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Aspern Papers

 
 

THE ASPERN PAPERS is a classic tale by Henry James of duplicity foiled and love denied. Taking place in Venice, this print version is a gleaned set of eight prints developed and further opened up from the earlier 18 drawings portfolio of 1990-92. 
I was intrigued by the question of how the images might benefit from the highly refined layering approach I had been exploring from my decade's
adventure of working with Adobe Photoshop. My challenge was to stay true to the touch and textures of the original graphite drawings, and to remain equally resistant to the more facile or pre-programmed filtering that can so often de-personalize an artist's intensions, as intriguing as those effects can be.

I am including an accompanying link of the detailed chapter I wrote for my 1993 drawing catalogue raisonné, The Primacy of Touch. It follows my Venetian adventures, among which were the photographing and drawing of the now cat-infested derelict palazzo, and the ravishing Lake Como sojourn of three months at the Rockefeller Foundation's Serbelloni Villa in  Bellagio, Italy. It was a career's high point for me with its dream pursuit of the intricacies of this tale of sly guile and of a love's labors lost.

The original Aspern Papers drawings portfolio was my second commissioned project of a Henry James novella following The Jolly Corner, suite of 21 prints of 1969-71. One sportive ambition of the present print set is for each of the eight prints to contain images of the Master himself, strolling, brooding, or stalking his literary prey.

The eight print suite is an archival digital edition of 75, measuring 14 x 22" on 22 x 30" paper.

En Plein Air

With the 2015 print, TSUNAMI, I started the disaster series of which EN PLEIN AIR  is the second print. The triumphant artist in TSUNAMI has become two anonymous artists on a weekend excursion of plein air painting. They are working on a sumptuous stretch of cobblestones which I derived from acelebrated village square in the old colonial town of Villa de Leyva near Bogotá, Colombia.

The two artists have been at work, the closer one painting a hussar on horseback. But an air-show or hostile jet, hurtling across the square, is heading towards a crash. The horseman in all his parade finery is thrown from the horse and the bucolic en plein air painting session is ruined. A group of panicking hussars’ horses stampede, while puffs of bullets—or is it dust?—echo the speckled rhythms of the clouds.

Above this disarray, a pilot ejects from the plane. Thrown high into the sky, he turns into the falling figure of Icarus. In fact, joining two roosters scrambling among the scattered painting paraphernalia, there is Brueghel’s painting of Icarus, distant, molten-winged, noticed by no-one, plummeting to earth.

But I find myself becoming increasingly vexed: the drama seems to be devolving into a sloppy gathering of anachronisms. Perhaps the answer would be the re-imagining of the scene as a staged movie shoot. The new question then becomes whether the crashing plane is an element of the movie's script or if it is an unplanned disruption to the shoot itself.

And the plot thickens. The disrupted artists, the disturbed village square, are reminding me of the carnival scenarios of the Italian film director, Federico Fellini. And it is here that a curious set of coincidences begin.  

In pursuing the lore about Fellini, I stumble on a historical account describing his decade long struggle over a filming project around the exploits of a musician who has died in a plane crash and finds himself having to navigate through the complexities of the afterlife. But the project stays plagued by false fits and starts and eventually crashes itself as the Fellini script proves to be unworkable.

And then another never-completed project works itself into my image. Dino De Laurentiis, Fellini’s foremost producer, made a proposal for a film in three parts to be directed by Fellini, Kurosawa, and Igmar Bergman. The project was ultimately defeated by Kurosawa’s failing health. However the three directors did find their way into the print. A discrete Kurosawa film reel reference of his Yojimbo and a distant rooftop fragment of a gathering of samurai appear next to the Bergman iconic dance of death procession from The Seventh Seal. Bergman himself sits in person on the image's border frame and a fierce Fellini stands barely within the frame, bullhorn in hand, commanding the bustle of the unfolding debacle.

I also later learned that a son of Dino De Laurentiis, Fellini’s foremost producer, was lost in a plane crash.

Working out this image was a surreal progression of "what ifs", unexpected coincidences, and countless impulses fading into woeful deletes. I particularly regretted the loss of a towering celebrity-loaded camera crane which had to be finally jettisoned at the altar of compositional awkwardnesses. The vignette’s highlight had been an angelically winged Marcello Mastroianni in his own joyous element as he raises up Fellini’s cinematic vision of mayhem into a final celestial resolution. But my rueful surrender to the clutter-adverse gods did restore the original flow back into its karma of restless inevitability and that was enough of the mysteries of an afterlife for me.

Edition of 70. Archival digital print.
Image size 21 x 34" on 27 x 40" paper.

Tsunami

Tsunami was suggested to me by Mike Leigh's Mr. Turner and his cinematic account of Turner having himself tied to a ship's mast in order to feel what a storm at sea actually feels like in order to really paint it. It is also a reminder of my own summer of 1950 working on an oil tanker off the Pacific coast and a treasured evocation of a few of my own pitching and yawing storms.

A tsunami is rolling in from a mysterious seismic event. Riding out the great wave is a grand three masted schooner. On the deck an intent painter is at work. The name on the boat tells us it is JMW Turner, and his paintings confirm it. Foundering in the tumultuous white water of a storm surge is a small disintegrating sailboat with six boaters caught on a nautical spree. One man is clearly facing a losing battle.

In the sails of the small boat is a beckoning, flag waving man. If the painter is Turner, then this must be his most devoted admirer, the critic, John Ruskin, cheering him on as only this man of letters could do, By now it is clear that the boaters must be some Turner colleagues from The Royal Academy in London. Manning the boat's tiller is a young man who was later Turner's most notable competition, John Constable. At his feet is inscribed the name, Effie Gray, a reference to the pre-Raphaelite, once RA president, John Everett Millais. In turn, this boat's name brings us back to Ruskin whose beautiful Effie was later absconded from Ruskin by Millais. But that's another story.

Here Turner is the fierce hero with his flying dutchman of an imagined schooner riding out the savagery of nature and the vicissitudes of Art. Today, it now appears that it was Turner himself who had become the tsunami.

The edition of 70 prints is divided between a small version (19 x 30 inches) numbered 1-35/70 and a larger version (23 x 37 inches) numbered 36-70/70. Contact a dealer for additional information.

Edition of 70. Archival digital print. Divided between two sizes.
SMALL: 19 x 30" on 24 x 36" paper.
LARGE: 23 x 37" on 31 x 45" paper