July 14, 2017

A Tapestry in a Drawing

The second of my three recently completed 11" x 14" pencil drawings is "Man with a Hoop." In this drawing, the position of Dexter, the model, is echoed by a classic painting by Renoir, "Girl with a Hoop." This painting on the wall, as most of the other details in the drawing, were not in the original sketch made so many years ago in graduate school when I seemed to have an exceptionally short attention span. Other details that required fleshing out a bit were the container plant as well as the elaborate details in the fabric wall hanging.

It was a rainy day when I finished this drawing, so I had to haul the large potted plant up to the back porch and sit in the sunroom floor to render it in to the drawing. When choosing the fabric for the background I had a moment of self-effacement. I originally started reaching for my book on African fabric designs and then had to ask myself why I was doing that. This man was from New Jersey and was educated in an upscale school where he had designed his own program of study. Besides, I had already included a French Impressionist painting in the background. Being a man of the world, Dexter could easily have had a reproduction of that in his living space. So instead of thinking of the man as a shape, I decided to allude to his worldliness by making an elaborate quilt in the background. For this I used a pattern from our small collection of fabrics. My husband had found this piece in Winchester, Virginia and had to have it. I’ve attached a sample on the right so readers can enjoy the colors as well as the patterns.

The drawing itself is like a woven tapestry, curves echoing other curves, repeated shapes, and forms connecting in interesting ways.

July 11, 2017

Goya's Capricho No. 42 Is Now in an Odd Place

My intricate drawing that was only in progress when I wrote my last post is now finished. I often do not have a specific plan when I work on drawings, but rather, pull in elements from immediate observations and impressions. The design on the figure’s dress was plucked from an observation of the century plant growing in my front yard. Here is a picture of this lovely succulent with its pointed leaves and shadowy patterns.

The day I finished the drawing I was listening to scene three from Verdi’s Don Carlo. It was my original intention to include a painting within the drawing that alluded to Don Carlo. But the scene in question was a shadowy vision of the Spanish Inquisition. Who to better illustrate the Spanish Inquisition than Francisco de Goya. Goya is famous for a series of eighty aquatints satirizing the excesses of the Catholic church. These were called the Caprices, or Los Caprichos. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/30/nyregion/goyas-etchings-of-a-dark-and-complicated-past.html  Probably the most famous is the one about the sleep of reason producing fools. But that one didn’t suit and I instead chose Capricho No. 42, which depicted men carrying donkeys on their backs. It did occur to me while I was drawing these that some among my contemporaries would think that I was satirizing the Democratic Party. And was not Bill Clinton president number 42? But I told myself, "Nah, nobody’s going to think of that."

To my astonishment someone did read my blog post. I forwarded an image of the newly finished drawing to him and he asked if just might be satirizing the Democratic party. Oh! Woe is me! Unintended satires creeping in to my work! Is my brain now on automatic satire pilot?

It looks like this will take a bit more reading and research in order to ascertain, if possible, what Goya meant by Capricho No. 42. Then I might have something to say about what it is doing in my drawing.

July 4, 2017

The Fourth of July with a Drawing and Don Carlo

I am working on a slow drawing today. The basic design is complete and I am filling in the details. As I work I listen to music. Today I listen to Verdi’s Don Carlo. Don Carlo is probably Verdi’s most complex and ingenious operas. Set against the infamous Spanish Inquisition, it is also his darkest and most menacing.

In times of trouble, such as what Americans face today, I often seek both solace and understanding in art. I do so because although some come very close, the talking heads in the news media never seem to get it quite right. Then I find the answer in art - in the greatness of Don Carlo. There was one particular scene in this opera that so chillingly encapsulates all that happens in love, rejection, vengeance and the abrogation of humanity in favor of fanatic ideology. This is the scene of Filippo’s (King Phillip) aria and then duet with The Grande Inquisitore. In previous scences, we come to know of the engagement of King Phillip’s son, Don Carlo, to the princess of France. The King, however, decides to break that engagement and marry the princess himself. That does not go particularly well, especially since this is opera.

Before the curtain opens the music is sublime, plaintive and sad. The scene opens with King Phillip alone at his desk in a dark room. He is crying piteously about being a lonely old man with a young wife who does not love him. It is a heart wrenching scene and almost makes the listener cry in sympathy (this listener does), as Phillip describes the sad look of his wife, his nights alone in bed. His bed a crypt. We are wrenched inside as well, because who has not known the sting of rejection and isolation?

Then the scene changes. Almost as if summoned telepathically by Phillip’s sorrow, The Grande Inquisitore is at his door. The mood is altered from one of sadness to one of menace. If ever music captured evil, it is that terrible sound of string basses and horns that accompanies the entry of the Inquisitore through the immense black doors of Phillip’s chambers - flung open seemingly on their own like the gates of Hell. It chills one to the bone.

The Inquisitore is the personification of irrational fanaticism, literally blind as a metaphor to his blindness to reason. His eyes are black and lifeless voids as he asks if the King is present. The King acknowledges that he is present and had summoned this terrible visitor. Then to our horror, we see Phillip’s deportment change from one slighted in love to one bent on revenge. This is all the more horrible for me in that I cannot make that cognitive shift from pity to repugnance quickly enough as Phillip is now actively engaged in plotting with the Grande Inquisitore to kill his only son and rival, Don Carlo. And that is the genius of Don Carlo - in that we know in that instant how easy it is to shift from rejection to hatred, from victim to victimizer.

But that is when it dawned upon me that this is also where we are at in my country. How devastating it is to think that a collective sorrow would summon evil. But how often has this been the case in history? Many social historians contend, for instance, that the social and economic strain of Weimar Germany ushered in Hitler’s Germany. Tyrants sniff out discontent and use it to their advantage. How easy it is then, for them to sink their talons in to those who cry for help.

At the end of what is probably one of the most moving scenes in opera, King Phillip’s last line, after the Grande Inquisitore departs, is "The crown bows to the altar." Governance submits to blind fanaticism. It is a cautionary tale that perhaps can only best be represented by such an enduring art form. To see for oneself, here is the link to the scene in question from Verdi’s Don Carlo. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ph6p1Mtpp18&list=RDPh6p1Mtpp18#t=0   I will keep listening as I work on my drawing. Perhaps there will be some surprises when I complete this woman in front of a quilt.