Rubens, master of the first blockbusters

In times past I spent many happy hours in front of Rubens’s magnificent Fall of Phaeton.  I made a bunch of drawings of this one horse alone, which are scattered throughout several notebooks. 

Sometimes I just stood and looked without a notebook.  Phaeton is a mesmerizing tour de force.  Once I stood for forty-five minutes in front of the painting, looking, staring, pondering — sometimes getting up close to marvel at details, sometimes standing back to admire the sublimity of the whole. 

A museum guard stood nearby, aware of my marathon watching, and deep into my session he finally ventured forward to help me (I must have seemed to need it), saying vaguely, “um, er, if you have a question about the painting, there’s a plaque here with some information.”

That’s when I decided perhaps it was time to go, that I had bewildered the guard for long enough.  But I could have stood there a fortnight.  Rubens is better than the most gripping movie.

“I should be happy to give 10 years of my life,” said Vincent van Gogh while gazing at Rembrandt’s Jewish Bride in Amsterdam in 1885, “if I could go on sitting here in front of this painting for a fortnight, with only a crust of dry bread for food.”

That’s kind of how I feel about Rubens.

Motif Surfing in the Renaissance

Copying masterworks is one way both to learn and to delight in looking.  Just as I’ve made innumerable drawings of my sea shell, or my fish Pixel, or my favorite spot along my favorite walk — or let’s not forget the many drawings of Doll — so I discover I made more drawings of this lady than I realized.  She’s a Renaissance sculpture at the National Gallery of Art, and a charming gal even if she’s made of stone.

Self Portrait-ing

It’s hard to really know people, and that fact, I think, applies as much to oneself as to others.  It’s hard to know who you are, and it’s sensible and not narcissistic to occasionally inquire into the nature of one’s self.

The means of mirror gazing are many.  For artists the self-portrait is one means. 

Naturally just as one witnesses different aspects of other people, just in that way it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to discover that one finds different facets to oneself.

And you can portray yourself in different ways.  And why not deliberately seek to know these other aspects of the self?  Or if one only stumbles upon them, that too is knowledge….

A niche in life

The old masters are so much more complex than any of my ways of understanding them, as I discover when I go back and revisit drawings I made. 

“But you cannot let yourself be sad — even — in noting the distance between oneself and them,” I tell myself.

You have to be the artist you are.

[Above, my copy after a Velasquez lady.]

Old Flowers

Many years ago I made a very dark and smudgy tribute to graphite and old art in the form of this drawing which copies an old master’s painting.  But now I cannot remember who’s the old master. 

An early Van Gogh?  Any guesses?  Is there an art historian in the house?

The Artist’s Parents

I drew my parents years ago.  My mother, pixie-like.

My dad, engrossed in a television broadcast, coiled with the energy of his attention.  His shoe, I find, also expressed somehow his mood, his relaxed and yet intense focus.

My Italy of Thought

Years ago I began a large painting, one of my first large pictures.  Painted it in the living room of my parents’ North Carolina home using a ladder as an easel.  The motif was based on a parcel of land down the street from their home.  I tried to transform it into Renaissance Italy, the sort of place one of Giorgione’s gals would hang out.

These are samples of the several compositional drawings.  (There was a bunch.  I’m not sure what happened to them all.)  Looking through old notebooks, I found this one made in pencil (above) and this other in conte crayon (below).  The crayon adds to the Italian feeling, don’t you think?

the Song

bird’s up to the other’s down
throat raised
announcing “it’s mine!” to the sky
only those of your kind hear
 
we think you melodious
how sweet and light
we find your song delicate and uplifting
and to your race does it sound a warning
or a terror, or maybe just plain stated ownership?
 
while here you opened the gates to sky
inside chains of red and gold
lattice, Eden-like, mathematical prison
structure that welds together matter
keeping the up up and the down down
not to cross paths
 
we know what we know and
don’t know what we don’t know
 
Rumsfeld was our bird, like you singing
and some thought the song was sweet
and to others it sounded alarms
 
and peril and beauty are
contrasting elements across the
demarcations of creatureliness
 
the fish cannot hear your song
your wings like fins
your feathers like scales
so similarly colored and compacted, mover
 
you press through the ocean of air
and you might as well be on different planets
for all the understanding
but there’s just one planet, you see

Inside and Outside

The incidence of insideness is marked.
I would say you are all insides
of meandering golden section paths
but admittedly the outside is complex also
mountains and valleys most magnificent
though small and handmade.
Well, not exactly hand-made, with what appendages did you make them?
I half forgot you have your own shape too,
that this is not you, only your magnificent house
and your you I acknowledge I have not seen and am not acquainted with
only the house remains behind
you slipped away entirely in mystery
most cleverly.