Monday, September 14, 2020

A Patient Lady

"A Patient Lady" 23" x 22"

 This all began quite some time ago: the idea was to make a small, quick piece.  When you are in the business of making large, complex pieces that take months on end, quickies can be a real palette refresher.  Also, if I think of them in a certain way, they seem more fun because there's less pressure.  Or at least that's what I tell myself at the outset...the road to hell, etc etc.

Who doesn't just love Holbein?  Well probably someone... I dunno--I love much of the portraiture of the Northern Renaissance.  I love the peacock blue of Holbein's backgrounds.  I love the flourish of a decorative vine lurking in the background.  I love nun-fashions.  Not to wear myself...but you know, those big white head wrappings...  There are a few specific Holbeins I looked at: Portrait of a Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling , Portrait of a Woman and Lady Guilford

Its not a good idea to rip off an artist as good as Holbein as it will only underscore all one's shortcomings but apparently I forgot that for the duration...

Portraiture is such a freaky genre in so many ways.  And is this piece here that I have made a portrait?  Well it can't be because the character is from my imagination, so no. But its drawing on the tropes of the portrait tradition: a person just. sitting. there. Doing nothing but being seen.  Holbein's pieces are, I am guessing,  wealthy patrons. One of the reasons why I think portraiture is weird is because it really speaks to motive: why would anyone paint someone's portrait?  There are so few reasons!  Money and to remember them--that's it right?  Can anyone think of another reason an artist would want to choose this subject? I guess a love of the human form?  Self portraits can be done for additional reasons (lack of models, practice, desire for immortality/insecurity).
Portraiture as a form reduces the world to two philosophical possibilities as represented by the artist's selection of subject.  In figurative art you can do a self portrait or a portrait of someone else. That's IT: one's self or the other.  Which suggests that psychologically we are screwed. Once again, leave it to art to remind us we cannot breach the barrier into a single other human or animal consciousness...we are stuck in our own heads trying to decide if others are characters in a dream you are having from the laboratory in which your disembodied brain is sitting in a vat dreaming crazily. Or if maybe we are the character in some other brain in a vat's dream.  

Do a self portrait and you are stuck in a solipsistic world of narcissistic self referral.  Paint anyone else and its exploitation of their body, pure and simple, every time. (And then there's the vast range of response we have from iconoclasm, to censorship, to support--the whole gamut often all in the same time and culture--but certainly over the eons and all over the world.  Attempt to depict a person and you are usually screwed!)  What I think allows some breathing room in this mode is that, hopefully,  portraits can be a prime venue for empathy and possibly compassion.  They are not a chance just to consume the subject, but to inhabit their to speak.  But don't imagine for a second that by creating an image of a human that just happens automatically (well, maybe..)...empathy doesn't just happen every time you see a picture of a human.  No, one must pay mind to gesture, to expression, to color, design, mood, and tweak it in such a way that the viewer considers it an invitation to step into that person's consciousness for a sec.  And of course, empathy is merely a step towards compassion--they are not identical.  But art can only do so much.

So why would anyone make a portrait of an imaginary person?  I should be able to answer that because I have done it oh-so-many times!  No, they are not all supposed to be ME!  Although I don't think I could ever make a character I didn't identify with, so there is an element of dress up here, ala Cindy Sherman.  Aside: I have, on more than one occasion, been told I am "nun-like"...not sure if they mean  Maria Von Trapp nun, Sister Helen Prejean or the evil stereotype of Catholic school.  Its pretty funny to be told you are nun-like when you are an atheist, but I do see what they mean. Sometimes I'm Prudith and sometimes I'm Lewdith. So this is yet another character I have invented to stand in my proxy and presumably, hopefully, other people can relate.  Also, right now I am digging the fact that its hard to accuse someone of exploitation when you use imaginary characters...but that was not an issue when I got my start. 

I made the glass head last year and I even soldered it together because I knew if I didn't I would keep messing with it and ruin it.  Because I had convinced myself she was a "quickie" I thought I was gonna slap this one together while making dashing creative decisions of great risk and derring-do and in the process stumble upon a whole new line of inspiration without having to do any heavy lifting or deep underground mining. HAHAHAHAHAAAAA. That's never happens--at least not to me.

Beginning the engraving
Later in the engraving
She used to have a Marge Simpson beehive.
But I cut it off and gave her a wimple instead and a suggestive flower.
Layers of glass used to create all the colors.  Lambert's R/CLB, Desag gold pink on clear, St Just 221 teal on clear.

First off: All I wanted to do was copy exactly stroke for stroke the vine in the Holbein piece. But that's I set about creating my own and when you put all that work into it, it can't just be part of the background--a way to activate a blue field. So I  turned it into an oak branch and put it in her hand.   This pleased me immensely. Why? Once again: ORNAMENT IS ONLY A CRIME because it reminds certain people invested in being seen as "Serious Geniuses" of fashion accessories; which, by those people's critical assessment must necessarily be the very definition of not serious and not geniusy...because...well, because they are girly. WRONG ANSWER.  Decoration is not frivolous: it takes time and energy to produce so it represent a sacrifice of valued resources on the part of the artist. And they do it to say YOU ARE WORTH IT.  I want anyone seeing this thing to never doubt for a single instant that it mattered to me to make it and it matters equally that you see it.  So she's holding the damned oak branch, its not floating up from the background like some frou frou grape vine.  Oak: for strength?  Or because pin oak leaves are so cool?  You decide.  I like it--who carries around tree branches and then sits for their portrait with one?  It looks meaningful...therefore, by the power invested in my by the Communicative power of art, I declare it be actually meaningful.


At some point, she took her shoes off.  They were on for a long time... I was really happy when this happened.  The real reason  for this (especially after they were completed!) was because the bottom half desperately needed some color. Of course I could have given her red shoes...or wacky socks.  But the first thing that came to mind was her feet...and the more I thought about it, the more it seemed dead on as a solution.

She had shoes on

You know: bare feet on a fully dressed person in a portrait say something...maybe in the Kenneth Clark sense of nude vs naked.  Adam and Eve are nude, a nude is a natural state of being, etc: to have clothes on is to leave the Garden.  And to have some of the expected clothing missing draws attention to this nude vs naked thing. They allude to the natural state of nude...she's dressed but her feet are two nudes. 

To me they say: she's patient but she's also allowing herself some comfort, letting her feet feel the warm breeze, get less moist. They may be erotic--but not in the sexy sense.  Erotic refers to Eros who  breathed life into the dead planet before becoming Cupid.  (That's all wrong... the real stuff is discussed in Anne Carson's excellent book  "Eros the Bittersweet", highly recommended)  Eros, then is life itself and the creative force that breaths life (i.e. inspires) into the world.  To show her feet, the character (at least in my mind) is allowing herself to reconnect to the planet directly.   And its so much easier to walk in another's shoes if you don't have to pull them off their feet.  And there they are...(my shoes.  I took a photo.)


The brown side panels were to play up the Holbein palette thing.

The title was inadvertently suggest by my friend Candace Jensen.