Once in a while, I get an idea in my head and it captures me. This time, I had to do a painting of my thoughts… While wandering the streets if Assisi, Italy in March, I was confronted by many images, all of which converged one day while enjoying a double espresso in a street-side cafe. Here I will describe these images.
First, as I took my change from the barista, I looked at the one Euro coin, which has the image of DiVinci’s Vitruvian Man on one side (…named after the architect Vitruvius who talked of the proportions of the human body, which Leonardo quotes in the header of his famous sketch.) Vitruvius wrote,
“…in the human body, the central point is naturally the navel. For if a man is placed flat on his back, with his hands and feet extended, and a pair of compasses centered at his navel, the fingers and toes of his two hands and feet will touch the circumference of a circle described therefrom. And just as the human body yields a circular outline, so too a square figure may be found from it. For if we measure the distance from the soles of the feet to the top of the head, and then apply that measure to the outstretched arms, the breadth will be found to be the same as the height …”
Second, there is the unending beauty of the ancient hilltop city. From the valley below, you can see the sweeping landscape rise to the centuries-old city walls. I had taken many photos of this view, as well as many others of its interior vistas. While sitting in the valley, eating from a block of cheese and a stick of local salami, I decided that this view would be among the first I would paint upon my return to my home studio.
Lastly, San Francesco himself – Brother Sun. There is a very important scene from his life where he stands in front of the Bishop of Umbria, telling him of his desire to be rid of the trappings of this world. Understanding that his father, being the wealthy merchant that he was, Francis was surrounded with fine clothes and many other shows of wealth. His life and values were in opposition to his desire to serve Jesus and the poor by being one of them. He looked at his father and then back at the bishop and began to remove his clothing explaining that he was rejecting his worldly positions and trading them in for freedom that most of us do not begin to understand. This freedom is both physical and spiritual. There is a great scene from “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” I hope to post here.
So, I was drinking my last sips of espresso thinking of all of this, while wondering how I could put this all together in a meaningful way. Below you can see my working out this conflux of images and meaning. Perhaps not exactly the whole meaning, as I am still working some of that out for myself… however, you can see my meager attempts to convey on canvas what I envisioned in that cafe at dusk in Assisi. In this bold self-portrait, there is a sense of humble exposure of myself before God (and everyone else) presenting myself as moving past some of the things I hid behind and the trappings of my past. There is a movement toward being whole seeing that, in my body, I was created to be perfect – we are created to be perfect. (BTW… If you are interested, you can find many fascinating factoids about the original drawing and the perfect proportions of the human body. Do a Google search on “Vitruvian man” sometime and see what you find.)
So, this new work is an image of me, as I leave the lessons and inspiration of Assisi behind, going forward to the possibilities of the now and future.
Psalm 139: 13-16
“Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God, you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adorationâ€”what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day.”
“Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.” – Romans 1:20
John O’donohue tells us about “thresholds”…
thresholds… which comes from “thrashing” – which is to separate the grain from the husk. So, the threshold is a place – you move into a more critical, challenging and worthy fullness… So the given world we think is there, and the solid ground we’re on is so tentative, and I think a threshold is a line which separates two territories of spirit… and I think that how we cross is the key thing.
Beauty is about a more rounded substantial “becoming”. When we cross a new threshold, if we cross worthily, we heal the patterns of repetition that were in us, that had us “caught” somewhere. And in our crossing, we cross on to new ground where we don’t just repeat what we’ve been through in the last place we were. So, beauty is about an emerging fullness, a greater sense of grace and elegance, a deeper sense of depth and also a kind of homecoming for your unfolding life. (Interviewed on Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippit)
So beginning with a simple monochrome sketch of the body on a terracotta background. I then added highlights to the body and then copperleaf to the outside of the circle, giving a sort of halo around the entire painting. Then, after being somewhat satisfied with the beginnings of the figure, I began to work in a loose rendition of the Assisi landscape, which I did in about an hour. There’s much more left to do on the background, but I am anxious to get back to work on the hands and head next…
Working back and forth between painting on highlights and shadow is giving a much better depth to the figure. I have wanted to do a painting in this fashion since watching Cyn McCurry work on her paintings at CLU. So, I have gone back in and worked a lot on the face and right hands. The figure is much darker than the copper-leaf that I wanted to I do an orange glaze over the copper-leaf, to begin to let it fall back much more and not be so bright. Next, I worked on the sky and hillside city of Assisi, but not with much detail.
So, never really happy with the reference photo of my face, I had Lucy take some new photos for me. Below is the newest state after the first round of adjustments, with some new shadow work on the figure’s torso…
Now the background begins to take shape with the sky starting to be added and some of the buildings of the city. There will be a few layers, so it will bot end up as bold and bright as it appears now. Once I get the background more worked out, I will get back to work on the hands. I will also take one more shot at bringing out a smile too, as many have requested. 🙂
Now having done an initial glaze on the sky to knock it back a bit, here are a couple of later close-ups…
Threshold” 36″ x 36″ Oil on Canvas
The painting “Threshold” is now finished and has already been hung in three galleries. Thanks for all the encouraging and helpful comments. Keep them coming.