Several months ago, I attended the opening of a show by a reasonably competent group of artists I knew. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an original idea anywhere. I’m sure nobody was aware they were “stealing” (they never are) but all the work looked like something I’d seen before, many times. Originality is hard to come by; you have to be an authentic non-conformist yourself and unfortunately, few of us aspire to or achieve that level of rebellion. Most artists are so far removed from the source of their inspiration they don’t know where their ideas came from and get to think they invented them themselves. The moral of today’s blog is that if you are going to steal, know who you are stealing from and steal only from the best.
This is a long-winded introduction to my latest work. Fortunately, the guys I’m copying have been dead for over 2,500 years and couldn’t care less. I didn’t do it deliberately; it just happened. As many of you know, I’ve been cutting figures (people) out of black craft paper and projecting them as giant shadows on my studio wall. The pile of little cutouts I was using got out of hand and I got the “brilliant” idea of turning them into tondo (circular) compositions and pasting them on paper plates, plain supermarket plates: black figures on a white plate with a fluted border. Grecian vases? Kylixes (drinking cups) from 600 B.C.? Yes!! When I taught Art History (for 22 years at the University of Connecticut) that was my favorite period. My subconscious had obviously remembered.
We don’t have any examples left of paintings from Ancient Greece; they all seem to have rotted away. But lots of ceramic pots have survived. First, the “black-figure” period, images with details scratched into the clay followed about a century later by the supposedly superior red-figured vases, clay-colored figures with exquisite, brush-painted details, I personally prefer the archaic, black-figure style. It’s the perfection of forms and the way they relate to one another, even the negative spaces between shapes that makes both periods so incredible. The work I was doing on paper plates was obviously reproducing (in an inferior way) the circular interior of a drinking cup, a kylix. All I needed was a pair of handles and I could hang them on the wall, Greek style. Even the “fluted” rims of the paper plate echoed one of the more popular borders of the period. A kylix (kye’licks) was supposed to have raunchy images (like my work) since you only saw the picture after you drank the cup of wine. Check the vases out the next time you go to the Met; you will be in the presence of art in its most superior form. Every shape, every line, the, the anatomy is perfect; nothing is superfluous or out of place.
So far, I’ve finished about a dozen paper kylixes and I’d like to share a few with you. They’ll never show up in Helen Gardner or Janson as high points in the History of Art or get a glass case at the Met, but I’m having great fun with them, (as you can probably tell!). I’ll exhibit and sell them in a ‘pop-up’ show next winter so, if you want, you can have your own Grecian vase painting at a price you can afford. I’ll let you know where and when.
Just remember, don’t put them in the dishwasher!