March 6, 2008

Rubens Rising

In 1598 Peter Paul Rubens collaborated with Jan Brueghel the Elder on a complex painting, “The Battle of the Amazons”. Rubens contributed the figures and Bruegel painted the richly detailed foliage in the back round. Rubens’ figures are almost unearthly in their luminosity - like wet oyster shells washed up on a beach. Standing in front of this painting about seventeen years ago, I filled some pages of my sketchbook with pictures of the fallen female figures and their male counterparts, also fallen in battle. Rubens must have found the subject compelling, for he returned to this theme again twenty years later to paint a second version of “The Battle of the Amazons,” on his own. Similarly, while cleaning and filing away my old sketches, I used some of them as resource material in my present series of figurative mosaics.
In the original collaborative painting by Rubens and Brueghel, there is a central figure of a woman lying with an arm outstretched - her body arched slightly. The reaching arm was a beautiful extension of the body and had a certain pathos to it - a supplication for her comrades to carry on perhaps. I made a three-dimensional relief sculpture based on this figure for my “Fallen Amazon” mosaic constructed with stone, ceramic and glass. Making a three-dimensional form from a two-dimensional image presents some interesting logistical problems. What exactly is on the other side of the image must be intuited through a general knowledge of anatomy and how something or someone might move in space. There is always a surprise when coming around to that other side and seeing something frontally that was only envisioned from the side.

It has taken a long time to work through this series of mosaics. Several weeks have gone by while I have been making the parts - the figures, the small pieces of pottery, and cutting the stone. It is gratifying to actually begin to assemble all these parts into cohesive wholes.

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