My sketchpad paper is too thick for frottage being 160gsm and so I decided to get some 80gsm cartridge paper and use that. I started with a 4b pencil and some charcoal and started to experiment, varying between light and heavy pressures to see what difference this would make. I could tell very quickly that charcoal was not good for frottage, it smudges blurring the texture beneath. This may work slightly better using a paper with more tooth but it would need to also be quite lightweight. The pencil however worked very well and I kept an eye out for different, quite heavily patterned textures, rubbing as I went along.
As I was experimenting with this technique, I was wondering how this would be used in practice and so started off by looking for well known frottage artists. The name Max Ernst kept cropping up along with a number of pieces, the most popular seeming to be L’évadé (The Fugitive) from Histoire Naturelle (Natural History). Without wanting to do a large amount of research on this point, I thought I would study what appears to be his most well known frottage piece (if it is not, it is certainly amongst them). I have done no research into the artist’s life or looked at any critiques of the piece at this point, all thoughts below are from my own mind and comments are of my own opinion.
At first glance this image to me looks very strange, almost comical. It has a very soft, graphic effect. It has little dramatic effect but yet I feel drawn to it for its strangeness. Looking a bit more closely however I begin to appreciate the complexity and planning that I would suggest is needed to create such an effect. The eye is made up by either finding identical tools or perhaps branches of some sort and arranging them in a perfect circle before rubbing over them or perhaps using one item and using it repeatedly. It looks as though tone may have been laid down before hand to create a roundness to the eye. The scales are what drew my attention the most. It looks as though a type of netting has been used and manipulated in certain ways as to almost create contours along the body giving a sort of bumpy fish like look. It also looks that unlike the eye where tone was laid out first, here different pressures have been used in appropriate places to indicate form and weight. I also notice the fins which seems to have been done extremely delicately and without close inspection, you probably wouldn’t even realise there being texture, you would just get a feel for it. Finally after what first appeared to be the ground, I notice a small chimney of some sort, smoke billowing from out of a rectangular shape and I now think of it as a roof, and I get the feeling of a predator looking over rooftops as we go about our lives.
Fig 1. – Max Ernst – L’évadé (The Fugitive) from Histoire Naturelle (Natural History)
1926 (Reproduced frottages executed c. 1925)