Friday, August 11, 2006

Breezin' Up

This is "Breezin' Up," by Winslow Homer.



My father took me to see it at a museum in Washington, DC--the Smithsonian, perhaps? That doesn't seem right--and it's the first painting I ever remember really looking at.

A couple of things fascinated me. First, I was very much of a sailor as a boy, and the big catboat in the painting reminded me of the duck boats and Sneakboxes I myself would sail on Barnegat Bay. But more than that, what really grabbed me was that, if you look closely at the sky just to the right of the sailor who's steering, you can see where Homer painted over the image of the boat on the horizon, either deleting it or moving it to its current location at the right edge of the painting. Likewise, if you look at the space just to the right of the middle sailor, you can see the same thing happening--he used to be hiking out; his figure extending horizontally, but Homer wiped that out and decided to have him sit up straight. (This second example is hard to see in the jpeg you are looking at, particularly since the image doesn't expand when you double-click it, but is quite obvious if you are staring at the actual picture.)

Lord, this hit me like a ton of bricks. Who knew, I thought, that guys like Homer were constantly screwing things up, white-ing things out, changing their minds? I always just thought the stuff came out like bolts from the forehead of Zeus.

To this day, when I've massively screwed something up on a painting, I think of "Breezin' Up" and feel better.

Which brings me to "The Ecstasy of St. Theresa."

Truth be told, I had originally planned on a one-panel, color painting--the right panel as you look at it--except that, as it unfolded, I realized I didn't leave enough room for the poor girl's head. This is what we, in the painting world, call a situation. The solution was to introduce the second panel. More on that later.

Even further to the point, if you look closely at the right panel you can see the "ghost" of an arm protruding at a 45 degree angle from the center of her chest. The original idea was to have the arm of the girl grasping the spear of the angel (which was never painted), uncertain as to whether she's pulling it in or pushing it out (or both) as she writhes in (sexual? spiritual?) ecstasy. And, as with Homer, the "ghost" is clearly obvious on the painting itself; harder to see on the jpeg.

And just like Homer, I ended up dumping the whole idea and painting over it. And today, as I look at what might be considered a glaring error, it doesn't bother me a bit. In fact, it's one of my favorite parts of one of my favorite paintings.

Wouldn't this look beautiful in somebody's dining room? Seventeen grand; negotiable.

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