Blood, Water, Paint

The first time I saw Artemisia Gentileschi’s painting Judith Beheading Holofernes, I was astonished. Something about it felt real –  like lived experience – though I couldn’t say if it was the expression on Holofernes face, the weight of the women holding him down, or the blood on the bed.

I looked Artemisia Gentileschi up and discovered that she was a master painter of the renaissance era. Her paintings stayed on my radar, but I didn’t dig into who she was until a couple of weeks ago when I read a review on the Artnet News blog about a book called Blood, Water, Paint written by Joy McCullough.

The book tells the story of Gentileschi’s relationship to painting and the world of men she lived in – and of her rape by one of her father’s business acquaintances, Agostino Tassi. Artemisia’s father took Tassi to court, but the one who ended up on trial was the young Artemisia.

During Tassi’s seven-month trial, midwives physically examined Gentileschi in front of a judge, who then demanded that her hands be tortured in order to see if she changed her story under pressure. The saga is meticulously documented in some 300 pages of court records ...”  Excerpt from Artnet News review

The book is written mostly in spare verse and is a powerful read.

“i blink
try to shake off
the weight of a gaze
I never welcomed
from a man
who now occupies
my studio …”

Artemisia was seventeen when she was raped. The rape trial was held in 1612 in Rome and she painted the first version of Judith Beheading Holofernes (above) in 1614, when she was just twenty years old. (She painted a second version – almost identical – in 1620-21).

City dogs

It was a cold day in March when I came across this little dog trying to cope with its wardrobe malfunction. And then a few days later:

‘Focus’ seems like a pretty abstract concept for a dog.

Edit, April 10: On reflection, decided that my memories of my dog Mickey belong in another (maybe longer) post.

Pencil and pan pastel

This post is part of a conversation with Jon Amdall about using pan pastels to colour clothing and other large areas. I’ve just started playing with them and they suit my work style – I tend to work quickly and haven’t had much success with  colouring with pencils.

This is a quick sketch adapted from an old fashion illustration. I rubbed on two pan pastel colours (a deep yellow and almost lime green) – using an old piece of sponge. You can buy shaped sponge tools that allow for fine lines and precision. I erased parts of the pastel ‘wash’ to show highlights.

On looking around

I was at a farmer’s market in an old agricultural building. The washroom was in the basement – a cavernous room designed to accommodate fairground crowds of former days. Along one wall was a row of about two dozen sinks.  When i went to wash my hands, the first tap I turned on didn’t have water, nor did the second. I was about to try a third when a woman washing her hands at a sink down the line suggested I look for the basins that were wet. The next faucet I turned on had water.  It made me realize that I’m so used to being spoon-fed every convenience that I’ve stopped noticing as a way to figure things out.

Impolite society

A passing bank manager took out a second can of air freshener and sprayed the ground around the tellers’ feet. The hiss of the aerosol was conspicuous in the quiet bank.

The woman pulled her cart up beside me to wait for the teller who was serving me. The bank manager told her to step away and give me space. I assured the woman that she didn’t have to move anywhere on my account and she stayed where she was.

When I turned back to the counter, the manager and I locked eyes. She looked annoyed and somehow betrayed, as though I’d failed to join forces with her.  I could feel the annoyance on my own face – and disbelief that the bank should condone this kind of behaviour toward vulnerable clients. It made me think about how much rudeness is carried out in the name of propriety.