Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ode to an Aged Artist - Part VII

Thursday, August 19, 2010 - The Final Installment

It is time to bring this series of postings to a close. I hate to see Ode to an Aged Artist come to an end, but the painting, now titled Odas Elementales, is finished and it is hanging in the window of Annex Comics on Broadway in Newport, Rhode Island. It is a good place for it.

The proprietor of Annex Comics, Wayne Quackenbush, has been very supportive to the alternative high school, The East Bay Met School, where I work. He has provided internships to some our students and encouraged other students to display their artwork in his shop. If you are in Rhode Island and looking for a comic book/graphic novel/sequential artwork, you know where to go.

I have enjoyed the process of making and writing about this painting. The title comes from a series of poems by Pablo Neruda that I have quoted frequently in these postings. Odas Elementales is usually translated as Elemental Odes, but I’d translate it as Odes to Basic Things. In the making of this piece, I was trying to do the visual version of what Neruda does in these poems: describe everyday objects in an accessible style. The amazing thing about Neruda’s odes is that in one moment they seem to be nothing more than lovely, clear descriptions and in the next moment they seem full of deeper meaning.

I think of my painting as a self-portrait that I don’t appear in. I’m telling you about whom I am by presenting some of the everyday things from my life: roosters, elephants, the cup I drink my morning coffee from, the quilt design called tumbling blocks, Honduran clowns, some tile patterns that have stuck in my head, tomatoes from my garden, and a little doll bought in a tourist market in Guatemala. These things are present in my mind and attached to some of my sweetest memories.

Can you tell this from the painting? Do these objects seem full of deeper meaning?


This painting uses all the conventions of the old side show banners that lined circus midways advertising amazing and disturbing attractions. Like them, it is painted on unstretched canvas and has grommets for hanging it. I’ve copied the painted banner within the actual banner that these signs always had and also copied the style of lettering that would have proclaimed, Dickie the Penguin Boy, Jack Joyce’s Performing Horses, Amazon Snake Charmer, Huey the Pretzel Man, Rasmus Nielsen Scandinavian Strong Man, Professor Price Tattoo Artist, Alligator Girl, and Shella Queen of the Jungle.

(My reference was Freaks, Geeks & Strange Girls – Sideshow Banners of the Great American Midway, by Randy Johnson, Jim Secreto, and Teddy Varndell.)

Almost all of the midway banners contained another element, a circle containing the word “alive.” This appeared as assurance to the rubes who were going to pay a nickel to enter the sideshow that they would see the living, breathing, genuine article, not a painting or a statue or a work of taxidermy. However, I think it carries another meaning. I think it is a declaration of existence.

I’m alive! I’m here! I woke up this morning on the right side of the grass! How amazing!

And finally, it is all that matters.

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