Susanna and the Elders

The story of Susanna and the Elders is included in the Book of Daniel in the Bible, though it is also regarded as apocryphal. It is a tale of voyeurism and lechery, but also of chastity and justice. Two old judges plotted to spy on Susanna, the pious wife of a prosperous Jew, as she went to take her customary bath in her garden. Rejected in their attempt to have their way with the lady, the old men publicly accuse Susanna of committing adultery with a young man, a crime punishable by death. As she is about to be executed, the then young prophet Daniel intervenes and questions the two men separately. Their conflicting accounts of the alleged crime betray the lie and Susanna is exonerated. The old men are put to death instead. The story is one of the earliest in which cross-examination is used as a method for obtaining the truth in trials.

Many European artists from the Renaissance and the Baroque depicted Susanna and the Elders, including great names such as Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Dyke and Tintoretto. The subject gave the artists an opportunity to represent the young female nude within a moral setting, complete with old men, a garden setting and some still life objects. The first great female artist Artemisa Gentileschi used this subject to become a prominent artist. In the 20th century, Pablo Picasso created his own version of Susanna and the Elders, which is part of the permanent collection at the Museo Picasso in Malaga, Spain.

In my own concept of Susanna and the Elders, I synthesized the essential formal elements of the subject within the context of present day perceptions of the nude female body. The old men are mere faces, half hidden behind the body of their prey. A few leaves on the upper left suggest the garden setting. A single drop running down Susana’s torso, with its erotical charge, is enough to imply the bathing ritual. The lilies tattooed on her abdomen are symbolic of her name, Susanna, from which the Spanish name of the flower (azucena) is derived. As for the lady herself, only the intimate aspects of Susanna are represented, and this with utmost realism, as if we as spectators are also participating in the voyeurism act. The image is life size in the actual painting, adding to the illusion of physical presence. The two faces look at us with opposite expressions, one inviting us to join in the invasion of privacy and the other with somber shame.     

The following are two comparative studies of my Susanna and the Elders and those of some of the great old masters:

http://arianogeta.blogspot.com/2013/05/un-tema-pittorico-ricorrente-3.html   

https://timothyrhaslett.wordpress.com/2014/08/27/

Hay un debate eterno de si el arte debe ser apreciado por sí mismo, por sus valores estéticos versus las ideas y asociaciones derivadas de la representación visual. Yo quería en Susana y los Viejos, y estoy seguro de que muchos otros artistas también, pintar una mujer joven desnuda, no por deseos sensuales sino por el reto de modelar una piel lozana a plena luz solar en óleo. No es difícil ni fácil, nunca pienso en esos términos. Es arriesgado. La piel no es opaca ni de un solo color. Quienes pintan así terminan representando cadáveres. Una piel viva palpita en diversas tonalidades translúcidas. Expresar esto de forma convincente en todo un cuerpo es un gran reto y lograrlo una gran satisfacción para el artista. Ayer, el último día de la pintura, fui posponiendo mi encuentro con la obra. Tenía el dilema del tatuaje. Es una alegoría de su nombre (Susana = azucena) y en ese sentido debía ubicarlo. En el relato bíblico, Susana es una mujer fiel, casta y piadosa. Entonces, estaría correcto que tuviera tatuaje? Eso es en cuanto a contenido, pero había otra duda. Si fallo en pintar el tatuaje, lograré corregir el error en una de las zonas más importantes del cuadro? En cuanto a realzar la sensualidad del cuerpo de Susana según los parámetros contemporáneos no sentí ninguna incomodidad. Todos los artistas han expresado a la mujer según el estándar de la época. Además, necesitaba que fuera así, porque lo tradicional es representar esta escena como en un teatro. Observas la escena, pero no participas. Aquí yo fuerzo al espectador a ser otro ligón más, y de cada cuál depende su reacción hacia la obra.



Leda

Leda and the Swan

The reason for this painting comes from my series of drawings of female figures placed in a context similar to the male nudes (ignudi) by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel. How Michelangelo’s nudes would look if they were female?.

The female nude was, if not prohibited, at least condemned by Church dogma to portray the worldly, sensual, erotic and even the obscene at the time. Their representation in art was mainly limited to Eva and Venus. By contrast, the male nude was representative of vitality and heroism, virtues necessary to achieve the spiritual and the divine. It was inconceivable for Michelangelo, regardless of the discussions on his sexual orientation, to place female nudes as ornaments on the ceiling of a chapel.

In the process of developing my artwork, the theme of Leda and the Swan, treated by many artists, came to my mind. According to the classic tale, Zeus, who had a weakness for worldly females, transformed himself into a swan and pretended to be pursued by an eagle. Leda, wife of Tyndareus, king of Sparta, rescued the swan. In a moment of intimacy, Zeus impregnated Leda. In another version, Leda is raped by Zeus. That night, the queen, moved by a sense of guilt or any other explanation, has sex with her husband. Afterwards, Leda lays two eggs. From the first egg, Pollux and Helen, she of the Trojan war, arise. Castor and Clytemnestra, Agamemnon’s future wife, arise from the second egg. Castor and Pollux became heroes of the Argonauts and their images were immortalized in the constellation Gemini.

Upon returning to the issue of the nude in art, in the case of my painting, Leda and both her twin sons wear fabric that covers similar parts of their bodies. However, is Leda to whom most viewers would attribute the condition of nudity or semi-nudity of a carnal nature, while the young male heroes may not even be perceived as naked.

Leda y el Cisne

El motivo para realizar esta pintura surge de una serie de dibujos de figuras femeninas colocadas en un contexto similar al de los desnudos masculinos (ignudi) de Michelangelo en la Capilla Sistina. ¿Cómo se verían los desnudos de Michelangelo si fueran femeninos?.

El desnudo femenino estaba, si no prohibido, al menos condenado por los dogmas de la Iglesia a significar lo mundano, sensual, erótico y hasta obsceno en aquella época. Su representación en el arte se limitaba principalmente a Eva y a Venus. Por el contrario, el desnudo masculino era representativo de la vitalidad y del heroísmo, virtudes necesarias para alcanzar lo espiritual y lo divino. Era inconcebible que Michelangelo, Independientemente de las discusiones sobre su orientación sexual, colocara desnudos femeninos ornamentando la bóveda de la iglesia.

En el proceso de elaborar mi obra, vino a mi mente el tema de Leda y el Cisne, tratado por numerosos artistas. Según el relato clásico, Zeus, quien tenía una debilidad por las féminas terrenales, se transformó en un cisne y simuló ser perseguido por un águila. Leda, esposa de Tíndaro, rey de Esparta, rescató al cisne. En un momento de intimidad, Zeus insemina a Leda. En otra versión, Leda es forzada por Zeus. Esa noche, la reina, ya por culpa o cualquier otra explicación, sostiene relaciones con su marido. Leda produce dos huevos. Del primer huevo surgen Pólux y Helena, aquella de la guerra de Troya. Del segundo surgen Cástor y Clitemnestra, la futura esposa de Agamenón. Cástor y Pólux fueron héroes argonautas y sus imágenes quedaron inmortalizadas en la constelación de Gémini.

Retornando al asunto del desnudo, en esta ocasión se aprecia en mi pintura que tanto Leda como sus dos hijos gemelos visten telas que cubren las partes semejantes de sus cuerpos. Sin embargo, es a Leda a quien la mayoría de los espectadores atribuiría una condición de desnudez o semidesnudez con connotaciones de índole carnal, mientras los jóvenes tal vez ni se perciben como desnudos.



Landscape from Cueva Ventana with Eurydice abandoned by Orpheus transformed into a Bird

Oil on Canvas 24″ x 30″

This painting is inspired by the majestic view from Cueva Ventana, a natural cave in the north side of Puerto Rico, on the karso zone. In this part of the island, limestone is the main rock and, throughout the ages, the abundant water underneath as well as rain have sipped into the rock, forming numerous caves.

How wonderful would be to be able to soar high above this landscape, to be able to escape from earthly cares and feel absolutely free reveling in the beauty of nature. That is the concept of this landscape painting.

I drew from the myth of Orpheus delivering his beloved Eurydice from Hades. Most people know the story which in summary tells how Eurydice was fatally bitten by a snake and how her husband Orpheus, filled with grief, entered the realm of Hades through a cave, tamed the monsters of Hell with the use of his lyre and his gift of music, and pleaded for the god of the underworld to allow her to return to the realm of the living. Orpheus almost succeeded in his attempt at delivering Eurydice, but once at the opening of the cave, he turned around to gaze on her face, and because Eurydice had not yet reached the daylight, vanished back into the underworld.

The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice has many interpretations, but I’m not depicting that story in my painting of the landscape of Cueva Ventana. In my visual narrative, Orpheus abandoned what is precious to him, his muse Eurydice and his lyre, and turned into a bird to freely soar high above the landscape.

I can’t tell what made Orpheus leave Eurydice along with his lyre at Cueva Ventana. Perhaps it was a deep disillusionment, one of those painful moments we sometimes experience where we question the reality of our beliefs and ideals. She lies there inert, and even the unplayed lyre is no longer of value without the master player. Orpheus flies afar, transformed into a bird. A car is seen below crossing the bridge across the river, oblivious to what is happening at the window of the cave high above in the face of the cliff. There is a glimmer of hope in the sight of the protruding branches, a proof that life clings even to the most unhappy circumstances.

Print sold

cuevaventana

Impressionistic Realist Paintings

While Realism and Impressionism were styles born apart around the mid 19th century, they eventually merged around the end of that century in the work of some artists, notably among them Joaquín Sorolla in Spain and John Singer Sargent in the United States.

The main difference between Impressionist Art and Realist Art is that the first is more focused on the effect of atmospheric light while the second places more importance on the subject represented. Both styles are inspired by what artists saw around them, as opposed to Classical or Romantic Art which produced large paintings of imaginary visions from the past.

Realist painters and Impressionist painters practiced what is known as “plein air”, a french term meaning painting in the “open air”, outside of the studio. Up until then, the common practices for artists were to create drawings and paintings from plaster casts or models at the academies or ateliers and to do quick pencil sketches outdoors. The finished work was done at the studio. Realist painters brought their easels and paints to the field, but most preferred to finish their paintings inside the studio. Impressionists artists were more concerned with the actual moment and opted to capture “impressions” of an scene and attempted to complete the painting right then and there.

A principal difference between Impressionism and Realism as styles of painting is the method of rendering light and shade, or values. Realist artists kept to the “academic” method of adding luminosity to a color by mixing it with white or darkening it with a brown or black pigment. Impressionist artists, on the other hand, developed a technique based on the value quality of the pigments themselves, using high value colors like yellow for their lights and dark value colors like violet or dark blue for their darks. It wasn’t meant to be that simplistic, of course, as white was used and colors were combined to form various lighter and darker tones, but the Impressionist tended to avoid black pigment like the devil.

When some realist painters, like the two mentioned above, decided to apply the new color theory of the Impressionists, a new form of realism was born. To these days, a great number of artists continue to follow this legacy and produce contemporary realist paintings that blends the best of both Realist and Impressionist styles.

A Landscape Painting in the Spirit of Joseph William Turner

The Burning of the House of Representatives and the Senate on a Moonlit Nightas seen from the Walls of Fort San Cristobal

Acrylic on Canvas – 30 “x 40”

On 16 October 16, 1834 a tragedy of enormous proportions occurred in London; the fire of the Houses of Lords and Commons in the British Parliament. The cause of the fire was the improper disposal of a large number of tally sticks the use of which was abolished in 1826 and kept in a warehouse in the basement of the building complex. It was proposed that the government distribute the sticks to the poor of London to be used as firewood, but the government refused. The day of burning, the fire was out of control and spread to both houses of Parliament.

The event attracted a large crowd which stood at the banks of the Thames to witness the spectacle. It was indeed a national tragedy, but also provided an opportunity for the popular invention of jokes and derisive songs attacking the injustices of the political system.

The English artist Joseph Mallord William Turner, moved by the great conflagration, made a number of sketches in pencil and watercolor from different points of view, which he used afterwards to create two works in oil on canvas titled The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons.

My work is an imaginary vision of that event in Puerto Rico, with the Capitol building by way of equivalence. It is not my desire in this imaginary representation or in any way for a building of such beauty to be consumed in flames, either by accident or by deliberate act. Turner was notorious for putting generously long titles to his paintings and in this I also pay homage to the old master.


El Incendio de la Cámara de Representantes y el Senado en Noche de Luna Llena visto desde las Murallas del Castillo de San Cristóbal

Acrílico sobre Lienzo – 30″ x 40″

El 16 de octubre de 1834 ocurrió una tragedia de proporciones descomunales en Londres; el incendio de las Cámara de los Lores y los Comunes en el Parlamento inglés. La causa del fuego fue la disposición indebida de una gran cantidad de palitos de contar cuyo uso fue abolido en 1826 y decomisados en un almacén en los sótanos del complejo de edificios. Se propuso que el gobierno distribuyera los palitos a la población paupérrima de Londres como leña para fuego, pero el gobierno se negó. El día de la quema, el fuego se fue fuera de control y se propagó por ambas cámaras del Parlamento.

El suceso atrajo a una gran muchedumbre que se ubicó a las riberas del Támesis para ser testigos de aquel espectáculo. Fue sin duda una tragedia nacional, pero sirvió también de ocasión para la invención popular de chistes y canciones burlonas atacando las injusticias del sistema político imperante.

El artista inglés, Joseph Mallord William Turner, conmovido ante aquella gran conflagración, realizó un número de bocetos en lápiz y acuarela desde distintos puntos de vista, con los que compuso dos obras en óleo sobre lienzo con el título The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons.

Mi obra es una visión de cómo sería aquel suceso imaginado en Puerto Rico, con el Capitolio a manera de equivalencia. No es mi deseo en esta representación imaginaria ni de manera alguna que un edificio de tal belleza se consuma en llamas, ya sea por accidente como por acto intencional. Turner era notorio por colocarle títulos generosamente largos a sus pinturas y en esto también le rindo homenaje.

A Contemporary Realist Painting: The Art Lesson

Oil on 40″ x 30″ Canvas

Modern art is often associated with abstract painting or sculpture, some kind of “ism” movement and also what is now as VIP (video, installation and performance). The main idea behind these types of work is the experimentation of present resources and materials in a non-traditional manner. These so called avant garde artist are always looking for new ways of depicting their ideas of what art is and its function in print times.

The truth is that any artist who interprets his present experience is a modern or contemporary artist.

The Art Lesson is a modern realist painting. It depicts a scene I saw about ten years ago at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The grand abstract painting the teacher points at is by Mark Rothko. I have special admiration for him, and my realist modern painting pays homage to this great abstract modern painting.

Order a fine resolution digital print of The Art Lesson here.

 

Children Carpet Weavers of Egypt

Private Collection

24″ x 30″ Acrylic on Canvas

Hand-knotted carpet making is a traditional craft in Egypt. Children, especially the girls, learn the craft at home or at carpet factories such as those found west of Cairo, near the Pyramids. Here once stood the School of Ptah, in the city of Memphis, the oldest capital of ancient Egypt, which produced the greatest artists and craftsmen Egypt ever saw.

It is claimed that the carpet factories are vocational schools where children are taught a skill that will improve their standard of living as adults. The owners assert that the children work for up to three hours a day either in the morning or in the afternoon depending on their school shift. Whether true or not, they get paid a sum allegedly higher than what their parents earn. The carpets are sold primarily to the tourist market and the export market.

The carpets are made by hand the same way they have been made for thousands of years and the kids sit on a bench almost at ground level, stacking knot after knot until a colorful pattern emerges. The painting shows two boys and two girls. The little boy, staring out of the picture, is not actually doing any work. The couple of girls are busy and, well trained in their craft, can look to the back with curiosity while their hands keep at the task. The little boy and the girls are dressed in traditional Egyptian garb. Only the older boy is busy without distraction.

The painting uses as reference a photo the artist took during a visit to Egypt. Aside from the significance of this realist painting as a visual narration of child labor and education in Egypt, the artist has included in his conceptualization the ancient Egyptian hieroglyph sign for “to know”, carved in the wood of the loom machine. The older boy seems to stare at this sign. Learning a trade at his young age will set him free from want, and that is good, but attaining knowledge is what ultimately will set him and the future Egypt he represents free from ignorance.

Three Classical Nude Paintings

Few subjects seem to stir more controversy than the depiction of the nude human body in art. Classical nude painting is not devoid of this controversy.

Classical nude painting was the standard for the realist representation of both male and female nudity in western culture during the 19th century. Art students at the official academies were instructed to draw the nude human form from plaster casts modeled after ancient greek and roman sculptures.

Soon some highly important artists opted for representing the human nude form in a more authentic fashion, rather than the idealized version in classical nude painting. We can name Delacroix and Courbet in France, but, in Spain, Goya preceded these two giants of the art world with his Nude Maja, which, by the way, caused him a brush with the Holy Inquisition.

The Church had traditionally objected to any representation of nudity, with the exception of the story of Adam and Eve and the sinful in The Last Judgement. In secular painting, male heroes could be depicted as nude or almost nude. The only female allowed to freely display her body in classical nude painting or sculpture was Venus. The Renaissance awakened an interest in the classical art of Greece and Rome, and artists soon began to study in earnest the anatomy of the human body and the classical proportions in the statues of Polykleitus and Praxiteles. Such was the desire to represent the human figure as a perfect athlete of sorts that even Jesus Christ was depicted with perfectly chiseled abs in the scene of the Crucifixion.  This knowledge of anatomy and classical proportion was applied to nude figures all the way to the 19th century, when the foremost European art academies turned this style into dogma for artists who wanted to be officially recognized by the state.

During the second half of the 19th century, a new art movement was in vogue; Realism. Realism was a rebellion against the idealization of anything, the human nude body in particular. Edward Manet presented two large size paintings to the Salon, which caused a scandal with the representation of a nude woman which looked like anything but the goddess Venus. It was actually a well known prostitute which Manet often employed as his model.

Is classical nude painting spiritual, erotic or kitsch?

The main idea behind a classical nude painting is to combine the drawing abilities of the artist with the capabilities of oil paint as a medium to render flesh convincingly, in order to produce, not a mere copy of nature, but an image of a body that can be appreciated aesthetically. similar to the way we appreciate an ideal depiction of a beautiful animal, a horse for example.

In “The Nude: a Study in Ideal Form” by Lord Kenneth Clark, the author makes the distinction between the naked, a person deprived of clothes, and the nude, in which the flesh covers the soul and it’s therefore, not subject to embarrassment and shame. According to Clark, a classical nude painting “can contain significant sexual content without being obscene.”

A Portrait Drawing using the Russian Approach

I’m becoming ever more interested in the Russian method of figure drawing. Actually, it’s not a method invented or used only by the Russian art academies, but they have preserved the best traditions of the old masters and come up with a strong output of highly skillful contemporary artists capable of executing fine realistic drawing in various media.

What is really the Russian approach to drawing and how it differs from other methods of teaching drawing? First, the Russian approach to drawing is founded on two very sound principles: observation and knowledge. Besides drawing what you see, you also draw what you know. Observation is key to making a good drawing, but having a thorough knowledge of the subject you are interpreting with a pencil on a piece of paper can make the difference between a drawing that is merely good and one that is truly great, capable of communicating not only the visual aspect of a subject, but it’s nature and character as well. Think of Leonardo’s botanical studies, the mechanics of the hands, the dynamic flow of water, and so on. Drawing becomes a tool for the acquisition of knowledge, without hindering in any way on its artistic value. Quite the opposite. Drawing that is both the result of careful observation and acquired knowledge can produce a highly emotionally charged piece of art, capable of stirring our imagination and uplifting the spirit.

It might be said that a drawing made with such precision as the Russian artists still do can render a cold, motionless figure. That is not the case with the Russian drawing approach, because it often starts with a gestural assertion of the general idea of what the drawing will become when finished. In gestural drawing, one does not draw the appearance, but instead the action of the subject. From this initial approach, the drawing is “constructed”, the gesture sketch is divided into ever smaller shapes carefully placed using multiple comparative measurements, building up volume through tone and creating the illusion of depth in perspective. In the particular case of the human figure, the shapes of the body are rendered with their anatomical function in mind. Tone is rendered by well-thought crosshatching, akin to a sculptor gradually chiseling the statue out of the block of stone.

Drawing from photographs isnot encouraged by the art academies which prefer to rely on direct observation of the subject to render volume and space the way the human eyes see, different from what the camera lens capture. Most people will assume that a photo is more accurate than a painting of drawing, but the fact is that a camera lacks human stereoscopic vision and its lens can cause errors in magnification, such as barrel distortion, in which objects that are closer look much bigger than reality. That is the reason why some people complain that their noses look impressively larger in photos.

In realistic drawing, knowledge is very helpful in taking into account these distortions in photos and making the proper corrections.