Following what appears to be this week's theme of Max Ernst and collage...
"Lost at Sea"
In a 2006 interview with Robert Ayers for the Nancy Hoffman Gallery, which represents her, Colette Calascione was asked:
So how do you actually make a painting like Persephone? Her answer is rather surprising, and reminds me that there are a million ways to create, and it's always up to us to explore and discover a way that opens the path for us:
"The first stage is the drawing, getting the drawing together. That’s always my favorite part, that’s the best. I’m actually not that good at drawing—I trace everything, with no shame. So I generally start with everything on tracing paper. Then I do lots of Xeroxing and enlarging. And then things happen, changes happen, and I get to play around with things. Everything comes together like a collage. Persephone was from a photograph—I love those old erotic photographs—and I had the mask, so it just worked out that way.
Then I draw everything on a white panel with a watercolor pencil. I’ll do that until I get the drawing how I like it. Then I’ll do the various layers. It’s mostly for the flesh that I’ll do all of this, because I have so much flesh in my painting! Over the drawing, I do a coat of Caput Mortem—which is an old-time technique, an earth red—and over that I’ll put three layers of white and a layer of green which neutralizes the red. All that creates an optical gray, a grisaille. Then the color starts happening and that’s the tortuous stuff. That’s the hard part...Because I’m so particular. It has to be perfect. The color has to set a mood, and be just right. I’ll redo a color 10 times sometimes until I get it right."
--In a different version of Adam and Eve, a much older one, in fact, it is the man, ___, who tricks (willfully) the woman, Persephone, into partaking of forbidden foods, in this case, a pomegranate, though it's interesting to note here that there's a lot of scholarship suggesting that the pomegranate was also the actual forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. For the six little seed she absent-mindedly--unaware of the consequences-- nibbles on during the first moments of her captivity, Persephone must from here unto forever spend 6 months out of every year in the Underworld with her captor. And her mother, mourning this, sends the world into winter.
Here, Persephone's mask, a bird swooping downwards, is all she wears, and she seems completely casual, indeed almost bored in her nakedness, as if what had once been terrifying--her abduction to and rape in the underworld--is now just another bit of routine, you know, fall and winter follow spring and summer and then it's back to that constant orgy for 6 months. It's not a bad life, just repetitive. There's no pomegranate here, no symbol of lost innocence, no recollection of lost innocence.
DREAM OF THE HUNGRY GHOST
"That one [Dream of a Hungry Ghost] is my favorite painting. It's based on my favorite Max Ernst collage. I just the loved the image. I had it hanging on my wall for years. That's me in the painting looking like Mary Poppins. Recently I've been painting me a lot. The sculpture on the table is a Picasso drawing. Then look at the wallpaper. The roses are insane. There are five hundred roses in there, and I painted each one in detail, and they are so thick that there are bumps on the surface of the paint. You can feel them. I worked on it for two years. I think it probably looked finished after a year, but I had it here on my studio wall, and though I'd be working on something else, there’d always be some little thing I could do to make it look more illuminated. I really like that, to keep a painting around and I’ll think, "Maybe I could just add a little highlight here," and then it gets this really nice polished look."
(Max Ernst, from "Une Semaine de Bonte")
In 1934, Max Ernst put together a book of collages called Une Semaine de Bonta, ou, Les Sept Elements Cardinaux (A Week of Kindness, or, the Seven Deadly Elements), which I have already written about here, and the entirety of which is available here. Each day of the week envisions one of the seven deadly elements-- -- in several collaged images. "On Tuesday, large or small dragons (sometimes bats or serpents) are almost universally present… Stern, proper-looking women sprout giant sets of wings, serpents appear in the drawing-room and bed-chamber…" Tuesday is La Cour du Dragon, The Dragon's Heart, whose element is fire. Here you have the man with his dragon's wings, passionately embraced, clutched into a kiss, in a Victorian drawing room. Calascione's version adds color, and she paints it as a whole piece, but it still keeps an oddly collaged feel, perhaps because of the incongruence of the images. She also adds angels wings into the petticoats of the woman's dress, strengthening the incongruence and deepening the story: is this an angel, pulling a demon into an embrace? Because she is very clearly in the lead. Calascione also adds the element of fire. The colored squares of the floor hollow out, adding another dimension to the room, and flames leap up from the depths in a circle around them. But they do not touch the couple. From above a key is offered, by a hand from yet another dimension, that enters through a wall. Here is a moment of union, a moment of opportunity. Instead of seeing it as the woman falling into the clutches of a demon (which is still a possibility, once the moment ends, as the flames and the easy access from below remind us), we can see here a demon gaining the key to heaven. It is not clear whether he will accept, but at the moment, anything is possible. That's just my opinion. But in the interview with Robert Ayers, Calascione expressed her hope that viewers would come up with their own interpretations of the images, as she was offering none.
Here's a mermaid against the background of Hokusai's giant wave, from the Mt. Fuji wood-block series of the Edo Period. I like the effect of lush painting against wood-block style. Note that she's turned some of the ocean spray into bubbles, thus mixing the foreground with the background.
Hokusai's Great Wave.
I first discovered her art here, on ArtOdyssey's blog.