Prometheus My Favorite Icon
As a subject for my contemporary wall art and contemporary sculpture, Prometheus has been my favorite mythological character since I was first captivated by him in college in 1972. He is not a rebel but a maverick who lives his life according to his own thoughts and, more, is emblematic of everything positive about the human race: creativity, science, education and the desire to progress.
I am also taken by the image of him: is very beautiful and is associated with fire, which, though horrible in it’s destructive power, is also exceedingly beautiful. His association with other mythological characters is also interesting. Lucifer, though more of a rebel, relates in that he is also very beautiful, the most beautiful angel, and is associated with fire as well. Also, both he and Prometheus dared to challenge the authority of their particular big daddy god, and suffered sever punishment as a result. Also, Prometheus relates to Jesus in that he also sacrificed himself for the human race through his act of bringing them the fire of the gods.
Prometheus etching 12×9 1972
I mentioned the first image I made of him, and etching in 1972 in a previous post. I still enjoy this piece very much as it was quite inspired and captured the character’s boldness and confidence. Since then I have made 4 other pieces of this subject: a contemporary hanging figurative sculpture, along with a wall sculpture titled Prometheus Unbound, 1996; a large charcoal and compressed charcoal drawing of the same title 2012; a compressed charcoal drawing (also mentioned in the previous post), 2013; and, just last month, smaller graphite drawing.
The sculpture is one of my first that exploits the lightness of Styrafoam and is an anti-religion statement as the wall sculpture is comprised of a cross and Star of David.
Prometheus Unbound Styrafoam sculpture 7′x4′x5′ 1996
I’m very pleased that the Prometheus Unbound drawing has been bought by someone who greatly appreciates it, and in who’s home it looks great. It is an anti-religion piece in the same way as the sculpture, except I added the Muslim sickle and star to the other two religious icons.
Prometheus Unbound charcoal and compressed charcoal 52×47 2012
The 2012 drawing is based on the early etching and captures many of the same qualities though in a different medium and much larger. I actually used myself as the model for both this piece and the drawing Prometheus Unbound, though, of course, just as reference – the physique of both is idealized.
Prometheus compressed charcoal 52×36 2012
The most recent small graphite drawing came about as I was making a study of an early Michelangelo sculpture and realized it would make a wonderful Prometheus. In this piece I was focused on the characters beauty along with his powerful and majestic quality.
Prometheus 2 graphite on En Tout Cas 18×12 2013
Prometheus My Favorite Icon
Ed Freeman is a terrific photographer based in Los Angeles. He has had a remarkable life starting as a musician and record arranger and producer, to finally a highly successful photographer with scores of cover pictures to his credit and fine art images in many private collections and permanent collections. He is interested in a wide variety of subjects including surfing, abandoned desert buildings and freeway ramps to name a few. What grabbed me however, and what relates to this blog where his nude studies.
Freeman has a great imagination, and creates these studies in many different ways: manipulating Polaroid transfers, combining multiple images, displacement maps and bent mirrors. Many of these experiments relate to what I’m strongly interested in; the fusing of the figure with the ground. They are all interesting and some quite beautiful.
About his experiments Freeman has said, “I have this enduring fascination with the borderline between recognizability and abstraction, and also between photography and whatever unnamed art lies beyond it, between photography and painting.”
All of freeman’s work is interesting, but what excites me the most by far are his images of nude models shot underwater. Of course the most salient thing about this is that the figures are completely free of gravity and can appear to float or fly or do whatever ones imagination desires. I’ve loved this notion since my early fascination with comic books and later the paintings of Michelangelo, and frequently display the figure free in space in my current drawings.
I find the piece above to be one of Freeman’s most beautiful and one of the best, although it has the problem of too much background causing the figure to be somewhat less significant that occurs frequently in the underwater images. However, the gorgeous, water refracted light behind the figure creates a eurythmic pattern that helps integrate figure and ground. Also this combined with the repeating of the light on the figure itself, the shadow of the figure on the floor and the bubbles coming off it’s right arm combine to create a tighter integration than most of the images have.
I’m not sure if it is because of Freeman’s interest in fusing painting and photography, but he seems to overwork most of his colored images. The skin of the models has an unnatural, plastic feel, and the overall images do not have the painterliness of oil painting. Nor are the colors heightened enough to have the super real quality found in the photo-shoped images of many artists today. As a result they have a flat, lifeless quality. I find the Black and Whites far more vital and satisfying. If Mr. Freeman can bring this vitality to all his underwater work they will be wonderful.
Classical Music and Art
Classical music has, since I was 18, been my greatest source of inspiration. Other forms of music also move me, like exhilarating electric blues/rock of people like Eric Clapton and Jimmy Hendrix, or classical Indian. But for the shear number and depth of pieces that move me, nothing compares to western classical. I think this is because it gives the strongest and purest passion, yet simultaneously great intellect. Also, the fact that there are so many huge pieces that have these qualities along with massive structures of great internal consistency, and yet are loaded with subtle details, make this music of the greatest satisfaction.
And among this Beethoven is the one composer who, for me, stands slightly above the rest. Although I get tremendous inspiration from many, many other composers: Tchaikovsky, Shostakovitch, Rachmaninoff, Brahms, Bach, Mahler, Mozart and on and on… it is Beethoven’s ability to make tangible the human spirit and illuminate the best that is within us that sets him apart for me.
I am also partial to the darker side of this music, the storm and drive talked about in regard to the Romantic period, and minor key pieces especially in the case of Mozart.
It’s not surprising then that I enjoy both making and viewing visual art that embodies some of the qualities mentioned above. Many of figures of Michelangelo (perhaps my favorite visual artist) have a fabulous rhythmical quality and it is strongly suspected that those in the Sistine Chapel were originally quite dark with bold and powerful shading patterns.
In abstract art fluidity and passion are also some of the things that I am drawn to and I’m a huge fan of Abstraction Expressionism, especially the skeins of paint of Pollock and the slashes of DeKooning and Franz Kline. And in the more recent work I enjoy the darkness and intensity of Francis Bacon, Sigmar Polke and Mauricio Lasansky.
And there has probably never been a more lyrical sculptor than Rodin unless it was Jean Arp.
Jean Arp, Growth
The above also goes a long way to explaining why I find most conceptual art deadly boring (along with the fact that much of it is simply bullshit), it is so cool, and (supposedly) intellectual.
Daniel, 20″ x 16″, compressed charcoal, 2013
Well, this hadn’t occurred to me at the outset, but writing this post has had the added benefit of helping me to understand my own predilections better. In my current work my focus is on fusing the realistic human figure with abstract gesture, and I can see how the fluid gestures relate to musical themes and the figures provides a sort of grounding and way to add structure to the drawings. Also my approach to both is one of expressing my passion.
Two Ignudi Series
The 19 Ignudi (originally 20, crumbling plaster having destroyed one) that serve as ornaments in Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling fresco constitute perhaps the most beautiful series of nude studies of all time, and have been a great inspiration to me since I first saw them as a kid. Only The Creation of Adam and the Separation of Light and Dark, have more appeal. The fact that they do not illustrate any story allowed them to be posed almost any way that struck Michelangelo’s fancy and some are the most beautiful and powerful I’ve ever seen.
Michelangelo, 3 Ignudi from the Sistine Ceiling
For the past several years I have been using them as a starting point for drawings that fuse the human figure with gestural abstraction. I just finished a series using all 19 in graphite, 17”x 14”, inspired by a drawing from way back in 1995. This piece was interesting in that it isolated three rectangular sections overlaying the figure that where then fully developed with both realism and gesture with the rest of the figure only very lightly outlined. This combined with a single bold line traversing and uniting the sections made for a satisfying composition.
Ignud0 19 and Ignudo 15, both, 17″ x 14″, graphite, 2013
Also, I have just started series of large compressed charcoal pieces, about 52” x 64”, which are more free-form, their compositions coming from the Ignudi and gestures alone. I prefer the pre-cleaned frescos of both the ceiling and The Last Judgment to their current state. In spite of all the dirt and soot, I find them much richer graphically and stronger overall. (I am quite saddened to read that the cleaning might have been a huge blunder taking away the masters over painting.) Partly inspired by the cracks in the old version, and also from my own imagination I have long visualized the Ignudi abstracted, with their lines and forms flowing out from them and swirling around them in abstract compositions. In these figures and many others Michelangelo has used draperies and other elements around the figures in very eurythmic ways and to some extent, I believe, shared my interest in extending the human figure beyond its borders.
Ignudo 12, 60″x 67″, compressed charcoal, 2013
Mark Demsteader is an artist based out of Manchester, UK who specializes in contemporary portraiture. He is self-taught and developed his style and technique through close observation of the human form in life drawing classes. His oil paintings usually feature the subject’s face, upper torso and sometimes the arms and hands rendered fairly realistically. What distinguishing them from most portraits of past centuries is that he paints the lower part of the figure, frequently in a dress (as the great majority of his subjects are women) in a abstracted manner, often treating it as a single mass of color. Also, he often blurs the edges of this mass, fusing it with the foreground and background.
Mark Demsteader, (could not find the title of this piece)
One of the most interesting aspects of his paintings are that he often uses heavy globs and drips of paint in the under-painting which have such high relief that they read as abstract objects sitting on the surface of the canvas. This creates a strange three dimensional space “floating” on top of, or outside of the three dimensional renaissancesque space of the painting. It also sometimes serves as a texture fusing the figurative parts of the image to the background.
Mark Demsteader, Arcadia
Attractive as his paintings are however, it is his drawings that are of most interest to me. They possess a melding of realism and gesture in a very satisfying way. The best of these that I have seen is, “Justement” which appears to be a study of a seated woman.
Mark Demsteader, Justement
Similarly to his paintings Demsteader renders the woman’s face, right arm and shoulder and hands and in a fairly straightforward way. But in this case though, along with abstracting the lower part of the figure, he also uses slashes and blurs of paint throughout the piece. These have the effect of not only merging the figure somewhat with the ground, but also giving it a sense of motion and vitality.
Also, in some of his drawings, Demsteader uses bits of collage which have a similar effect to the blobs of under-painting in his oils, creating abstract three dimensional forms and texture.
Mark Demsteader, Natalie Head Study 3, Pastel, and collage
I’d love to see what Mr. Demsteader would produce if he pushed the approach he uses in some of his drawings and studies more, and as well adapted them for his paintings.
In my last post I talked about a drawing that has haunted me for 18 years, an abstracted version of one of the Ignudo figures (nude youth) that serve as decorative elements around the main panels of Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling. So, I finally decided to do all 19 in the same style as the first one from 1995, Micheljackson 1, and see if I could create something as interesting. In general I have fallen short, but have learned some very important things in the process. The most important is that since I was thinking of the original piece essentially as an abstraction with figurative elements, I approached the figurative parts of the drawing in a much looser way than usual. I only tried to create generally human forms that had a sense of mass, but not necessarily anatomical precision. And, most importantly, the marks I made representing these forms where very personal.
Ignudo, Michelangelo, from the Sistine Ceiling Micheljackson 1
Knowing more of anatomy and the drawing technique of the renaissance masters, in the recent drawings I have tended to be much more literal with the figurative elements thereby loosing some of the spontaneity of the ’95 piece.
But the process has been very positive for me. I greatly enjoy the interaction of the abstract gestural lines of the original drawing with it’s looser sense of mass. And I’m now feeling quite optimistic about combining the more personal approach of the ’95 piece with the greater control I have acquired.
Michelangelo, Nude Youth Ignudo 19
There is a drawing that has been haunting me ever since I did it way back in 1995. It is what I now call Micheljackson 1 (I gave it this name last year when it was in my exhibition of the same name — a combination of Michelangelo and Jackson [Pollock]). It was one of those pieces that comes about at least half by accident.
Micheljackson 1, 19″x 20″, 1995
The thing is, it wasn’t even intended to be a drawing per se. I was playing around with an idea for a group show where each of three pieces had to be the size of a standard brick. So I lightly drew one of the Ignudi figures from the Sistine ceiling and again lightly drew three brick sized rectangles around sections of the figure that had lots of formal complexity. My idea was to first draw these parts of the figure with as much three dimensionality as possible, add my own spontaneous gestural marks and then cut out each of the three sections for my bricks. But when I saw what I had it looked too good to cut apart. It still needed something though, so I added the large spontaneous line through the three sections to connect them. The result is something that I feel is quite interesting, and, judging by the universal support of others, one of my best pieces.
The Haunting part comes in as A: I “unintentionally” created something better that I can do purposefully; and B: I’m still to this day working on how to get myself in as experimental and free a state of mind as when I was working on this piece. But of course I know I shouldn’t feel haunted by it, as this is how much new art comes about. There’s Picasso’s famous, “I do not seek, I find”. Noguchi’s belief that serendipity is the most powerful force in art. And I recently saw an interview where Francis Bacon said things tended to work in his paintings when he was “unconscious”. So, lots of precedent.
The British painter Cecily Brown, born in 1969, is a hot artist these days and has received a lot of very positive press. But I have to say, that although some of her paintings are very good, also for much of them I have to wonder why there are considered great. The pieces that first caught my attention where the “Black” paintings and the sexual image, “Performance” 1999. These are quite satisfying in that although they are very loose and spontaneous, they have enough control to have structure and intelligibility. And the “Blacks” reference the great Goya.
Black Painting #1, 2001
In some of her paintings however, it seems to me, Brown crosses the line between spontaneity and randomness. For example in “Hard Fast and Beautiful”, the figures have become so vague that she says very little about, or through them. Contrast this with Rodin who, though often very loose in his approach to the figure, said volumes. And more recently painters like Bacon, Freud and Auerbach express more as well.
Hard Fast and Beautiful, 2000
Unfortunately, more recent paintings have become much more busy with small squiggles of paint and figural elements so buried that at a certain point they become like one of those images for kids: “How many bunnies can you see in this picture?”
Carnival and Lent, 2008
Some of the recent pieces can be seen as completely abstract and Brown’s work has been compared to DeKooning’s. But her simple, flat brush strokes, have almost none of his emphasis, structure, and gorgeous texture within the field of gesture. “Why Are Their People Like Frank in the World” has interesting color, but in terms of brushwork there is very little of interest save that in some places they are larger and others smaller and more compressed giving the painting a simplistic sort of composition.
Why Are Their People Like Frank in the World, 2008-9
Brown is a good painter, with the potential to be great. Perhaps if she hadn’t been so successful so early in her career she world have achieved this by now.