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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.