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Sunday, January 16, 2011


I am particularly fascinated with this painting. This was done in 1601, at a time when The Church held sway over the arts as much as it did on society in general. The acceptable style of painting at the time would have viewed this subject a little differently. 

What I find significant for me is that its depiction is common, plain men fascinated with an open wound, not Jesus. I don't see God anywhere, Jesus is a regular guy. The men wear worn clothes, their faces are typical men, likely guys Jesus hung out with... The inquiring finger is digging maybe a little deeper than Jesus might prefer, note he is grasping the wrist to keep him from going a little too far? Look at the finger nails, they are dirty. (click on the image a couple of times to see the details)

By comparison look at this Peter Paul Rubens painting of the same subject, from a similar time. It seems to me he is more concerned about how well he depicts those that commissioned him to do this painting...wife says she need a new frock!

I'm using this as an example referring back to my first post where I gave some explanation for my choice as an artist to follow the thinking of the New Realists (with a capital R, I talk more at length about this in that post). It obviously isn't a new idea, something some of us keep coming back to, century after century. And within the context of contemporary art my challenge is to work with traditional materials - pencil and paper, paint and canvas - but to reevaluate my early selfs fascination with finding beauty in simple objects and regular people such as Caravaggio did way back then.

Is this old thinking, is it inconsistent with post modern approaches to creativity, where using disparate and unorthodox materials, making louder and louder noises trying to find one that hasn't been heard before, is an ongoing concern for contemporary artists? I'm not reactive to this, I enjoy it even, but I'm finding it has become less 'outsider' and more the 'established' in our contemporary world. It has become a goal in itself, rather than a rigorous personal inquiry and reflection of oneself. With this in mind, having looked at and been fascinated by a lot of 'new' work for years now, I'm finding my revisiting my younger thoughts feels like I wasn't quite done yet. It feels fresh to me again, and I guess it's not up to me to decide whether or not it's relevant. 

But why wouldn't I paint a beautiful rose? Most painters spend their lives trying to perfect such a challenge.

I suppose because it's already beautiful, so why bother? I find it far more interesting and rewarding to discover beauty in my personal approach to simple things. Here's a new drawing I just finished....

And besides it makes me smile quietly by myself, irony is such a lovely creature.


  1. In Caravaggio, It seems to me that Christ is putting the man's finger into the wound to prove that he has in fact risen from the dead and is real--real flesh and blood. The astonishment on the men's faces are from this realization.

    Realism appeals to me because it feels more like some momentary truth has been captured for all time. Different than photography though, because the painter/drawer also becomes part of that truth.

  2. Is it astonishment or concentration and fascination at being able to finger such a severe wound? If it is real flesh and blood I suspect it hurt to have that dirty finger stuck in there!

    Ah, I suppose it depends on ones point of view. Artistic license, even in 1601? Ok, I guess it's my license after all.

  3. And it does beg the possibility, seeing as how Caravaggio was such a difficult person, willing to thumb his nose at rules and conventions of the day, that he may have seen it my way...
    When viewing artwork, we are given the opportunity to percieve as we wish. Our perceptions are just that, observing and making assumptions, even conclusions as to the artists intent. Most often, without being spoon fed that intent, we make our perceptions based upon our beliefs and view of the world. Much of this is based on our comfort zone, we go along presuming things fit nicely into our personal precepts. But many of us who make art find that this isn't good enough, sometimes throwing these assumptions up in the air and rethinking other alternatives gives us food for a new view of not just the artists intention but the possibility of reworking concrete preconceptions.
    That's my job as an artist. It's not always easy or comfortable.