Tuesday, September 15, 2009

"It may be that the deep necessity of art is the examination of self-deception." Robert Motherwell

I don't really know why I like looking at Motherwell's Elegy series so much. I was interested to learn that the first one was just a small drawing on paper - he called it Ink Sketch, Elegy No. 1 - and it was simply an illustration to accompany a poem by Harold Rosenburg. The poem and sketch were printed in the revue Possibilities and due to printing cost concerns, the artist chose a simple black and white color scheme.

Motherwell was a philosopher and according to Jack Flam in Motherwell, he was familiar with the Symbolist notion of "illustrating" a poem without directly illustrating any of the images that appear in the poem, a notion that had its basis in the Symbolist principal of "correspondance."

When asked about it, he explained: "It has literally nothing to do with the poem - except perhaps for their both having brutal qualities - certainly not its images. Certain critics have read the phrase 'wire in the neck' as being described by the lines between the ovals. No wire or neck is there."

According to Motherwell, a year later he came across the image and decided to rework it. At the time he was reading Lorca's poetry and had the refrain "five in the afternoon" running through his mind.

"When I painted the larger version - At Five in the Afternoon - it was as if I discovered it (the image) was a temple. . . and when I recognized this, I looked around for whom represented what the temple should be consecrated to, and that was represented in the work of Lorca. . .to be more concise, the 'temple' was consecrated to a Spanish sense of death, which I got most of from Lorca, but from other sources as well - my Mexican wife, bullfights, travel in Mexico, documentary photographs of the Mexican revolution, Goya, Santos, dark Hispanic interiors."

With no such influences in my Washington existence (Elegy to a Girls' Soccer Game?) to influence grand ideas, I sometimes struggle to come up with a title that works. Although this is taken from a Washington image, Wallace Stevens' Idea of Order at Key West crept into this one, called Ghostlier Demarcations.

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