Wednesday, May 25, 2016

'Fleshing' the skeleton

Have been continuing as an 'artist in residence' to work on this painting in the classroom. Perhaps the best way to teach art is to model the creative process itself for the students, turning the classroom into an atelier. Finding the balance and relationship between drawing, which itself is a kind of skeletal structure, and oil paint, the more colourful 'flesh' or 'skin' of the picture, is what this works seems to be about.

As a work I can share the challenges and frustrations or reworking the paint surface with charcoal drawing and oil paint after a period of relative neglect when the picture was lying dormant and the idea was gestating and maturing underground like a plant over winter.

It strikes me that much of the work of an artist is invisible, taking place unseen and hidden, in ways that are mysterious  even perhaps to the artist himself. It is difficult to 'account' for this process, especially when I may have 20 odd unfinished works waiting to be rekindled at an opportune moment when they may or may not reach some kind of resolution. A bit like the orchid in my bathroom which has stood on the shelf being happily inactive for many years and which has suddenly sprouted a string of flowers for no apparent reason.

Whilst the spinal column and ribcage are some of the most beautiful forms in nature and the hidden structure that supports the musculature of the back is the aid to our most powerful and graceful movements, to many people a skeleton is either a morbid or sinister subject matter, despite its rhythmic abstract qualities and the focus it can provide as a scaffold for drawing both the shapes and relationships between positive forms and the negative space between them.

Both familiar and strange at the same time, our skeleton, like our body, the locus of both attraction and loathing, pain and pleasure, is the our only way of knowing the world, and is a source of endless wonder and fascination.  
As one of subjects of meditation in the Satipatthana Sutta in the section on the body, the nine cemetery contemplations, are encouragements to contemplate the true nature of material form as it goes through the process of decay and decomposition, as an aid to realization.

 "A body dead one, two or three day." This is the first contemplation.

"Whilst it is being eaten by crows." This portion of the Discourse where the devouring of the body of various kinds of animals is stated refers to the second contemplation.
"A skeleton together with (some) flesh and blood held in by the tendons." This is the third contemplation.

"A blood-smeared skeleton without flesh but held in by the tendons." This is the fourth.

 "A skeleton held in by the tendons but without flesh and not besmeared with blood." This is the fifth.

"Bones gone loose, scattered in all directions." This is the sixth.

 "Bones white in color like a conch." This is the seventh.

 "Bones more than a year old heaped together." This is the eighth.

 "Bones gone rotten and become dust." This is the ninth.

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