Working on these large drawings is such great fun. The cerulean and cobalt blue are colors that I’ve used for over-drawing since I started the rose scribing process, but here I get to use the colors on a larger scale. The idea for the blue comes from Jean-Luc Nancy. In the essay, “The Image – The Distinct” (Ground of the Image), he says that “Every image has its sky even if it is represented as outside the image or is not represented at all.” I was intrigued by the statement, and thus decided to use ‘blues’ as trace references to Nancy’s text.
When I first started working with the red rose petals in January of 2010, (cf. Withdrawn: scribing Nancy for that project) I looked for other ways of using and documenting the roses beyond the scribing and tattooing of the petal surface. I explored the petals as a possible drawing medium, to see what kinds of marks the rose dye could make. I filled several long rolls of drawing vellum with ‘rose skids’ (each petal crushed and smashed and dragged against the surface of the paper). Using every single petal of each rose – including the yellowish stamens and pistels – the work also served to document/present each rose in an alternate manner.
I posted 2 blogs on these rose skids early on here (see entries for January 4 and 6th, 2011, “Side Things” and More Rose Skids”). I’ve taken that initial work a step further and used it as the space to explore new drawings. Flowers have been used by some pretty heavy-weight artists (just to name a few I admire – Georgia O’Keefe, Henri Matisse, Andy Warhol, Cy Twomby). So, I’ve acknowledged the precedence set by the above artists directly in my drawings. This I have done as text scribbles. Of course, I’ve also added Jean-Luc Nancy’s name since I’ve been appropriating his work for almost two years now.
In this essay, Visitation (Jean-Luc Nancy), which I have been exploring for some time now, Nancy talks about painting – as painting (another visitation, another “site of conception”). In fact, as I interpret Nancy’s words – he sees Pontormo’s work as pure painting, beyond its religious content: pregnant with birth – but another kind of birth – that is, of painting itself. “This mêlée begins and ends in the painting, and as a painting,” he says, describing the unfolding and the interweaving of color and cloth and light and figures.
I have been thinking about drawing – and what drawing as drawing would mean? Cy Twombly comes to mind – mark, gesture, scribble, color, paint, texture, surface and script. No attempt at representation, yet his work is laden with references, to art history, to literature, to poetry. I think also of Elizabeth MacKenzie’s iPad work (cf: Scribbles and other entries on her site). There too is the act of pure mark-making. Even her portraits, dissolving in puddles of inky color, straddle the tense space between recognition of a face and the blur of ambiguity.
The text in the drawings below comes from the Coda of Nancy’s essay.
“What is thus sought, what the painting is seeking, is the mutual visitation of a spectator and a painting…so that we might know how to see the invisible and bring about an anamnesis that arises before birth (or at the far end of death).” Jean-Luc Nancy, “The Visitation”.
Nancy is talking specifically about the painting by Pontormo (The Visitation), but the relationship of viewer to the art work is, I think, always one of a “mutual visitation” – an examining, an experiencing, a becoming aware. Does the object stare back? Can it? What does it want?
There are no ageing bodies in Greek classical art. Eternal youth, proportioned to perfection, graces the corridors of that ancient history, and interestingly enough, does it not continue to haunt the contemporary mind? It was with relief, that I found a poetic fragment by Sappho that actually speaks of the ageing body. (text fragments of Sappho; Carson, A. 2002).
Cloth, light, flesh and color are again under discussion in Nancy’s engagement with Pontormo (as it was with his exploration of Caravaggio; cf. my posts of March). Air and voice become the vehicles of the invisible, the hidden, the secret. The ample robes of Elizabeth and Mary float and swirl around the solid forms, the spirit incarnate, a moment frozen in mid air. Bill Viola, in his video re-interpretation of this painting, “The Greeting” of 1995, picks up the metaphor of the swirling cloth – figures and garb moving in extreme slow motion, placing the weight of the meeting on the flutter and movement. Viola also adds a enigmatic voice to Mary, “Can you help me, I need to talk with you,” Mary whispers to Elizabeth, leaving the viewer puzzling over the message.
This blogging project based on drawing and text, using a variety of drawing media including the inscribed, tattooed white rose petals creates a space that in turn allows for elaboration and exploration in other directions. Here is a new project I’ve recently undertaken which has arisen from the essay I’ve been working on for the past while, “The Visitation,” by Jean-Luc Nancy.
In the biblical tale of the Visitation, the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth affirmed the physical presence of the double miracle – the virgin conception and the equally miraculous pregnancy of Elizabeth, a woman already past childbearing age. From that meeting, came the iconic Christian prayer, said to have been spoken by Mary upon greeting Elizabeth – the magnificat. The prayer speaks of love, of duty, of the handmaiden chosen and exhaulted above others: “…from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.” It is a beautiful, patriarchical document of belief that focuses on the power of the father and positions Mary as a vehicle of divine will. I have chosen to explore some of these ideas – love, the body, the concept of the feminine as creator, and have begun a project that reinscribes into the original words, a new voice, made of even older words, those of Sappho, along with my own dialogues that address my own realities of embodiment – via memories and present experiences of ageing.
This work in progress, I am producing on my studio wall – utilizing the inscribed petals as vehicles for the texts, and, as a counterpoint, I am drawing with graphite and acrylic onto the wall.
Here is what Nancy says of art and memory:
“No anamnesis rises up within it, but every gesture of art strives toward its irruption, approaches to the point of brushing against it, and if necessary, to the point of burning itself and tearing itself apart.”
The drawings of hands I’ve taken from Botticelli’s painting of The Three Graces, and Bill Viola’s video, The Greeting. Both works are mentioned in Nancy’s essay. Viola’s video piece (1995) is a contemporary re-interpretation of Pontormo’s work: a “restaging and re-presenting,” to use Nancy’s words. And the Botticelli, Nancy adds, influenced Pontormo’s composition of the figures.
For the past month, this essay of Nancy’s has been occupying my thoughts. His concept of the “threshold”, the intimate relationship of viewer to a work of art – a looking at death – at painting and the painting of death, and no less than a beautiful, close, poetic reading of Caravaggio – that is what I see in Nancy’s essay. There is more of course, to Nancy’s complex writing on art, I am painfully aware. Understanding is always partial and fragmented. But the pleasure and engagement of art is not a bounded, enclosed space, but open to return, to re-encounter, to new interpretations.
Some of Nancy’s final words form the basis of my response. The “open,” says Nancy, has no access, for the open is always already access.
I’ve pulled four more word-idea-themes from Nancy’s discussion of the Caravaggio image. They are water, light, cloth and flesh. Here is the first of the four. Nancy states, “Water is perhaps the secret element or prism of this scene bathed in tears. The water or oil of the painting… washes, streams, spreads…”