was warm, patient, had a great sense of humor and had deep wisdom that filled the room whenever she spoke.

When I returned to City College of San Francisco to teach in the fall of 2007, I often asked about Agathe who must have retired before then. Today, I learned that she had passed away over a year ago and that there had been a memorial exhibition in Marin, not far from Dominican University where I also currently teach a digital drawing and painting class. My experiences as a student continue to inform my art and what I value as a teacher, and it's fair to say that those many hours with Agathe working with tempera, charcoal, conte, graphite, stick and ink, left me with a fearlessness and a curiosity that makes the digital tools an endless font of discovery.

Above is my one and only framed charcoal drawing from Agathe's class hanging on the wall of my room. It was a two session pose with Jenny, a Guild model whom I still draw at sessions in Albany and Berkeley.

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