Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Isolation of Artists and Scientists

Rushdie's talk and the rambling conversations and laughs circling through the night until 4:00 am with Brian and Chris have stirred me up so much that I have to process it all first.  And right now for me the easiest way is through art.
So I started a new piece, "Isolation" due to the fact my self-imposed isolation was broken by this trip. Along with most artists and writers I deal with the necessity and the dangers of isolation constantly.  To produce, we need to isolate ourselves, have time to think, process, create and connect references, memories, concepts. Yet experiences are the only way to bring the endless stream of material, ideologies and emotionally-charged moments which an artist or writer needs to make those pivotal resonances in their art.
This piece is still a work in progress but it's one of those serendipitous pieces where things fall together because of my subconscious.  I started by using Golden's Gel Medium to lay down a photograph taken  from a time frame anywhere between 1950-1970.  It came in a wonderful packet form a dealer on Etsy who offers various historical paper ephemera.  It's a photo of an old man walking on a New York street perhaps - at least in my imagination, he is, yet he's totally in his own world, slightly out of place, like I imagine Tesla and Howard Hughes were at the close of their lives.  He was the perfect subject for "the scientist" in my piece on isolation.  Also in the packet were unused vintage liquor and drug store labels  I chose ones with the words "poison" and "spiriteaux" since I feel both words apply to the paradox of isolation.
But for a whole day, I couldn't find the image that would work for the art or artist.  I tried many - none of them worked.  And then I thought of the first piece of art which ever inspired me to study art history.  It was "The School of Athens" by Raphael.  All through school and even art lessons my mother sent me to for a brief time, I was told I had no artistic ability at all, while my sister had a good bit.  After that I was no longer exposed to art, in fact denied even cursory art classes through high school.  Yet, as a young mother in a bad marriage, I ran away one day and just picked up a book on Raphael and was stopped dead at the image of Raphael's famous fresco which featured all the philosophers of Athens.
I paid $60.00 for a book when we didn't have enough money for rent.
It was my first act of rebellion, urged on by the image of one of the two figures who looked directly at the viewer among many philosophers. It was the first piece of art which captivated me, and for 35 years, I've had a fascination with the figure in the white robe. Yet only today discovered who Raphael meant her to be.... Hypatia of Alexandria, the only female philosopher in the entire School of Athens. She represented learning and science to Raphael, thanks to her contributions to astronomy, mathematics and philosophy.
Wow, that discovery blew me away.  Because of her direct gaze, I spent years trying to figure out what she was trying to say. She was the first person to encourage me to stand up for myself . She was murdered for political reasons in 416 B.C. then painted in Raphael's vision in 1510 and 1511.  A major resonance here to Rushdie's admonition that writers and artists may be isolated, tortured and even killed because of their books and paintings, yet their work outlives the assassins. Yet ten years later I finally had the guts to get divorced and 25 years later started to paint.  It may have taken a long time, but her questioning gaze inspired me on a long and transformational journey. In many ways, she represented the spirit of women who would stand up for change.  Even Raphael, had to cater to his society by using the son of his patron as the model of Hypatia.
AS a student of Carl; Jung, I am pleasantly surprised at these developments.  The subconscious does work in mysterious ways, indeed, but always towards the holistic awareness, the "authenticity" of the individual. I was often called a late bloomer as a child - and this seems to emphasize that. While I'm not the most daring and outspoken person on this planet, I have tried to rattle some aspects of the status quo with my art, fiction and poetry. But now looking at things in this late, not enough.
It was only later today, that I noticed the label with the word, Spiriteaux, was from the brand of St. Jerome's. So I decided to look him up.  Wow- another synchronicity since he's the patron saint of librarians and translators and is the second most voluminous writer after  St. Augustine in ancient Latin Christianity.
I tried a number of new techniques in this piece. I added a Doric column to the androgynous clothing of Hypatia with the transfer technique using packing tape which I found in Claudine Helmuth's book, Collage Discovery Workshop. I used a number of acrylic and metallic paints, some gold leaf, and the Periodic Table of Elements to represent science.

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