Friday, October 19, 2007

Response to Death and a Funeral

The painting is by David Alfaro Siqueros, and is called "Death and Funeral of Cain" c 1947. What initially attracted me to the painting was the color. I was in search of a palette which I could adapt to fit my next composition, another nude portrait of a friend. I specifically needed colors which would allow me to paint flesh in a compelling way.

I was surprised to come across a piece which seemed to me to includ every color I had anticipated needing in my next painting. More startling, however, were the similarities and contrasts in the content of "Death and Funeral", and the ideas I have of my own work.
The painting depicts a surreal scene in which a crowd gathers on a barren cliff to worship a monumental dead chicken. The mix of reality and fantasy lends the painting an eerie authenticity. Siqueros paints freely, using chalky whites and dry-brush techniques. The shapes are well-defined by glimmers of dark contours and areas of flat color which create strongly solid forms. The dark, green-black shadows cast on the ground reverberate my own interest in manipulating shadow and light in a composition.
The entire painting emits a feeling of anticipation. The gathered crowd seems to be awaiting the experience of a miraculous religious vision. The chicken could be some sort of sacrifice. Slumped awkwardly over the cliff, it somehow demands veneration. As an icon of worship, it recalls images of a Christ-figure.

The way the dead chicken is painted also sparks a connection in my own content. The flesh of the bird takes center stage and becomes the field on which the most sensual display of painting and color is presented. The sun seems to be beating down on the scene. It reflects off the plucked skin of the chicken and casts inky, opaque shadows onto the rocks behind. I originally got the idea of dramatic lighting and shadow from the interest I have in the paintings of Wayne Thiebaud. I have been experimenting with lighting subjects and using shadow as a figurative element itself in the composition.

The idea of idol worship and the pagan aspects of revering a dead animal are also echoed in my next sketch. I want to return to iconic, confronting poses. There is something disturbing about the way the chicken's head flops down and hangs over the cliff. My painting "The Cerynian Hind" comes close to this same creepiness. Death is universal and therefore transcends contemporaneity.
The people form geometric masses, each wearing different colors and some waving red flags. Are they participating in some form of worship or prayer? The painting could possibly be a metaphor for contemporary society's tendencies towards hero-worhip and celebrity.
I think the piece will not only give me ideas for color and content, but even the paint-handling offers new ways of working. The "push-pull" technique visible in the work of Hans Hoffman can be seen here, as well as the idea of "cross-pollination" of color. I have found that as I am working from photos I often isolate and localise colors as opposed to allowing hues to mix and interact on the canvas in ways which are unexpected and spontaneous.

I've decided that the big development of this next painting will be to darken the background behind the figure. Like in "Death and Funeral of Cain", and in my last paintings, the flesh will maintain its own vibrancy and lush paint application. This aspect will only be made more apparent in contrast to the bland and austere neutral tone of the background. I also want to utilize the "push-pull" technique, implying an osmosis of sorts, like the background is literally sucking the life out of the figure.

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