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.