Train of thought

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(J.W. Waterhouse, “The Lady of Shalott,” 1888)

Tonight, while I was hanging out with my husband (and checking Facebook, ahem), I noticed that he had changed his profile picture to a mock campaign blurb: “Strange Women Lying In Ponds Distributing Swords 2012.” If you didn’t know (I had to ask to remember) it is from that Monty Python Holy Grail movie. Then I laughed because I remembered. Then he ran through the skit real quick in his crotchety-medieval-English-lady voice and I laughed again. “Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government” as the movie says. Then thinking on King Arthur, images of paintings of mythological stories started flipping through my head (I know, NERD). Then I thought of the Pre-Raphaelites. If I still lived in the UK I would probably have gone to see the show at the Tate Britain in London all about the Pre-Raphaelites, but I live in Mississippi (the show is still up, UK friends).

All that to say, I am so glad I thought of them tonight! They give me a lot to think about as I work on my current pastel drawing. The Pre-Raphs, who some consider to be the first “modern artists” (see this great article : http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/blogs/were-pre-raphaelites-britains-first-modern-artists?utm_source&utm_medium&utm_campaign), did break a lot of ground in painting. For one, all of a Pre-Raph painting is painted with the same amount of attention, and they are very detailed. Before, acceptable paintings were supposed to have important areas and unimportant areas, some parts in the dark shade, some jutting out toward you. Very dimensional. But it was good for me that the Pre-Raphs came along, because now I am able to make flat, “all-over” paintings too if I like. I say “flat” as in all of the painting is at the surface. You do not feel as if you can see deep into the back (all done on purpose, for me and for them). The intensity of all the detail keeps all of the painting in your sights.

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(J.W. Waterhouse, “The Crystal Ball (with Skull),” 1902)

Sometimes, the subjects remind me of stained-glass figures, with lots of detail painted into an iron-pane outline.

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(J.W. Waterhouse, “Flora and the Zephyrs,” 1898)

Some dismiss these paintings as pretty and mythical, but what’s the point? I think they are more truthful than our modern eyes may first think. Yes, they are pretty, but they also can be sad, frightening, melancholy, mournful, exhilarating, even monstrous. Behind the beauty, death and mortality loom in most of the paintings. They are beautiful paintings with a dark side; they are flat paintings with many dimensions.

I love it when art history pops into my head.

Kathryn

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