Monday, December 16, 2013

A Tale of Two (Dissimilar!) Birthdays

Above, an Adoration of the Magi, finished last weekend. For holiday distribution. Story below...

It's a cliche to observe that Chartres Cathedral is an overwhelming experience. During my Parisian stretch last summer I went there twice: once with Lori, and once with Andrew.

Perhaps I will write about it at greater length, but suffice to say for now that the most striking thing about it for me was its ambition. Not only architecturally, but conceptually. That structure and its decorative program in glass and sculpture seek nothing less than to contain the known world of the 12th/13th centuries. Every bit of it, as revealed in observable Creation and Holy Scripture. (Photo of Chartres facade above by Tim Rawls, flickr set here; the other photos are mine.)

The embrace of revelation and learning is unmistakable. For the know-nothing Christianity of the 21st century, there's a lesson there. But so much more than that: if the world were poised to be vaporized tomorrow, and we had to box up and ship off the best that humans ever aspired to be and make, Chartres would be at the top of my list.

We were fortunate to hear the legendary tour guide Malcolm Miller, which was really a treat.

The stained glass is lovely, to understate the case. And encyclopedic. But I was also quite moved by the carved choir screen, created during the 16th and 17th centuries. Not medieval, but soberly magnificent. (Sober now, because only the color of the stone; it might well have been painted in polychrome. I do not know.) There are 40 scenes that begin along the right side of nave just past the transept, wrap around the curve of the apse and run along the left side of the choir, back to the transept.

Meanwhile: I'm a sucker for Christmas. I'm also a big fan of the homemade Christmas-slash-holiday card. On July 31 I settled in to draw the Adoration of the Magi (number 12), as well as the Massacre of the Innocents (number 14)–the latter for other purposes. I sat on the base of a giant pier to draw. The Magi drawing took about an hour. I roughed the Massacre group very quickly, less than usefully, except to anticipate another session, later. A more successful Massacre drawing was worked up on the second visit with Andrew, in mid-August.

I have not yet done the digging to establish the sculptor and the precise date of these figurative groups.

A blurry reference photo, intended to provide a double check on my pencil, later. Note that the onsite drawing is after something different than the photograph. I am constructing a tableau for two dimensions, not three. And since I can't see everything at once, in the manner of a camera, my focus is variable. My picture is more fragmentary. So the photograph is of very limited utility. But that's not nothing, either. The pencil simplified a few things unhelpfully, because uninformedly. So I did use it.

Unfortunately, I forgot to scan the pencil. Oops. Above is the inked (painted in black gouache and corrected in white, so not literally inked, but that's how I think of it) sketchbook spread, with the page break removed. The pencil included a botched version of the left figure, which appeared in the space left blank. I chopped the picture down to fit in a 5 x 7 format, then refitted the pieces a little.

I had a vision in my head of a very graphic striped visual field in conversation with the key drawing. Here's what it looks like on its own. It started as stripes; I improvised some (admittedly arbitrary) light to add some richness.

Details from the final.

And the quick, very preliminary pencil of the Massacre, complete with eraser remnants in the gutter. The proportions and the rate of the drawing are awkward. A warm up; the first drawing I did that day; really the first drawing I did in France, I think–not counting handmade maps. 

A version of the more complete, later Massacre drawing may appear in the as-yet-untitled Spartan Holiday No. 3. I think it fits the argument of the issue, which I am beginning work on this week.

I confess that I'm really happy with and uncomplicatedly excited about the Magi image, which is quite rare.

So I'm posting it on my 53rd birthday, to celebrate!


Michelle Nahmad said...

I remember seeing this one in your studio last week, and loved reading about its origins and your process (it definitely makes me want to go back to Paris). Happy birthday (to you and my own father, another Dec. 16th birthday)! Enjoy the uncomplicated excitement. Looking forward to Spartan Holiday No. 3

DB Dowd said...

Thanks, Michelle! Happy birthday to your dad!