Herakles and Telephos

In my ever expanding collection of books , I possess a well worn volume that I treasure dearly. It is The Odyssey of Homer,  translated by Alexander Pope and illustrated with lovely line drawings in the manner of Flaxman. As I mentioned, it is in sorry shape, but I picked up this gem for a quarter at the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh  many years ago. I confess I haven’t read this translation, the pages are brittle, the text so teeny I can barely focus on the page. I merely enjoy the book ; its fussy attention to detail, each page framed by an elegant red line, its many musty charms. I particularly love the ornamental spot illustration, micro plates , somewhat Greek (sometimes not) in nature,that intersperse the text; they are often enigmatic and always delightful .

One such micro plate inspired this painting/drawing, Herakles and Telephos.

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Herakles and Telephos

2015

graphite and watercolor on YUPO paper

9 by 12″

Initially when I stumbled upon the plate (set neatly between Book  XIV and Book XV) I couldn’t figure out what the hell I was looking at. The image seemed  vaguely surreal in its composition and in its elements: a big headed man, a putto, a doe (with antlers), a strangely phallic cloud and a menacing raptor. But as I began working on my own interpretation I began to realize I was looking at an image of Hercules and his infant son Telephos. In  a nutshell, Telephos born of one of Hercules’ many dalliances, was ill fated, and like the babe Oedipus, sentenced to death, in this case by his fearful maternal grandfather. Our Hero-daddy rescues the boy, entrusting his care to a lactating doe. For a better explanation, this link might help, HERE.

The following is the initial image, blown up quite a bit, the original is the size of a postage stamp; I have no clue as to who the artist was.

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If the original was enigmatic, my interpretation might be more so. I of course retained the phallic cloud, and the doe’s perplexing antlers, but Telephos is no mere babe and the raptor/Zeus ( the boy’s grandad) is no mere bird. I’m not going to analyze the drawing to deeply but let’s just say the notion of a protective father figure resonated for me. Session ended.

In this drawing/painting I experimented with a new material, the synthetic paper YUPO ( link HERE). I was introduced to this paper by another artist who extolled its virtues, namely its ability to take a lot of medium and still remain flat and unwrinkled. It also allows for errors in watercolor to be easily removed. Alas it also allows for details you value to be easily removed. It takes a bit of time for paint to set up, and I must figure out how to work with it. YUPO may not be my go-to paper just now but it does have possibilities I would like to explore. It is marketed as a watercolor paper yet it takes graphite beautifully, the pencil glides upon the smooth surface. The following is the drawing before I added watercolor.

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Today I will be back into the thick of oils and perhaps venture into a hand puppet ( one idea will not leave my head so I better let it out).

Be well,

Lg

Persephone

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I’ve been struggling with the flu for well over a week, in spite of my first ever flu shot, I succumbed sometime during my recent trip back East. I find the flu to be a memento mori ( although it could be argued that everything is a memento mori to me). I wallowed lavishly in misery. But for the last few days I have been able to pull myself off the fainting couch and  put the finishing touches on a painting I have been working on for the past few months, Persephone.

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Persephone

2015

oil on canvas

24 by 36 inches

As is so often the case, my inspiration for the painting was yet another literature course, this time, World Mythology. We were focusing upon the Greeks, with a translation of the Homeric Hymns (c.600 B.C.E.) by Andrew Lang, link to text HERE. The opening passage was so beautiful, particularly as read by my professor, that I knew a painting was to be found amidst the flowery prose: 

“Of fair-tressed Demeter, Demeter holy Goddess, I begin to sing: of her and her slim-ankled daughter whom Hades snatched away, the gift of wide-beholding Zeus, but Demeter knew it not, she that bears the Seasons, the giver of goodly crops. For her daughter was playing with the deep-bosomed maidens of Oceanus, and was gathering flowers—roses, and crocuses, and fair violets in the soft meadow, and lilies, and hyacinths, and the narcissus which the earth brought forth as a snare to the fair-faced maiden, by the counsel of Zeus and to pleasure the Lord with many guests. Wondrously bloomed the flower, a marvel for all to see, whether deathless gods or deathly men. From its root grew forth a hundred blossoms, and with its fragrant odour the wide heaven above and the whole earth laughed, and the salt wave of the sea. Then the maiden marvelled, and stretched forth both her hands to seize the fair plaything, but the wide-wayed earth gaped in the Nysian plain, and up rushed the Prince, the host of many guests, the many-named son of Cronos, with his immortal horses. Maugre her will he seized her, and drave her off weeping in his golden chariot, but she shrilled aloud, calling on Father Cronides, the highest of gods and the best.”

I was also inspired by the type of synoptic composition that the Roman’s excelled in, found  often on sarcophagi relief carvings, and silver work; where the narrative just tumbles forth every which way, paying little heed to logical time sequence or proportion. I love the puzzle of guessing what the hell is going on . This detail from a Roman beaker (1-100 A.D.), recently on view at the Getty Villa in Malibu is typical of the sort of compositional puzzle I am speaking of.

VEX.2014.1.10: Beaker with Isthmian games - ROLLOUT

 I set aside for myself the task to include as much of what I loved about the Hymn to Demeter into a relatively small canvas, playing upon the logic defying  compositions of our dear Romans.

First off, there is  “slim-ankled” Persephone , “deep bosomed, low slung hips”, such sexy play of words. Everytime I read the Greeks ( I just finished the Iliad) I am reminded of their absolute love of fleshiness. I wanted to capture that with Persephone.

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detail of Persephone

A character I found curious was that of Hekate, she of the “shining head-tire”, who witnessed the soon-to-be abduction (once again,  logical narrative sequence  be damned); she and Phoebus Apollo are the only two to see what the hell went on , and the mad with terror Demeter turns to the “daughter of Persaeus”.

I love the passage of Hekate, serene and separate from the madness of lust, “thinking delicate thoughts”.

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 Hekate “thinking delicate thoughts”

Demeter, in her afore mentioned terror is described as having “tore the wimple about her ambrosial hair, and cast a dark veil about her shoulders”. I admire how that description alludes to her complete withdrawal from god and man and how in time, Mother Earth herself will suffer the consequence.

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An interest of mine is how the Greeks, and later Blake , would anthropomorphize natural elements such as mountains, streams, clouds, turning them into sentient beings. I wanted to play with that as well. This mountain shudders as to what will come.

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Another mountain harbors the “deep-bosomed” playmates of Persephone , who cowardly run off, abandoning our heroine.

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The text describes how Hades, Lord with Many Guests ( yet no bride) seduces the “fair-faced maiden”. As Persephone gathers flowers, Hades seduces her with the floral mother load of all flowers, for there “wondrously bloomed the FLOWER, a marvel for all to see, wether deathless gods or deathly men”.

A handsome youth should  sufficiently beguile dear Persephone.

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Of “deathless gods”, many feature in this tale of sacrifice, redemption and rebirth, yet Prince Helios, the glorious Phoebus Apollo is always a delight to render.

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As is the Father of Gods, the supreme Son of Kronus. Homer in the Iliad repeatedly reminds the reader how shifty this great god is , that only a fool would rely upon the Dark-browed god’s word. Persephone soon learns this harsh lesson when her cries for salvation fall upon her father’s deaf ears. He too busy collecting accolades from man:

” But he far off sat apart from the gods in his temple haunted by prayers, receiving goodly victims from mortal men”.

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Frankly, Zeus just reminds me of any number of sexy, cocky Italian guys I have known in my day!

But I suppose in many ways this painting focuses not on Persephone but on Hades (first image). In some ways it turned out somehow “redeeming” the rape into an act of rectifying desperate loneliness. When the three great brothers were dividing the Universe, Hades certainly received the short straw. Zeus in his hubris received the heavens and earth, Poseidon the azure sea, but poor Hades, the dank Underworld-and without a bride. Apollo himself tells the bereaved Demeter, that although he shares her sorrow for her loss, she should see the sacrifice in a brighter light, that Hades is a god worthy of Her divine daughter:

“But, Goddess, do thou cease from thy long lamenting. It behoves not thee thus vainly to cherish anger unassuaged. No unseemly lord for thy daughter among the Immortals is Aidoneus, the lord of many, thine own brother and of one seed with thee, and for his honour he won, since when was made the threefold division, to be lord among those with whom he dwells.”

That may very well be  posturing , defensive, patriarchal bullshit, but still, worth considering lonely Hades position.

But for now, I am finished with the Hymn to Demeter.

Be well, Lg