6/03/2006


"Tense and on Edge" from "Lamentations Suite" 2003

LAMENTATIONS:

I imagine “Lamentations” as a series of elegies or meditations upon the themes of mortality, devastation, and loss. Clearly rooted in my love of books, the work was inspired, in part, by my reading of various elegiac Psalms as well as the Hebrew “Book of Lamentations”, and developed against the background of the War in Iraq, the looting of the Baghdad Museum, and the increasing violence in the Middle East. My use of the formal element of fragmentation (some might say “desecration” ) and reconstruction was intended as a metaphor of mortality and the tenuousness of life and culture... as well as of rebirth... or transcendence... physical or spiritual ( through recycling or reclamation ).

My current direction in art is indebted, in part at least, to circumstance. As the result of the loss of my studio space (landlords!), I found myself limited to an art that could be produced in a 10 x 15' home office. In consequencet, I began a re-examination of collage... a media I had not seriously explored since my time in art school. The immediate outcome was a series of small, poetic collages that were largely concerned with books. As a self-admitted bibliophile I had long struggled with the problem of how to bring my love of books into my art. With these collages the solution seemed obvious. Not only was I able to draw upon the book as the very source material for my art... to utilize the covers, the papers, the texts and the printed images... but I was also able to draw upon the intimate scale of the book and even to suggest various literary themes. In these early collages each individual piece had its own theme: Arab-Andalusian poetry, architecture, Bach's music, and Emily Dickenson were among the inspirations.






















"The Silken Ladder" 2003























"Arabesque" 2003

After framing most of these works and sending them off for exhibition, I contemplated the idea of creating a small suite of related works. The resulting imagery (albeit still abstract) was somewhat darker than what had gone before. With the war in Iraq, the looting of the Bagdad museum, the bombings in Spain and later London, and the continued violence in Israel and the rest of the Middle-East, I found myself meditating upon war, fragmentation, and mortality... human mortality and mortality of entire cultures. Shelly's "Ozymandias" and Paul Valery's equally prophetic words kept coming back to haunt me:

Ozymandias
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert...Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

— Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1817

"Elam, Nineveh, Babylon were but beautiful vague names, and the total ruin of those worlds had as little significance for us as their existence. But France, England, Russia...these too would be beautiful names...And we see now that the abyss of history is deep enough to hold us all. We are aware that a civilization has the same fragility as life. The circumstancesthat could send the works of Keats and Baudelaire to join those of Menander are no longer inconceivable--they are in the newspapers." -Paul Valery, "La Crisis de l'espirit"

As my readings at the time included various elegiac Psalms and the Hebrew Biblical "Book of Lamentations", the title for this suite soon became "Lamentations". Initially I imagined "Lamentations" numbering some 10 or 12 pieces. The concept, however, soon grew much larger than I could ever have imagined. Listening at the time to "Die Winterreise", that dark song cycle by Schubert, I began to realize that the small individual works of art could, when accumulated, grow into something grand, if not epic, in scale. As the "Lamentations" developed and the numbers increased it began to cover an entire wall of my studio. I saw the work as an entire wall of elegies or meditations upon war and loss, and could not help but imagine a correlation with such elegiac monuments as the Vietnam War Memorial or the "Wailing Wall" in Jerusalem. Other sources of inspiration for "Lamentations" include Dante's "Divine Comedy", the Old English epic "Beowolf" (both of which I had been re-reading), calligraphy and typography (books again!), medieval books, zen painting, Kurt Schwitters, Robert Motherwell, Conrad Marca-Relli, Monet's serials or suites of paintings based upon a single motif... and even Baudelaire's "Fleurs du Mal".
The completed project eventually numbered over 100 pieces. These were edited to the best 60 pieces which were framed as three panels (a triptych). The resulting work measured some 7 feet tall by 14 feet wide!. At the time the framed work almost stunned me. I found myself thinking, "Did I actually do this?". "Lamentations" so clearly surpassed anything I had ever done before that I found myself almost in disbelief that the work was indeed mine. Some 18 months later I have re-edited the piece... cropped it down even further by elliminating not only "weaker" pieces... but also individual collages that simply did not add to the suite as a whole.

1 Comments:

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