Monday, June 30, 2008

Fallen Icarus by Randall Good

He's finally at home. I've just returned from the framer with my latest Randall Good drawing from Blue Moon Art Gallery in Hot Springs, Arkansas. This piece is a beautiful large drawing (roughly 22X27) of the mythological figure of Icarus as he lays wrecked on the earth after falling from the sky with his damaged wings. The work actually frames out to about 37" in height. I couldn't be more pleased with the final result. He will now take the place of honor over the head board of my bed. The small Icarus watercolors will go out to flanking positions on either side of this larger work.
Let's talk about the work now. Why are mythological themes still relevant in the 21st century? I feel the mythological themes are needed today just as much or possibly more than in previous centuries. During the ages of the Renaissance and later the Reformation, artists and philosophers grasped for these themes because the institutions of thought and spirituality had become so shallow and empty. Education during their times was parceled out exclusively by the church. However, the church had become nothing more than a political institution clinging to traditions and rituals that did not address the deeper needs of their followers. The figures of myth were much more visceral. They appealed more to the intellect. The themes were more universal and not culturally specific. They were what Jung would refer to as "archetypes" residing in the collective consciousness of us all. Can we agree that we are a society that has become just as intellectually complacent as that preceding the Renaissance and Reformation? Our cultural diet is fed to us through the mass media and television, our education is a government formulated collection of books and subjects, and the dominant religion (Christian Evangelicals) has become corrupt with greed for political power (Republicans). Yes, I'd say that we can benefit from the objective lessons the ancient myths have to teach us. They show us to accept our fallibility and humanity.
In this drawing Icarus has arrogantly flown too high and too close the the sun, the Solar Apollo. His man-made wings of wax and feathers has melted in the heat and he has fallen to his ruin on the rocks below. Let's examine the obvious lesson here that the ancient Greeks tried to follow. We are to respect the boundaries of our human limitations. Be careful that our "reach does not exceed our grasp." Was Icarus destroyed because he had the audacity to believe he could fly? No. His father, Daedalus, also built a pair of wings and flew without incident to safety and landed unharmed. It was Icarus, with his youthful arrogance, pride, and vanity that drove him to want to go higher. He wanted to show-off to his father, he wanted to exceed what his father had done. He ventured into territory where he was unwelcome and out of his league. Let's not forget that the Greek sun was a chariot driven across the heavens by the Solar Apollo. Apollo was the most beautiful and radiant being in the Greek pantheon. He was also the most vain and proud male in the universe (like most beautiful young men are). Icarus trespassed into Apollo's territory and the god took his revenge. Another lesson here is, do not presume to think we are equal to the gods. We are not omnipotent. If we believe that we have power over nature and the elements, its merely an illusion.
At first glance some may see only the violence and despair of Icarus failure and death. I see more than that in the pose of the figure and the composition of the overall piece. Notice that the figure, the dead body of Icarus, is low in the picture plane giving it less importance, almost an afterthought. The wing however, is dead center vertically and horizontally in the space. This represents that the focus is not on the man, but on his creation, his flight. The optimistic view of the Icarus story is not that he died, its that HE FLEW! Seen in this context Icarus takes on an almost Christ-like character. The Greeks also believed that mankind was the greatest creation of the gods and that's why they elevated their admiration of the human form to an almost worshipful reverence. The emphasis placed on the great wing in this drawing reminds us of man's resourcefulness and inventiveness. Only mankind has the ability to do this. The wing represents the greatness of man's achievements. Its the sum of these achievements that make us greater than we are as weak mortal beings. The wing centered in the picture plane reminds us of this.
I see in this drawing of Icarus death one last victory. The figure's pose is not static. The upward thrusting arm reaches back defiantly at the sun. The hand in the foreground is clenched claw like. And while Solar Apollo may have defeated Icarus, he did not win completely. Apollo did not go untouched. The tip of Icarus' wing stabs into the disc of the sun ever so slightly. Even in death Icarus challenges the god, piercing the perfection of the sun. The artist shows this so effectively by interrupting the one purely geometric shape in this piece with the rough and organic construction of the man's wing.
I hope you enjoy this drawing as much as I do. If anyone would like to view it personally, drop me an email and I'll invite you over. I have four of Good's works now so I've thought about charging admission to the bedroom. Just kidding, I'll probably give you a glass of wine and bore you with a long lecture on why these drawings and watercolors are so special to me. Just please don't be so tacky as to ask me how much they cost. To me they're priceless.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Ganges Under Glass

Ganges has been laying around the house for a couple of years now. I postponed having him framed because I knew it would be expensive. Larger works cost more to frame, and let's face it, Ganges is a big ol' boy. This work is actually 16"X20". After matting the frame was a good size.

What was the inspiration for this drawing of Ganges? Let's go back a bit and review. A few years ago I read Dan Brown's "Angels and Demons". In my opinion its a better read than "DaVinci Code". It didn't get as much attention because the story isn't as controversial and scandalous. But, its a much more exciting and adventurous tale. Just as the works of DaVinci were the star of "Code", the art of the sculptor Bernini was featured in "Angels". The basic premise is that Bernini's many angel sculptures that are sprinkled all over Rome help our hero, Robert Langdon, solve the murders being comitted by a serial killer.

One of the most exciting scenes involves a fight to the death between Langdon and the villain in the Fountain of the Four Rivers. Bernini sculpted four anthropomorphic male figures to represent the major river of each of the four continents known to Europe at that time. There is the Nile to represent Africa, the Danube to represent Europe, the Rio da Platta for the Americas and Ganges to represent Asia. These four figures support an Egyptian obelisk that is crowned by a dove. The Post-Reformation symbolism meant that the power of the church (dove symbol) triumphs over every continent in the world (the male river figures). Each of the male figures holds another symbol to help identify him and attach him to his associated river. For instance, the head of the Nile was unknown at that time so the male figure has a cloak pulled over his head and hides his face. The American figure shows non-European features (some suggest it is a native American figure, others say it has Negro features) and includes piles of coins around him to represent the riches of the New World. Ganges is holding an oar to represent that river as a major transportation and trade route through Asia.

I chose to paint Ganges simply because the photo reference I had showed great compositional elements. There are two strong diagonal lines in the work. The reclined body and legs move upper left to lower right and the direction of the oar crosses the opposite direction. The two lines intersect at the center of the mid-point of the work. The right leg of the figure is extremely foreshortened and almost thrusts out of the picture plane. I thought this was a great artistic challenge for me and enjoyed working on the drawing.

I originally planned to do more finishing work on this drawing. But, I started having artistic arguments with myself. I often get too fussy and picky with my works. I sweat over every detail. I started adding the classical columns in the background, then I worked more on the stone. So I asked myself. What is the main focus of this drawing? Well, its the very dynamic pose and action of this beautiful classical figure, of course. So, I realized that if I kept scratching and smudging around on the other stuff in the drawing that I would just distract from the central theme. So, I saw that I had pretty much completed the figure. So, I followed Maestro DaVinci's saying, "... a painting is never completed, merely abandoned." So I stopped and put him away.

I hope everyone enjoys this piece as much as I enjoyed making it. Some of my friends have already perceived Ganges' oar as a phallic symbol and have given me quite a bit of harassment about that. Personally, I never even saw it that way until some of them pointed it out. So, I suggest that they may be reading too much into it. They should remember that sometimes an "oar is just and oar."

Monday, June 2, 2008

Alex Ojeda in eFortSmith Magazine

Its always a pleasure to share good news. Its even more fun when the good news is about a good friend and their artwork. I just heard that the photography of Alex Ojeda will be featured in this month's Entertainment Fort Smith magazine.

We've been looking forward to this for a few weeks now. Alex consulted several of us a while back to help in his selection process. I was very flattered that he asked my opinion on his photos. He wanted his friends to help him pick 10 pieces to be featured in this month's issue. Of course, Alex never takes a bad picture so it was not an easy decision.

As you see from this sample magazine page, the subject of this series focused on commercial signage. These four images are just a sample of a much larger collection that included faded signs in disrepair found along the highway all the way up to the most elegant lights of Times Square and Broadway. Alex does a great job at making these very static images convey a very tangible sense of mood and character. The seedy old motel signs give us a nostalgic reminder of what glorious things they must have been in the days right before mass air travel led to their demise. The neon of Broadway glows with the radiance and hauteur of the stars that grace their stages. Of course, I'm partial to the black and white, and monochromatic images. Alex has a fine sense of value, balance and composition. In my opinion, its these photos where those qualities show up best.

I hope everyone will take the time to look at this months issue of Entertainment Fort Smith. Its easy to find locally. There are usually free copies at most local restaurants and newsstands. For convenience I'm including a link to this month's Entertainment Fort Smith web page. I'm also including a link to Alex's photography web page.

Congratulations, mi amigo!!