February 5, 2014

"Little Goose" and "Sounds" in a Painted Backdrop

Sometimes simple solutions become complicated. That is usually because I make them so. In my last post I mentioned that I was at work on painting some backdrops for the brown ocarinas that I have on display at the Orangeburg County Fine Art Center. The brown ocarinas were lost against the brown color of the wall on which they were hung. So I cut some ovals out of paper and faux finished them in marble whites.

Then I began to get fancy. I remembered some Chinese white papers with gold flecks and embossed seal script calligraphy on them. Wouldn’t it be interesting to make stamps of the seal script words for sounds and ocarinas and stamp them onto the white backdrop surface using gold and copper paint? Trouble was I didn’t know the Chinese word for ocarina. And it was not in my Chinese English dictionary. I could have made something up and translated the words “globular flute” but I decided instead that it would be more interesting to translate the meaning of “ocarina” from the original Italian. The word literally means “little goose.” I knew those words in Chinese and could therefore look those up in a book on seal script calligraphy. There was no word for “goose” in that dictionary. That either meant that the dictionary was not complete or that the Chinese word for “goose” is not ancient. Were there no geese in ancient China? Are were there geese by a different name? In cases where a seal carver can’t find a seal script for a word he sometimes invents one by cutting and splicing parts of other words. I did that for goose. The Chinese word for goose is a curious one. It is a bilateral pictograph consisting of the word for “bird” on the right, and the word for “I, myself” on the left. But sometimes “I” is on the top or “I” is on the right. And that is a very weird sentence in English. But why should “I” be a attached to a “bird” to make a goose? Chinese aggregate words often make sense but sometimes they don’t. I suspect in the case of “I” and the “goose,” the “I” is a phonetic key instead of something that adds meaning to a word. The word “goose” must sound something like the word for “I.” “I” sound like a goose.

In order to make an ancient seal script stamp for “ocarina” or “little goose,” I took the seal script word for “I” and the seal script word for “goose” and put them side by side into one compound word. I don’t know if that was cheating or not but it looked right. Then I carved a number of smaller stamps with the seal script word for “sounds,” and “resonance.” These I liberally printed over the white painted surface. I then realized that I had not included the “little goose,” stamp. I placed that one in the middle of the oval. This, of course, will be hidden by the ocarina itself. A lot of work and research into something that will not even be seen. For this reason, I will most likely use my “little goose” stamp on future clay projects. I may even use it on some paintings I have in mind of bottles with very, very long necks.