Monday, 18 February 2013

Pas de deux

   Last week, after much dotting and dashing, came a magic moment.  After the strain of turning the press wheels, the pleasure of lifting the heavy felt printing blankets, and the peeling back of the thick, damp cotton paper from the copper plate, there appeared a finished print.  Etching, unlike painting or drawing, contains a singular moment of wonder in its process: after weeks of building line on line, and gazing past the glare of the copperplate to search for signs of progress, one moment at a press delivers a finished piece, only hinted at before.  (Of course, this does not often happen the first time a plate goes through the press; usually, there are tests and revisions to be made.)

In this etching, which is the second in what will be a series of five etchings on a theme of "double" (the first in the series is here), a twosome passes heedlessly over a sleeping landscape wearing clothes stitched with roses.

The title, Pas de deux (literally steps of two), of course refers to dance and works well with the movement implied, but I had originally passed this over and thought to call this "Le couple".  I thought it was important to have a title which clearly suggested making one thing from two; a word for 1+1=1.  But it was a boring title.  And as I thought about it the obvious hit me, and I realized that "pas de deux" could also translate to "not of two".

Perhaps I shouldn't mention it, but the germ for this idea came from a conversation with my husband in a pub a long time ago.  He or I said something about not really enjoying "being in a bar alone", forgetting that by being together, we were quite evidently not alone.  But of course, there we were, ostensibly no different from a couple getting to know each other a little ways away.  Perhaps because of the long time we've known each other, perhaps because of moving to places where we've known no one, or because we just talk too much, sometimes, sometimes, I feel like a four-armed, four-footed thing.

This print took a lot longer than I'd expected, but happily it is because I started working on the other prints before completing it.  So hopefully there will not be such a big gap between the second, third, fourth, and fifth prints as there was between the first and second!

Monday, 4 February 2013

Indoor Flowers

   This place is heavy with hyacinth scent; the days are stretching; sometimes the sun even shines a little.  On Saturday it was Chandeleur and so we held our coins and flipped our crêpes, to see if we could win ourselves a bit of fortune by following the odd old customs that coax magic from the calendar.  But the extra light and smell of spring flowers that are scattered about the windowsills and tables here are maybe magic enough. This time of year feels so alive.

   The other day I was quite surprised, though perhaps wrongly so, when I came across the above image, a manuscript illumination, from Splendor Solis.  It is a depiction of the alchemical symbol of the hermaphrodite, which stands for the union of opposites.  Here it brings forth a disk symbolizing the four elements, and an egg, which contains the fifth element of aether or quintessence.  In it I recognized quite a lot of similarities to the armoured, haloed and winged maquette that I made last year for Clive Hicks-Jenkins' delightful maquette show.

   My fascination with this striking old alchemical depiction, so strange and familiar at the same time, was then tempered somewhat by another discovery that also verged on this old idea as well.  I coincidentally began to read about the poignant art and personal history of Forrest Bess who pursued the ideal of the hermaphrodite in his life and art to quite an extreme and rather heartbreaking end.  Why these strange intersections of art and alchemy should appear to me at once is difficult to imagine.  It will seem even stranger, I am sure, in a short while when the print that I have been working on, that has been forever underway it seems, finally comes to light.