The following is part of a poem by Abraham Lincoln. I feel it’s slightly analogous to what I was trying to say in this painting, even though the painting, by comparison, is but a shabby and decrepit simulacrum. His meditation may not express quite the degree of optimism I tried to hint at in this image, yet I still feel both works share some little things in common; albeit his words are far, far more powerful than my chaotic daubs. And now, Mr. Lincoln, sir, the floor is all yours.
My childhood’s home I see again,
And sadden with the view;
And still, as memory crowds my brain,
There’s pleasure in it too.
O Memory! thou midway world
‘Twixt earth and paradise,
Where things decayed and loved ones lost
In dreamy shadows rise,
And, freed from all that’s earthly, vile,
Seem hallowed, pure and bright,
Like scenes in some enchanted isle
All bathed in liquid light.
As dusky mountains please the eye
When twilight chases day;
As bugle-tones that, passing by,
In distance die away;
As, leaving some grand waterfall,
We, lingering, list its roar –
So memory will hallow all
We’ve known but know no more.
Near twenty years have passed away
Since here I bid farewell
To woods and fields, and scenes of play,
And playmates loved so well.
Where many were, but few remain
Of old familiar things,
But seeing them to mind again
The lost and absent brings.
The friends I left that parting day,
How changed, as time has sped!
Young childhood grown, strong manhood gray;
And half of all are dead.
I hear the loved survivors tell
How nought from death could save,
Till every sound appears a knell
And every spot a grave.
I range the fields with pensive tread,
And pace the hollow rooms,
And feel (companion of the dead)
I’m living in the tombs.
This is an old oil painting. It’s not good, even by my low standards, and I can’t deny it might even be kitschy. It was just an experiment, and an experiment is what one does when one doesn’t know what one is doing. I wouldn’t have posted this painting if I had chanced upon a more successful piece on the same theme. The reason I’m posting it now is because I’m reading a biography on Henry James and I’m at a part where many of his family and friends are dying. That brought to the fore remembrances of people I knew who have passed away. They weren’t expatriate literati or cosmopolitan aristocrats, but they certainly deserve some sort of memorial. This piece is not ideal, but it’s all I had on hand to pay a silent tribute and pensive farewell to all those who have stepped over the threshold. “And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”
I came across this while dusting and straightening some mummified corpses in the attic. It’s a very, very old piece, done when I apparently had a lot more nervous energy than I do now. I think it was my first serious attempt at a pen and ink work and was done, as I recall, with technical pens. It’s not good but I was outrageously proud of it way back when and, truth be told, I like it even now, if only for sentimental reasons. Besides bringing back memories of a misspent youth, there’s just something about it, I’m not sure what, that I find charming.
This was done eight years ago. I assume I made most of the colors drab and sunken hoping that the contrast would make the white feather and yellow flower stand out. There’s precious little, hardly a single brushstroke, that I wouldn’t radically change if I were to paint this image now. Still, despite the somberness of the colors and the figure’s expression, it was obviously done just for the fun of it. Since I hadn’t looked or even thought about this piece in almost a decade, I can look at it now without any prejudice or vanity. Thus, I can, with cool disinterest, state that the piece is certainly no masterpiece, but it does succeed, in some measure, in being a “just fun to look at” exercise, which is what it was obviously supposed to be. Despite its flaws, I like it.
They walked together silently in the apple orchard that cool June night. It was a good season for the fireflies and the two wanderers were delighted at the wild profusion of scintillating, hovering living lights. As always, the beetles slowly converged in a space between the wanderers and the tops of the trees, aligning themselves and synchronizing their signals. In a few minutes their bioluminescent glow formed into a lambent quote, different from the ones on previous nights. Their lights spelled out “Thou shalt say a thousand things, and saying them a thousand times over, thou shalt still have said nothing.”
“Hawthorne?” asked the boy.
“Who else?” smiled the father. “That’s a pretty fine quote, don’t you think?”
“Well, for fireflies,” the boy grudgingly conceded. “They flash their lights to find a mate, don’t they?”
“So I’ve heard. I’ve also heard tell that they use their lights to attract prey.”
“Mates and prey: aren’t they one and the same? And the poor beetles go through all this trouble merely to die shortly afterward.”
“It’s their nature; but how beautiful they are while they’re here, despite the reason. To them it is a grim struggle for temporary survival or procreation, but to us their lights are things of intangible beauty. Things are always beautiful when you look at them from the outside, when you’re not the one involved.” The father smiled and studied his son from the corner of his eye. “And surely even you must agree that it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have lost at all.”
“So you say,” the boy muttered. “Yet so many others, they tell me love is like death and that death is nothing… but I don’t know what that means.”
“That’s all right,” the father said, putting his arm over his son’s shoulder and watching the fireflies leisurely disperse, “they don’t know what it means either.”
And father and son walked away into the darkening night.
One inspiration for this piece was my thinking about Botticelli and a
couple of other Renaissance artists whose styles were strongly
hard-edged and linear. No matter the subject, their style suffuses every
work with a certain pale and quiet sadness that is easily felt but
difficult to describe, like that universal yet unsharable sadness which
is part and parcel of every life. There is no sfumato in the artists’
works to mellow or hide that sensation, nothing to compromise or lessen
its harsh representations. This sketch is merely my response to that
certain melancholy inherent in every linear work. The creature inhabits
a harsh, brittle realm of unyielding and emphatic demarcations that
allow no thing to really touch another, a world of sharp outlines, sharp
and stinging like nettles and barbs, a world of boundaries that cannot
be crossed. Yet the creature itself is also harsh, untouchable and
armored in its own severe outline. It belongs in its world. It’s a
little bowed and battered by its environs, but it is not broken. It
perseveres and is not overwhelmed. To me, that is part of Botticelli’s
genius. There is an ambient sadness in his work reflected even in his
smiling or dancing figures. Yet they survive in the sadness and somehow,
magically, impart a graceful undefinable happiness, even joy, to the
entire piece. And that is part of what makes Botticelli’s works beautiful.
Dante and Dostoevsky, Milton and Melville, Edgar A. Poe and Sarah E.
Potter… the world is filled with magnificent literature that ennobles and inspires. Doesn’t that get on your nerves? Don’t you wish there was a book which would allow you to finally, happily exclaim, “My pet gerbil can write better than this, and it’s dead!”? Well, your dreams have come true! If you like wasting your money on gibberish, then I penned a book just for you. It comes in both paperback and electronic formats, but don’t worry about which version is better since both formats are equally bad. For more information, please click on the link below. You’ll be sorry you did. Be sure to purchase multiple copies to give as gifts to your enemies. Seriously, the book in question was my attempt to write some scary stories…at least I hope they’re scary. If you do purchase a copy, please tell me what you think.