I’ve taught at the Maine Media Workshops for almost 30 years, and I always love sharing my thoughts and experiences after every summer workshop. Last week, I finished teaching this year’s workshop, “Illusions: Extending Vision” which was offered entirely online through Zoom and a forum based web platform through my own site. Although I’ve tutored many students individually in a similar fashion, this was the first time for me as an instructor hosting such a class, and I have to say, the experience was WONDERFUL!
The class sold out and was a major success, on every level. My students were excellent and so engaged with their work and the process. We were able to have more time to tackle our work together, and the forum platform allowed us to share work, thoughts, ideas and discussions throughout the course. Because of the online format, it was easy to conduct both group and individual critiques.
I couldn’t be happier with the growth and tremendous effort my students displayed, and I’m thrilled to share this video compilation of everyone’s final images. Congratulations to you all, and I’m looking forward to teaching another class in this format again soon!
Now, I understand the implication of writing a post called “Narcissus and Me.” But when I started the series of posts _____ and Me (see recent posts, “Francis Bacon and Me,”and “Edvard Munch and Me”) I did not think through the implications of some future writings. Besides which, having spent all but 17 years of my life pursuing my own passion, the title may actually be appropriate.
In these past “Me” posts I have written about influences from a few of my idols, but I want to delve into something a little different here. Connections, that are not directly related to some experience or influence, but are there without a doubt.
This image, made in 2009, is just one model and his reflection. The model and I are both underwater, and he is looking up. The figure on the right is aware, conscious and giving all his attention to the figure on the left – his reflection. His leaning posture and reaching hand are beseeching the reflection to open his eyes and connect with him. His reflection, however, appears feminine and looks to be losing control, as if giving in to ecstasy or joy. Though there is in fact only one model, this image shows two entirely different points of view: one as a profile, the other as a full face, resulting in the appearance of two people with distinct emotions.
It is no surprise that as I initially studied this image the figure of Narcissus came to mind.
The myth of Narcissus illustrates a powerful archetype that describes the human condition we call “narcissism”. The most common version of Narcissus comes from the first century BCE, from Book 3 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which became a major influence on Western culture. In Ovid’s rendering, Narcissus is an exceedingly beautiful young man who attracts the attention of Echo, a young mountain nymph.
The egotistical Narcissus offhandedly rejects Echo, and in her sorrow and unrequited love wastes away until all that remains is a lonely echo. Upon hearing of this tragedy, Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, decides to punish Narcissus. She manages to lure him to a pool, whereupon he discovers his own reflection and falls in love with it at first glance. He, too, eventually wastes away, longing for a love that can never be returned – his elusive reflection.
My image above, Untitled 4–14–09–462, could also be seen in this more classic interpretation of the myth of Narcissus. Instead of giving into joy, the reflection, the figure on the left, could be seen as fading away, evaporating as Narcissus tries in vain to touch the object of his love.
This feeling of connection is profoundly gratifying. In this crazy time where we are shut in our homes and effectively isolated from those outside our families, I am appreciating the power and importance of CONNECTIONS. Hmmm…. I am thinking of a new topic for a blog post…..
The NY Times did an article on surgical face masks called…. “The Mask”
It got me thinking because, well, what else is there to do?
Masks are in high demand now, though we are told they do no good in preventing the spread of the virus. BUT we are also told to keep a safe distance of 6 feet between people – doesn’t that imply that it must travel through air? Also it attacks the lungs – so wouldn’t wearing a mask protect us, at least a little?
I’ve always been fascinated with the psychology of masks. I wrote an extensive blog post back in 2013 about the appearance of masks within my work and how their presence frequently comes up in my images.
As the threat of coronavirus continues to become increasingly threatening and very frightening, I am specifically reminded of the well-known “plague doctor” masks that not only have a place in history but have taken root in popular culture and the steampunk motif.
The carnival-ish, bird like mask was designed with a very specific function in mind. It provided a protective and thorough enclosure for the doctor’s face, blocking access to the respiratory system through the eyes, nose, and mouth. More importantly, and more interestingly, was the reason for the long, creepy beak. At the time of the plague, it was believed that the disease was carried by the foul odors and wretched miasma that accompanied it. The beak of the doctor’s masks acted as a sort of respirator and would be filled with perfumes or anything strongly aromatic – such as dried flowers or herbs and spices – that might help prevent the spread of infection through “bad air”.
While the function of the doctor’s outfits was well intentioned (though scientifically unsound), aesthetically they were terrifying. Can you imagine being horribly sick, maybe even hallucinating due to a high fever and your doctor shows up wearing this? Perhaps it would scare the plague right out of you.
I can’t help but feel the same when I look at the modern equivalent- gas masks, full facial masks and hazmat suits. We of course know now that these are far more effective than the perfumed bird masks of the bubonic era, but their appearance is similarly intimidating, frightening, and ominous. Let’s hope these are more effective than their predecessors.
Stay safe my friends. Keep 6 feet between you, and I personally think it would not hurt to wear a mask.
My last post was on my relationship with Edvard Munch, one of many connections I have with other artists that fascinates me. Recently, a well-respected curator upon seeing my work, said that I am “having a conversation with the history of art.” I have felt this for years and thought I would explore some of those connections through my blog.
Francis Bacon (1909-1992.) is another inspiration of mine whose work has penetrated my psyche and whose influence pops out in my own images periodically. The first time I saw any of Bacon’s paintings was at the Hirshhorn Museum in 1989, and the impact was immediate, powerful and permanent.
As discussed in a previous post on “Originality”, Bacon’s influence is the result of a long, intuitive exploration, wherein the experience of his images has heightened my self awareness and gives form to previously undefined feelings and thoughts. Along with the work of other artists I’ll be examining and highlighting on the blog, the resemblances illustrated here are unintentional, and the echoes of their work through my own are the articulation of a deeper, psychological encounter.
I’m looking forward to sharing more of these connections, and of course to hearing any thoughts or feedback from readers!
are many, many artists that I have been interested in, several artists that I
admire but only a couple that have penetrated my psyche and become as much a
part of me as my DNA. Munch is one of
I was reminded of the first time I encountered Munch’s artwork at the age of 17, at the library in art school. Holding this book of Munch’s work, I realized that I was not alone. The emotional force in his paintings connected with me intimately, directly, and intensely. At this vulnerable age, I was sure I was utterly alone in my despair but Munch revealed to me that was not true. His paintings were screaming my feelings, articulating my fears and connecting to my isolation. From Munch, I connected to heavy overwhelming depression, the energy of anxiety, fear of death, loneliness and confusion of spirituality. Munch knew his work could have these powerful effects. “Many believe that a picture is finished when they have understood what terms the world and I are on — ergo, a kind of egoism. Yet at the same time I have always thought and felt that my art might also help others understand their search for sanity.” (excerpt from Private Journals of Edvard Munch)
Untitled #3912, 1991
To be influenced is to engage so deeply with a piece, with a work of art, that it becomes part of you, infecting your point of view, challenging values, searching for understanding or sanity or just becoming a catalyst for opening yourself to greater experiences. It is an undeniable fact that Munch influenced my work and it is not merely an accident that my work often refers to his artwork. I have spent my entire life looking at books of art, traipsing through museums but when I find an artist that brings me to my knees in the way Munch’s work does, I embrace it. Love it. Consume it. It becomes a part of me. Tucked away in my subconscious, Munch’s work has continued to be a part of me, incorporated for decades into my psyche. Jeanette Winterson expressed this perfectly when she stated, “True art, when it happens to us, challenges the ‘I’ that we are.” (Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery, Vintage, 1996)
Untitled #3725, 1991
There is no doubt that I have been changed by my relationship with Munch’s artwork and my debt to Munch is as undeniable as is my admiration.
Untitled #9-27-11-57, 2011
Recently I started looking more directly at Munch’s work in connection with my own and I was truly amazed that the correlations were, at times, direct. Sometimes it is the color palette, the graphic relations or gestures, and, perhaps the most important is the psychological connections.