Cephalus Awakening to the Dawn and the Adoration of Aurora

Cephalus Awakening to the Dawn and the Adoration of Aurora

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         There are two common stories centered on Cephalus.  One is an extended and somewhat convoluted play by Niccolo da Correggio based on Ovid’s text and of course the other is the myth itself.  The artwork concerns itself with the original Greek myth.  Aurora, goddess of the dawn and sister to Helios, fell in love with the handsome mortal youth Cephalus.  This infatuation became even more ardent as Cephalus spurned the goddess and the despondent Aurora began to ignore her task of leading Helios through the sky.  In order to avoid chaos, Cupid shot Cephalus with one of his arrows and Aurora’s love was returned.

         It is the central part of the story that is illustrated here, albeit in a highly stylized form.  To further emphasize that stylized quality the entire painting has a cool crystalline aesthetic that is appropriate to dawn and calculated to heighten the form of Cephalus.  The young shepherd has just awoke and in symbolic fashion is throwing off the covers of sleep and exposing himself, one senses, in a rather coy way to the appreciative view of Aurora.  In keeping with a motif that runs through several of my interpretations of myths, a highly decorative disc represents the goddess Aurora.  This device enhances what is a subtle tension in the picture in which soft forms and cool colors contrast with emblematic form of the dawn.  Another very subtle device for following the story without becoming too literal is the choice to have the Dawn in the form of the disc virtually jump the horizon and appear to crowd the space of Cephalus, figuratively abandoning her duties as the guide for Helios.  These devices as well as the multiple technical effects like the glazing in the figure matched with the flat impasto of the sky make what is a subtly complicated story very aesthetically appealing.

 

Oil on French Linen and keyed stretcher

Hand finished Italian frame

Conservation mounted

Image size 25 x 21  

Frame size 33 x 29
 

 

Danae

Danae

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        This version of Danae developed very early in the planning stages for the show “Feathers and Fate: Mortals in Mythology.”  It was important to me to concentrate all the emphasis on the mortal form of the recumbent female, thus the only allusion to Jupiter as he descends on Danae to seduce her, is the glowing light in the background.  The story of Jupiter’s seduction of Danae is not commonly known, but the main points are as follows.  In order to visit the young woman who had been hidden away in a tower by her paranoid father, Jupiter transformed himself into a shower of gold.  Many artists focus on the descending shower of gold and the reaction of the young woman who is sometimes accompanied by an older servant.  My concentration, as it has been throughout the “Feathers and Fate” show has been on the mortal and their powerlessness against fate and the whims of the gods.  To further enhance the figure of Danae her form and the shadows are built up in a succession of glazes, each becoming slightly more transparent.  This gives the flesh a nice glow which is then set off against the background light which is a thicker layer of dark paint that has been scratched through with the wood handle of a paint brush to reveal the warm under-painting.  Everything is calculated to lend a simple yet atmospheric quality to the myth.

 

Oil on wood panel

Hand finished Italian frame

Conservation mounted

Image size 12 x 16    

Frame size 20 x 24
 

 

 

Ixion of Tartarus

Ixion of Tartarus

         Ixion is probably the least known of the four figures customarily depicted as undergoing torture in Tartarus.  For killing his father-in-law and trying to rape Juno, the wife of Jupiter, Ixion was bound for eternity to a flaming and turning wheel.  Incidentally, Jupiter was aware of Ixion’s plan to seduce Juno so the god made an image of his wife out of the clouds and the drunken Ixion embraced that instead.  The offspring of this bizarre union were the Centaurs.

         Sometimes I just can’t help myself.  I have said elsewhere that art is very often an experiment, a chance taken to see what is successful.  This is very much one of those pieces.  I just could not resist attempting something I had been thinking of for some time.  Several years ago I took up watercolor as a means of aiding the spontaneity of my oils.  However, the watercolors developed very nicely on their own and it seemed that the two techniques would stay separate.  However, I could not get the idea of incorporating a fluid method of working in oil.  Ixion is the result of much thought and experimentation, and I feel it is highly successful.  I love having another effect in the repertoire that can be used in varying degrees on other pieces.  Here there is a wonderful transparency in the flesh of Ixion, with subtle colors that blend together as a result of the new glazing method and washing it over a very light and loose sinopia, or ink-like underpainting.  The fluid background is wonderful as the symbolic state of Tartarus and it is enhanced as much as it enhances the solid black of the shadows.  The black shadows help define the space, but they also function as a flat decoration; in a way it recalls the background of the red figure ceramics of ancient Greece.

 

Oil on French linen

Hand toned and distressed Italian frame

Image size 24 x 29  

Frame size 32 x 37

Flight of Icarus

Flight of Icarus

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         The story of Icarus is one of the most well known in classical mythology.  Icarus was exiled on the island of Crete with his father Daedalus, the legendary Athenian inventor and craftsman.  In order to escape, Daedalus fashioned, for himself and his son, a pair of wings using wax to hold the feathers.  Before the escape Daedalus warned Icarus “neither to fly too high nor too low.”  Of course, with much hubris, Icarus flew too close to the sun and the wax melted.  Icarus fell into the sea and was drowned.

         There is good reason why this painting was chosen as the image to represent the “Feathers and Fate: Mortals in Mythology” show as it quite clearly illustrates a number of the elements important to the show from the thematic to the aesthetic.  Firstly, Icarus represents man in general, that is, the will to be free, to explore, and to try with good intention and with bad to push the boundaries.  Thus the ribbons that in one form or another function throughout many of the myth works.  In a sense, we, like Icarus, are in some way bound to those things that make up our character – our pride and our fear.  As with all my works the elements of the painting function to push the figure forward in the picture plane.  In this work it is quite successful, especially with Icarus and his magnificent wings silhouetted against the sky with absolutely no reference to the earth.  Furthermore, it is not a flat sky, there is movement in the brush work going so far as to completely break up in the upper corners: an intentional device that calls attention, in mannerist fashion, to the act of painting and also symbolically hints that there are undefined areas yet to be explored.  The color is extremely important in this piece as well.  It is virtually entirely comprised of blues and oranges, these complimentary colors creating a very vibrant effect.

 

Oil on French Linen and keyed stretcher

Hand finished, silver leaf Italian frame

Conservation mounted

Image size 27.5 x 21 

Frame size 35.5 x 29

The Traveler Phrygian Icarus

The Traveler Phrygian Icarus

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         The story of Icarus is one of the most well known in classical mythology.  Icarus was exiled on the island of Crete with his father Daedalus, the legendary Athenian inventor and craftsman.  In order to escape, Daedalus fashioned, for himself and his son, a pair of wings using wax to hold the feathers.  Before the escape Daedalus warned Icarus “neither to fly too high nor too low.”  Of course, with much hubris, Icarus flew too close to the sun and the wax melted.  Icarus fell into the sea and was drowned.

         There is quite a bit going on in this oil painting.  It was the first oil I started in anticipation of the myth show, and it was one of the last finished.  Unlike most paintings I do, this piece evolved over the course of execution.  There are a couple of reasons for this, the first being the importance of the work.  It introduces the ribbon motif that metaphorically binds the mortals to their fate.  The painting is important in that it is also one the largest and most interestingly shaped as it is in tondo form with a very elaborate circular frame.  And finally it established the ethos that these paintings were not simply retellings of the old tales; they are symbolic and regenerative.  In the present piece the aesthetic and the title speak to this very issue.  The headpiece that Icarus wears is a Phrygian hat.  The Phrygian hat was given to freed slaves in ancient times and it became the symbol of travelers.  The meaning is apparent; Icarus and his flight become synonymous with man’s desire to explore, to push his boundaries even at great risk.  Icarus the impulsive youth is elevated to Icarus the explorer and tragic hero.

          In this painting the technique is important as well.  Several oil techniques are used and the palette is quite expansive in relation to my normal working methods.  The varying use of glazes with highly modeled areas, then reinforced with heavily impastoed sections creates a very stimulating effect.  Taking a cue from Delacroix, many of the colors have their corresponding complimentary color that skews to the warm or cool depending on its position in the piece.  This is highly unique in my body of work and yet it is an ever-developing theme as it coincides nicely with my central goal, which is to use techniques that always focus attention on and emphasize the figural elements.

 

Oil on canvas mounted on wood

Distressed and limed frame with metal leaf highlights

Image 30” in diameter     

Frame size 39" diameter