I was assigned by my printmaking instructor to put together a full value sketch for our next assignment, mono-printing.
No problem, delighted to oblige.
What I find surprising is how most of the class does not share my enthusiasm for this part of the process.
I-phones in hand they download an image and create from such a micro source- it boggles my old weary eyes.
I overcompensate at times and this sketch became a finished drawing.
I’m happy about that, I have wanted to play with the Minotaur theme for quite some time. Picasso an inspiration for subject matter if not aesthetic approach, Clive’s gorgeous horse-men also prompted me along , but most especially Blake’s incredible illustration for Dante’s Inferno.
I love the half beast-half man being truly half beast and not just sporting a bull mask (although Picasso’s Minotaurs cannot be beat for pure erotic appeal).
Theseus, described as young and handsome, was of course a delight to depict-thank goodness there aren’t many plain Greek heroes.
Detail of Theseus.
The following was a beautiful inspiration for the awful Minotaur, an inspiration I failed to follow.
(It can be found in the Museum of Athens. It is incredible, I would love to visit the mad beast.)
When researching the Minotaur myth I found few examples of the “centaur” version as depicted so beautifully by Blake.
Although there is little stylistic similarities in my drawing to the Blake, I think with mono-printing I may be able to capture Blake’s well- studied spontaneity. I will post the results.
I was delighted and spooked when the Minotaur theme entered popular culture. On one of our favorite television shows, Dexter, last evening’s episode featured a terrible murderous villain obsessed with the myth. It was a truly frightening.
Printmaking is progressing onwards, seventh week already; received my first grade for the etching/aquatint segment of course. I’m pleased with the grade.
I’m less pleased with my actual mastery of this tricky medium, trying to be patient and enjoy the discoveries.
It would be lovely if I were a relaxed, easy going southern Californian like my fellow students, everything that is produced is “G-r-e-a-t!!!!”.
Their enthusiasm is exhausting.
Anyway, the following print was designed to showcase my understanding of the various techniques taught within the last few weeks.
I upped the ante a bit by choosing a larger plate (9 by 12) and focusing on drypoint which everyone in class including the teacher seems to shun; I love the technique. The techniques are a soft ground transfer, with drypoint and aquatint ; the aquatint failed multiple times to produce sufficiently dark value- the plate became warped and the rosin would not settle properly. I compensated with drypoint.
The above image was printed in a particularly pretty blue, I also ran a run in graphite, pretty color, but a bit weak.
Actually, I rather like the color.
My first proof was just the soft ground etching, which I liked, reminded me of a very primitive Flaxman print.
We initially begin the project with a value drawing.
My inspiration for the print was from a spectacular Syrian bas relief of the 10th or 9th century; I’m crazy for its archaic quality and its humor.
Gilgamesh and Enkidu Slaying Humbaba
basalt relief, from palace of King Kapara at Toll Halaf, Syria.
10th-9th cent. B.C.
When I began this class I also began a large painting, 50 by 60 inches. Taking Clive’s advice I decided to move the action forward (the Syrian relief an inspiration). I made use of my Hero Twin maquettes and have been busy painting since. I am nearing completion.
Until I post the final image I thought I would tease with my preparatory sketch.
Well I must get on with my day, an evening class but first a studio day to work out a plan for for mono prints, our next adventure!
At last another entry for my Primer of New Spain, “N” for the New Fire Ceremony. The end of the Aztec “century”, every 52 years was a precarious time, one full of tremendous trepidation. In the period of 7 “centuries” four major disasters occurred ; it was of great significance to the Aztec that the New Fire Ceremony succeed .
After all flames within the kingdom were extinguished, the ceremony was performed south of Tenochtitlan at Huixachtlan, the Hill of the Star. The nocturnal ritual entailed the usual human sacrifice; but after the removal of the unfortunate victim’s heart, the priest kindled a new flame from a drill board placed in the chest cavity.
The belief was that the new flame was divine, sent from the heavens ; IF a flame occurred the Universe was given a 52 year reprieve, if not…
My interpretation depicted with my usual romanticism includes a youthful priest, the victim equally young; I am currently a bit obsessed with Cain and Abel; my Temple of Huixachtlan fashioned to vaguely resemble the letter “N”;my altar looks suspicioulsy Neo-Classical.
All to be expected I suppose.
It is interesting to note that according to Fray Bernardino de Sahagún the last New Fire Ceremony was held in 1507 during the reign of Motecuhzoma II; the eighth was scheduled for 1559 but by then New Spain was a firm reality and the Aztecs long vanquished.
On another note my painting The Sacrifice of the Father: Recollections of the Popl huh I has been accepted in a group show at the Los Angeles based Brand Library and Gallery ;the exhibition, Memories , seems to have proven a suitable fit for my offering. This is the second year I have participated at the Brand, the exhibition is Brand 41 as there have been 41 exhibitions. My painting is now sitting in my studio freshly ( and unexpectedly expensively) framed. I will most likely not attend the opening ( a bit of a schlepp), but I am hand delivering the painting tomorrow .
Until next time,
Found a silly Aztec cartoon that seem timely to this post:
As I mentioned before I am taking a course in printmaking, so far we have focused on etching and its various methods.
It is as many can imagine, very exciting, frustrating and humbling.
But I am thrilled to be gaining this knowledge. The following image is my first complete print, which consists of three distinct processes: hardline etching, soft ground texture and aqua/mezzotint.
Predictably I have chosen my beloved Quetzalcoatl sowing his seed (naughty innuendo intentional) .
First off, please understand I am still trying to master the most basictechniques; my stylus slips all over the zinc plate, my hand is unsteady and insecure, this clumsiness is apparent .
But at this stage I really am trying to merely understand the process and the opportunities afforded by this new medium.
The first stage of this print is hardline etching, pretty basic ; you press your stylus into a plate prepared with a base coat of hard asphaltum. Warm the wax on a giant hotplate, you roll it out, cool it and presto, a lovely surface to doodle upon.
Unfortunately i have yet to master line control on this slippery surface.
Patience and practice… first stage follows:
The second plate, adds texture and mood (or so I am told), frankly it is my least favorite stage.
I prefer creating texture by hand.
In this assignment I was instructed to press textured material into the plate which had been prepared with a softer ground of asphaltum than we had used for the hardline step.
I chose, given the print’s very small size, wisps of broken cheesecloth and snippets of an ungodly 70’s textured wallpaper.
The third plate, which was to be our last, was aquatint, a variation on mezzotint (made famous by Goya).
This was the most challenging step, values are determined by timed soaks in an acid bath.
Having first fashioned (a time consuming) value chart , I had a sense of how to achieve the values I sought; or so I thought.
Unfortunately my timing was off, I hadn’t created any blacks; a problem in that I wanted them, and more importantly the assignment demanded them.
Back to the acid bath, blocking out the areas I wished to keep with a material called Stop Out ; then with careful timing, seeking to attain my goal of a richer black foreground.
I achieved what I sought, I would make changes if I could have better predicted the outcome, but I am pleased that I am beginning to better understand the complexities and opportunities of etching.
My appreciation for my own collection of 18th and 19th century engravings and etchings has soared beyond mere aesthetic appreciation; what was accomplished by these past masters is technically astounding.
A technique I was eager to play with was drypoint.
I have a few drypoint prints in my collection, I love the evocative smudgy quality of the images. Rembrandt of course made the technique famous, but others have mastered it as well.
It turns out (thus far) to be my favorite technique.
It also proves to be the most challenging, this little (3 by 4 inches)Ecce Homo is my first incredibly naive attempt.
It is a brutally ugly image, I’m frankly embarrassed by it; but Clive has encouraged me to revel in the process.
So here is what reveling in the process looks like.
God save me.
Tomorrow we start a new process, soft ground etching. It is a process my insructor believes offers artists the freedom drawing affords. In anticipation I have put together this finished drawing of Cain. I understand the final image will not retain the precision, but I like to work out all details BEFORE facing an acid bath. I will post the result and perhaps some of the process when I am finished.
As the deadline for Alphabet Soup looms in the not so distant future I decided it was time to get busy; printmaking and mythology assignments be damned.
This addition to the Primer of New Spain is for Kukulcan, the Yucatec term for quetzal-serpent (aka Quetzalcoatl).
Early accounts (pre-Aztec) of the priestly king describe a divine sovereign so gentle of nature that when tempted by demons to engage in ritual human sacrifice he refuses. The Codex Chimpalopoca informs the reader :
“he would never agree [to human sacrifice] because he loved his vassals the Toltecs, and his sacrifice was always of snails, birds, and butterflies”.
Poor snails, birds and butterflies.
This enlightened monarch evidently introduced his people to the benefits of maize-hence the funny little crown.
He is also understood to be of great beauty, rendered the color of jade, beloved above gold-hence his pretty green body.
The funny little crown I mentioned is based upon a stucco portrait of the Great King Pacal of Palanque.
One of my older books describes this gorgeous bust as perhaps representing a priest of Kukulcan, the Quetzalcoatl of the Mayas.That has since been disproven but I thought the inspiration for my priestly king appropriate.
When I landed in San Diego I quite literally closed the final page of Homer’s Odyssey ( Robert Fitzgerald edition); unlike our hero Odysseus I did not return to libertine suitors or “a wife dishonored” but rather my own dull life.
What I was left with was many vivid images.
Homer directs a set with meticulous detail, he minutely describes the marble halls of kings, golden vessels pouring forth liquid hospitality, horrifying monsters ready to pounce upon the weakness of man, fetching virgins willing to do the same and the gallantry and failures of man himself.
Once such Everyman was Amphínomos, son of Nísos Aretíadês, comely , “gently bred” (340) and of all the ruffians wooing fair Penélopê he pleased her “…for he meant no ill.” (302-303). I was drawn to this character for in the telling of this tale Homer points out the excesses of the suitors, the bold heroics of Odysseus and his son Telémakhos, the cunning of Kirke and the mad predictions of Cassandra; all characters extraordinary in their way.
Amphínomos isn’t particularly heroic he merely seems to possess basic deceny, a desire to try his hand at the hot widow Penélopê and indulge in the overflowing sweet wine and unending platters of roast meats served by boys with “…pretty faces” and “…pomade ever on their sleek heads…” (278). Can’t really blame the fellow.
In fact his only real act of heroics lies in his aversion to regicide, when the unruly mob of suitors plot to eliminate the young Telémakhos only Amphínomos objects, being unwilling to kill a “…prince of royal blood…” (303). Again and again it is just garden variety decency that makes Amphínomos so endearing, even to our lofty hero, Odysseus. Disguised as a beggar at his own court, Odysseus is greeted with cruelty by the band of loutish suitors; Amphínomos offers bread and cordiality to the unfortunate wretch. Odysseus repays this kindness with words of advice “Get outta Dodge”. He warns the young man that the king will indeed return and all are doomed for there will be “…no way out, unless by blood.” (341).
Something deep within the young knows this to be correct, he witnesses the debauchery around him and knows what the beggars says to be true. As he turns to leave he is frozen for “…his heart foreknew the wrath to come, but he could not take flight, being by Athena bound there. Death would have him broken by a spear thrown by Telémakhos. So he sat down there where he has sat before.” (340-341).
This is my interpretation of the doomed Amphínomos, the grey-eyed Athena and Unrelenting Death.
Well that is all it for now,after facing a fearsome goddess and Death himself, I must walk my dogs.
I had hoped to discuss my thoughts as to why this example of Greek fatalism contrasted so sharply with the Good News of another figure to come. A theology where redemption was indeed possible; where a fellow like Amphínomos inclined to change could have done just that. How in the Classical world god and man were bound by Fate ; the hapless must returned to the chair “…where he had sat before” and silently accept what must be. How a new theology could have understandably appealed to an ancient world weary of the irrational tyranny of fickle gods and brutal destiny.
But thankfully I haven’t time to discuss such matters, I have rambunctious pups to attend to.