Monday, April 2, 2018

Working through some classical exercises

I was born a few hundred years too late, or about 40 years too soon, because the classical art training I coveted wasn't available - or accessible to me, at any rate - in my college years. So I've set myself the task of working through some of the elements that might have been part of a more classical, fine art education.

This artful bucket-list includes painting genres that feel essential to an old world, fine art background. The most recent challenge pulled from the bucket was a vanitas painting. Vanitas paintings have to do with the transience of life. They are as old as Rembrandt and were very popular in the Netherlands in the 1700s. This one is by Karel van der Pluym, a student of Rembrandt's and it seems to fit his penchant for imbuing mystery and moodiness into his subjects.

by Karel van der Pluym, a student of Rembrandt
Vanitas paintings are not cheerful. Mortality is implied with symbolism galore - from skulls to snuffed candles - with a side helping of guilt-inducing luxury or sinful, secular pleasures. Fun times!

Still, I've felt compelled to tackle this genre. But vanitas motifs are almost exclusively male which didn't excite me and I didn't have a skull to paint (that's OK because they're super creepy tucked in a dark corner of the studio). So it was fortuitous - and a tad freaky - to find an old, peeling, babydoll's head to stand in for a skull. Thus, my "vanitas maternitas" was underway.

What was meant to be a generically female-themed vanitas became more personal as many of the objects either belonged to my mother or reminded me of her personal items from years past. Gloves, compact, pearls, playing cards - all brought this painting very close to home.

This piece was emotionally wrenching and took far longer to paint than any other. After the composition was underway, my mother's health began to fail and the theme of mortality was all too real. Eventually the composition became a personal touchstone to commemorate motherhood, as it included a photo of my mother before she married and me as the baby in the highchair. On the dice the numbers 5 and 2 represent my mother's five girls and two boys. (Coincidentally, the "5" is in shadow and the "2" in light - just a fact, no judgement). The book under the doll head is, I swear, a vintage Encyclopedia of Mother's Advice, chosen for size and color before noticing the title!

I don't know if this painting will resonate with anyone other than me. And it doesn't really matter. What started as a classical challenge became something of a soul searching journey. It sat for months, unfinished, in the studio after my mother died. I hoped, eventually it would feel right to work on it again and I'm glad I got to that point. When I look at it now, sometimes I sigh, sometimes I'm sort of proud and sometimes I just feel at peace.

vanitas still life, pearls, pocketwatch, queen of hearts painting, vintage gloves
Vanitas Maternitas ©2018 Dorothy Lorenze
"Painting is silent poetry and poetry is painting that speaks." 
- Plutarch

The next art bucket challenge is a cast drawing. My subject is the head of a bearded old man, purported to be Saint Andrew. Like all good challenges, it's kicking my butt. But I WILL get it done. More on that in a future newsletter.

Peace to you all, my friends.

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