In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.
The first artwork of the year. Iceland again. This is the initial lay-in, first day of work.
2nd day. The scene is near the village of Hjalmsstaoaa, not far from the valley of the geysers. This rare grove of trees (I think they are probably aspens) was glowing in the late afternoon at the foot of volcanic mountains, while clouds and fog were roiling over the peaks. We had to stop the car and take photos and look at this for a while.
Here's the third stage. From here on out, it will be a matter of subtleties, pushing and pulling values forward and back, adjusting the light, subduing certain areas to help the eye move and settle. I want to work toward a more ominous feeling in the mountains, with bright light on only one area of the tree - they're all too similar now - and to subdue the foreground even more. It's also weird to look at it so greatly reduced. Here's a detail, closer to lifesize:
It's not supposed to be a postcard picture, even though it's a beautiful scene - in reality, there was a sense of foreboding, menace, and tension along with the beauty. That's not so easy to achieve, and I'm finding that using color complicates this a lot. I've been craving color -- it's pretty damned monochrome up here right now! -- but don't think this picture holds up next to the charcoal drawings of Iceland. It feels like an entirely different animal. I'll probably leave it alone for a bit now, and think.
Even though I'm having some trouble/questions with this one, it feels good to be working again. I got derailed from artwork in early December, because of Thaliad and a complex graphic design project with a tight deadline, so this is the first thing I've done for a while. Glad to be back at it!
The latest drawing in my Iceland series began like this. In my journal I wrote:
Two days ago, I began a new drawing in the Iceland series. It is of a
black hole between two towering rocks — pillars of lava — perhaps three
times as high as a six-foot human being. The rocks are in the long,
uplifted major rift whose name is Almannagjá, at Thingvellir.
I really struggled with this one. I remembered what it was like to actually be there, and it was so hard to capture that feeling.
Even at nearly a yard across, the drawing is too small. Anything
would be too small except a life-size representation, and that is
impossible. I have to struggle along with this, and do my best.
Yesterday I rubbed out all the detail on the two sides. It’s
necessary to focus the attention on the blackness, on what is not there
rather than what is.
(Please click on the image for a larger view.)
This is how it ended up. I'm hoping to do a relief print of this same subject, too, greatly simplified.
(Please click for larger view)
I also took a photo of all the drawings together so far. I think -- I hope -- they're starting to add up to something.
Moss, Lichen, Rocks 1, Thingvellir. Charcoal drawing, 30 x 22." Click image for larger view. or watch a slideshow of the drawing in progress.
This is an excerpt from a journal-manuscript I'm working on:
Why is it so hard to begin again? I started this drawing on March 8, over two months ago. In two days this week, I finished it, but only after weeks of procrastination. Why? It's not that it wasn't clear what needed to be done when I left off, before the apartment réparations began, or that I had forgotten. Each day I walked past the drawing, where it was pinned to the wall, not once but several times. It was en route to the plants which needed water or trimming, en route to the litter box, the bicycle pump, the vacuum cleaner and broom, the big papercutter and wall-mounted mat cutter that I had used several times over the past months to mat and frame relief prints. I kept the drawing carefully on the edge of my peripheral vision as I dragged a string for the cat to chase, or turned the oxalis and angel-wing begonia to face the light, or trimmed the rosemary and laid out the little branches on a paper towel to dry, never stopping to square my shoulders to the wall and confront its insistent presence.
I wanted to, though. That's the thing I don't understand. In general, for me, it's only beginning that's hard, making the start, taking that leap across the paralyzing abyss. I've learned to trust, now, that once I begin, I'll figure out a way through, even if I get lost in the forest for a while, and that I'll learn something along the way. The end result doesn't matter to me so much anymore. It isn't weighted the way it was when I was younger and had less time for art, or when I was always judging, judging...myself, and what other people might think, as if failure was always right around the next bend. And that strikes me as an odd grace, that now, when I'm so much more aware of the fleeting nature of time and how little may remain, it opens up because I'm learning to let go.
So one morning this week I cleaned off the drawing table, putting away the copies of our filed citizenship applications, the Croix Bleue folder full of insurance forms, the GST and QST tax worksheets. The table was dusty on the edges, and I swept it clean with a drafting brush and ran a damp sponge over the surface and polished it off with a paper towel. Then I replaced the large sheets of paper I like to keep underneath my work, to give a slightly softer working surface than the melamine-covered wood, and finally went over to the drawing, unpinned it, and laid it on the table. Beside it I set a box of compressed charcoal, and another of soft willow charcoal, a thick white eraser, a pen-like holder with a thin, round, white eraser core.
And the conversation commenced, as it does with ingredients laid on the kitchen counter; the drawing again became a living thing with which I was about to interact, as I decisively laid it there and addressed it with what - a prayer? A command? -- I don't know what that moment of beginning really is, or what we say to the blank or unfinished page, or what it says to us. There is a that moment, though, in its unwritten language, a breath or two, then decision: I choose a tool, take a piece of charcoal in my hand, and make a series of quick marks, there, and the past disappears.
Every drawing or painting ends up involving some sort of obstacle; when they don't, you know you're getting repetitive. In this one, the difficulty was in finding a way -- a shorthand, in effect -- for depicting the soft texture of the sphagnum moss in contrast to the hard surface of the underlying rocks. The rocks were easier, and in the end I even simplified them further and further, rubbing out decades of previously-drawn lichen-growth with the side of my hand.
For the moss I decided to try making an all-over scribbling pattern of little circles, first with a hard, fairly sharp black charcoal stick. What had to come across was the thickness and softness of the rounded sphagnum mat above the smooth rocks. The scribbled black texture alone, even over a background that had been shaded to indicate the pattern of light that defined the curves, wasn't enough. I began again,this time working from dark to light with the small pointed eraser, removing pigment in the same small circular pattern, keeping the lines as loose as I could, and finally the forms took shape: a calligraphy of moss.
Because I've been spending more time lately in downtown Montreal, I've been thinking about contemporary architecture, a great love of mine -- and then a friend's post reminded me of honeycomb, and this building in Reykjavik that I visited just about exactly 6 months ago.
It's the city's new concert hall, named Harpa, built amid controversy over whether such an expenditure could be justified in the wake of Iceland's financial crisis. It was designed by the Danish firm Henning Larsen Architects and Icelandic architectural firm Batteríið Architects. Our friends there were not wild about the building itself, which sits on the wharf right at the edge of the ocean. As I went through my photographs I realized I didn't have any good pictures of the exterior -- I loved the different facades, but not the extra colors and LED lights which I felt detracted from the building's sculptural quality, especially at night -- but I was completely intrigued by the interior of the building, which I found both unusual and beautiful. The surfaces and lack of color -- all greys and black, except for an occasional touch of bright yellow or purple -- give it a restrained Scandinavian/Germanic ambience, quite different from most of what gets built in North America.
"The building’s name Harpa refers to the musical instrument, the harp. It is also the name of the first month of spring in the Nordic calendar - and for the people of Iceland this means the promise of better times.” Steinunn Birna Ragnarsdóttir Musical Director of Harpa
Most astonishing are the glass sides, constructed of steel and glass in a honeycomb-inspired design that seemed at first to be in a regular pattern, but revealed itself to have deliberate irregularities. I couldn't imagine how it had been designed and engineered, let alone built, and our friends told us that Asian construction workers had been hired to actually do the building work, because they were the only ones with experience in this type of construction. The descriptions of the building on the official website, unfortunately, don't include many details about how the design was developed and chosen, or how the engineering challenges were solved, though at the architect's own website, they say that in order to develop these ideas "the team worked with three-dimensional computer models, finite element modelling, various digital visualisation techniques as well as maquettes, models and mock-ups."
The plaza in front of the Concert Hall is designed to generate a unique atmosphere where the dark base, referring to the black Icelandic sand, emphasizes the play of light and colors in the facades. The water pools mirror the facades and provide the plaza with a well-defined expression. Approaching the harbor from the city, the Concert Hall rises from the black base of the front plaza.
Harpa’s multifaceted glass facades are the result of a unique collaboration between renowned artist Olafur Eliasson and Henning Larsen Architects. The design is based on a geometric principle, realized in two and three dimensions. Light and transparency are key elements.
Made of a twelve-sided space-filler of glass and steel called the “quasi brick,” the building appears as a kaleidoscopic play of colors, reflected in the more than 1,000 quasi bricks composing the southern facade. The remaining facades and the roof are made of sectional representations of this geometric system, resulting in two-dimensional flat facades of five and six-sided structural frames. The crystalline structure, created by the geometric figures, captures and reflects the light – promoting the dialogue between the building, city and surrounding landscape.
We weren't able to enter any of the four concert halls, but they all look very beautiful. We did listen to a midday informal jazz concert in the cafe area (3rd picture above) along with many contented Reykjavik residents and visitors. Next time we'll be sure to book tickets to a concert; Harpa is the new home of the Icelandic Symphony, but presents events from theatre and opera to Bjork.
I only had my phone camera that day, but if you'd like to see more photos of the exterior and interior, here's a link to high-quality press photos of the building.
Sandro Santioli spent 70 hours in flight over Iceland, taking some astounding photographs of this otherworldly landscape. I'm fascinated, of course, since I'm immersed in Iceland-on-the-ground these days. (Hat tip to Marly Youmans for the link!)
I finished this charcoal drawing today, another one in my current Iceland series. When we passed this mountain, on the way out of Reykjavik toward Thingvellir, we simply had to stop the car and get out to take photographs. The home of the great Icelandic author, Haldor Laxness, is nearby, too.
It was only when we looked much closer that we realized there were sheep in the pastures -- just recently down in the valley from their summer grazing much higher up.