Saturday, May 29, 2010

rage against the dying of the light

Rage Against the Dying of the Light, oil on board, 76 x 60 cm

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Selected Poems 1934-1952, New Revised Edition

or you can listen as Rodney Dangerfield recites Dylan Thomas on YouTube

This is another painting examining the emotions of associated with aging, with entering the winter of life's seasons. Earlier I had looked at horror of dying, and briefly looked at stoic resilience in the face of loss of physical and mental functions. This time i wished to examine rage, what Elizabeth Kubler-Ross saw as a stage of anger in the grieving process. And i believe aging and approaching the end of life to be a kind of pre-grieving, for oneself, and for loved ones that are left behind, bereft.

and so i read afresh Dylan Thomas' wonderful poem, and its words repeated in my head as i savaged the paint from the tubes and grasped the nearest hogs hairs with which to stab at the surface.

i was intending to produce a sequel to my Pulvis et Umbra painting from a couple of weeks back. Thinking i would be doing an overwash of zinc white (it is more transparent than titanium white) as before, with the resulting loss of detail, i did not bother with a charcoal drawing nor with underpainting, as i had with a number of other works in this blog.

instead, direct application of paint to a bare black gesso surface. Black, to signify the absence of light, the infinite black, eternal darkness . "Turn out the light and then turn out the light".  So i reserved a large blank black area to the right to explore how a black space can somehow talk to the figure in a painting (to me, they seem to resonnate off each other, the black almost a figure in its own right).

Fast work, quickly developing an image, not getting bogged down in exact perspectives or precise naturalistic representation. Rather, aiming for just the basic feel of the thing, welcoming distortion as part of the expressive load in the image.

But as i was about to wash over the top in white, my eye caught the quality of the brush marks, and i recalled that my project is an exploration into expressive mark-making in portraiture. And so i left it, rough, raw, urgent.

my belief is that the manner of the brush marks betray, or rather leaks, the emotions of the painter at the time of painting them. The Italian Renaissance had a saying 'Ogni pittore dipinge se" - Every painter paints himself. The characteristic way one makes marks, rather as in handwriting, is specific to the individual and reveals something of the habitual disposition of the painter.  What others recognize as his or her style.

my desire always is for fresh marks of spontaneous energy and power. Maybe this painting will be a step in my journey towards that objective. That is really for others to judge.

so here it is. Rage Against The Dying of the Light, a self-portrait, of striving towards the light, of raging against the engulfing blackness all around, of the blackness seemingly speaking back in dialogue with the figure.

[To accompany this painting, i have posted some photographs celebrating Light and Lamps in my photo blog, the crystal cornea. See column on the right for a blog link.]


  1. Harry - this post gripped my attention and I wasn't tempted to 'scan read'. Particularly interested in what you say about brush strokes and the artist's personality showing through. Expressive content in a painting grabs the viewer in one way or another, and this one certainly holds your attention, so I feel you are getting what you are striving for in your work. Your writing is spirited and meaningful too. Regards.

  2. I saw your wonderful photographs.
    I love this poem a lot, especially because aging hit me from behind, unexpectedly.

    The painting is awesome. I love this raw paint on the black. And the great blue colours. It's an awesome painting Harry.

  3. You thesis sounds fascinating, Harry. I resonate to the idea of the emotions leaking out of the brush marks.

    This painting captures that rage against the dying of the light and your description of process is enthralling. Great stuff. I look forward to reading and seeing more.

  4. Carolann, thanks for your attentive reading of my musings on my art practice. I worry that this sort of work is too rough, too quick, lacking in substance and depth, that it is little more than an exercise, and i feel i'm a long way from painting the sort of portraits i aspire to.

    But small steps, as they say.

    Thanks for walking some of the way with me.

  5. ah Momo, you're a real tonic.

    Yes, isn't it a great poem.

    And yes, aging has a way of catching one unawares. I guess it's like John Lennon sings, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans".

    Take care Momo. Have a great weekend.

  6. Elizabeth, you read with such lucidity and bring such a wealth of experience and expertise to your reading that i feel quite exposed to your gaze. Thank you for also reading with such in a positive spirit.

    And yes, i'm afraid more is on the way :)) Though this one i'm working on is unlike any in style from what ive posted so far.

    It's probably all quite tame and predicatable to the eyes of established artists who wander by here, but the constant self-imposed press to extend myself into new ways of working is quite draining at times.

    And then i have the gall to make it all public! What a tightrope act, lol.

    Thanks for being such a patient and gentle audience.

  7. Thankyou for your comment on ma blog. Don't know how to send a thankyou email - so visited your blog to leave this instead. But think I'll be coming back - what interesting work and ideas. And yes aging is strange - especially the areas around the eyes, and spending time saying what a lovely view!

  8. Not all Bridget, i really enjoyed the way you handle paint. Though given your exquisite landscapes i never imagined my emotive figurative painting would be of interest to you. But i am most pleased you came to visit and found something to your liking.

    As for spending time saying what a lovely view, haha, i haven't got there yet. Or maybe its a race between that and failing eyesight!

  9. --I got sidetracked while I watched Rodney Dangerfield recite Dylan Thomas. Thanks for reminding me what a wonderful guy he was. I do think he got shortchanged, he should have had some dramatic parts. He would have been able to pull them off.
    what a thoughtful post, Harry. I saw a video on CNN the other day, a woman 104 who still drives. She told the interviewer that she knows lots of people (younger than her) who seem to be waiting to die. "why wait for it, she will come whether or not you wait for it".
    I think your portrait describes raging very well. You are right to leave it precisely where it is.

  10. glad you enjoyed Rodney doing his thing, Celeste ... he certainly carried that off well, got right into the blazing eyes.

    the 104 year old lady is absolutely right, though i expect it is a piece of wisdom she acquired by living through some difficult patches beforehand, when a mere youngster of 80 for instance. A positve outlook gets one a long way. Even blank denial seems to work pretty well for some people.

    Though i'm ALMOST with Socrates, "the unexamined life is not worth living". Don't know about you, but i'm not about to quaff hemlock cause i can't pass an exam!

    But still, he has a point. Would i really want live out my days only partially aware, only partially discovering the great truths, and beauties, and yes, terrors, of life?

  11. No doubt this painting reflects anger, fury by an unequivocal way, the dark background and the white paint. The spontaneity and the freedom in paint stroke, they accentuate them, if it is more possible, this sensation.
    I love this job Harry.
    See you.

  12. Harry,
    I find your work and words so very interesting and am glad I started following you blog!!

    Aging sucks... yes... but it does beat dying.... (I think).

  13. Hi Harry , U certainly give me the impression of rage . I like your paintings.
    Aging should be a natural process , but this society tends to make old people feeling useless...and desperate .
    ciaooo from a fellow Australian ( Am I ??)
    ps I love Tassi

  14. Impactante, Harry. Pienso que es evidente que nos pintamos a nosotros mismos, pues en nuestras obras está nuestra personalidad, siempre dependiendo del estado de ánimo en que nos encontramos. Por lo que se refiere al cuadro en sí mismo, me encanta el contraste del fondo negro (no encuentro, por cierto, gesso negro en mis tiendas de pintura). Francamente terrorífica la expresión. Esos cabellos blancos sueltos. Esa palidez que recuerda a la muerte. Toques rojos de los dientes, pues la ira la solemos asociar al color rojo, pero también a la sangre. Sin embargo, con la mirada de la figura consigues asociar esa ira al miedo. Terror y miedo.

  15. Lozzano, gracias. Usted tiene por ejemplo una colección asombrosa de conocimiento de punta en su blog que yo te respeto particular opinión.

    Marian, youre most welcome, i am delighted you find some interest in my work. The good news is, barring accidents, we all get both - the aging AND the dying! Maybe it's what we do with that reality that is imoportant, apart from just lamenting it.

  16. Welcome, Marlauisa, thanks for poistive response. A fellow Aussie? Your profile declares you an offical Person of Mystery.

    Yes, traditional societies certainly venerated their aged. They were a major social asset, for in communities without literacy or libraries, it was the old who were the society's memory. It was the elders who knew how to perform the rituals, knew the sacred myths, had seen good seasons and bad and so could pronounce on the current drought, knew just when to plant and when to reap.

    Now its all in the written records, built up and utilised by youthful careers. Meanwhile the old have become traffic hazards.

    i think the challenge for our generation is whether we can re-write that story. The challenge for each us individually is how we can cope in that setting. Maybe even find some peace in our final days.

  17. Beyond the old age, it is the passion of life which leads your portraits Harry! They are totally vibrating.
    I did not know Dylan Thomas... I am going to try to find a collection to the bookshop tomorrow. Thank you Harry.

    Au delà de la vieillesse, c'est la rage de vivre qui anime vos portraits Harry ! Ils sont totalement vibrants.
    Je ne connaissais pas Dylan Thomas... Je vais essayer de trouver un recueil à la librairie dès demain. Merci Harry.

  18. Manel, thanks so much for your observant and insightful reading of the painting. You mention the wild loose hair and use of white as evoking the pallor of death (especially when contrasted in the field of black), and the touch of red in teeth flagging anger and evoking our associations with blood. These are all true readings from a fellow painter.

    Others too have mentioned the teeth gritted with rage while the eyes say fear. Thanks Manel for articulating these things.

    Actually, the wild loose hair, apart from foreshadowing a tousled corpse with its rictus mouth, is also emblematic of Lear, the foolish old king raging in the storm, dying bereft and mad with sorrow. I often think of Lear when painting my hair to let the storm and craziness into the brush, insofar i am capable at this stage.

    so thanks you my fellow painter, for your keen eye and close attention. Saludo.

  19. Olivia, merci.

    Dylan Thomas has long been one of my favorites, though i don't know how well he translates. His verse is very musical, relying on the lilt and play of vowels and rich associations of words. His images are not logically arranged. Rather one is immersed in them and they enter the soul by osmosis.

    At the end of a poem i feel i have just head a passage of music and have a knowing greater than the small heap of words on the page could explain.

    So if i have achieved little else with this post, i will be most satisfied knowing it has introduced you to Dylan Thomas.

  20. In your honour and in honour of wall the Illustrators and Painters, I published
    an illustration.

  21. yes, you are so right, SCHIZO, let us all celebrate the visual arts that enrich our lives and build up our cultures ... what can be better - art leading to more art.

  22. Harry, you have definitely found "spontaneous energy and power" in these brush marks. I find your blog posts so interesting and thought provoking- thank you.

  23. Rather, thank you Nicki for showing an interest and letting me know what you think. I sometimes wonder why there aren't greater connections between Canada and Australia.

    We love Candian movies, relish amazing Canadian live theatre (there seems to be a Tassie nexus with Newfoundland), and of course Canada has such a vibrant visual art scene.

    so i think it's great we get to each other's work in these blogs! cheers, h

  24. Hi Harry , I wrote some info in my profile x U , but if U are really interested in my "early" life U can read my first posts (:

    I think only living in natural places we can find Harmony and Peace .

  25. thanks Maralusia, already enjoying 2006 ... what an amzing life ... and the art!!!! stunning!! i was in Lisbon briefly last year, and would love to post some photos in crystal cornea but my camera got lifeted just as i was leaving, sniff. So instead i will enjoy reading of your travels and thoughts and saoking up those many wonderful paintings! thank you so much.
    cheers, h

  26. just followed your link, cool blog I'm a follower or a uh walker besider now lol. Il be glad to see you around.

  27. Time is relentless,
    but there is always a time for everything
    sometimes when I'm working is like
    the weather was mocking me,
    because he knows how to pass and I do not know.
    Beautiful work, friend,
    is the expression of anger and nonconformity.
    Good week

  28. the way you build the image by the light is what i really like to see on your work .

  29. hi Sterling, welcome. Nice to have your company along the art trail. Love those photos of trash. I'm sure there is a wise old saying from Samuel Johnson or Benjamin Franklin that goes, "He who sees the beauty in trash is one who .....". Thanks for showing us the beauty. Hoping its not your eye for trash that arrested your attention here, lol. Cya round.

  30. hi Paulo. Yes, your interest in Ecclesiastes is most relevant for my theme here too. There is a season for all things and it is good that the young are making art filled with life and optimism, romance and hope. But Ecclesiastes lso says , "With much wisdom cometh much sorrow" and for a little while i want to be the artist of that season of sorrow.

    Nonconformity? Interesting observation. Yes, Paulo, i am not comfortable as a joiner and have always preferred to march to my own drum. Cheers, h.

  31. Caio, the man with the golden brush, thanks for looking for the good bits. Thanks for coming by to look.

  32. Harry,

    Thanks so much for brightening my world with angst and loneliness and life.....pajamas

  33. pleasure, PJs ... there's plenty more where that came from, lol

  34. So glad to find your blog. I respond to your work, wonderful. Thank you for posting the Dylan Thomas poem, always one of my favorites, enough that I named my son Dylan.

  35. glad you found your way here, Janice, you're most welcome. Yes, the music of Dylan Thomas' verse has been a source of wonder for me for many decades. Did you son's friends ever think he was named after Bob Dylan, i wonder? His music is a long-time fav of mine too, so you chose well either way :-)