Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Past

I've always said that I was born 200 years too late. Part of me longs for an era when life was simpler and the view of the world fresher. Yes, there were many disadvantages 200 years ago, even 50 years ago for that matter.

What beckons me to explore the past? In art it is colours and shapes and the ability of artists to capture a moment with immense clarity and tone without the benefit of digital cameras or the comfort of art supply stores or marketing gurus to sell their work.

Classical art is known as atelier style, working on studies of anatomy and sculpted figures then advancing onto real life, oils being the most common medium or soft pastels, conte pencil or charcoal.

There are a number of artists from the Victorian era that capture my attention and have me sighing over their work. John Everett Malais was one of them. Millais's image of the tragic death of Ophelia, as she falls into the stream and drowns, is one of the best-known illustrations from Shakespeare's play Hamlet.

Ophelia is a character created by William Shakespeare who appears in his play, Hamlet. The story of Hamlet is tragic-- it is one of intrigue, deception, madness, death and suicide. Ophelia's role, even though she is a minor character in the play, is particularly haunting. Ophelia is in love with Hamlet, a young and emotionally tormented prince, who was once loving to Ophelia, yet has suddenly become abusive and cold. Ophelia clings to the memory of Hamlet once treating her with respect and tenderness, and she defends him and loves him to the very end despite his brutality and developing manic madness. As the play unfolds, Hamlet spirals into a full-blown psychotic manic episode.

Having a shaky adolescent identity and low-self esteem, Ophelia lives to please the men in her life, who never seem to accept her or love her in return. Ophelia's emotional frailty and young innocence work against her, as she cannot cope with the unfolding of one traumatic event after another, which all seem to center around the men in her life, including her father, who forcibly prostitutes her. The final straw is when Hamlet both rejects her and cruelly humiliates her after she has been sexually intimate with him. Hamlet mocks the fact that Ophelia is sexually experienced, and goes as far as to say that he never loved her. Ophelia's character shows nothing but loving kindness to Hamlet throughout each scene.

Unable to cope with Hamlet's rejection and abusive cruelties, she ultimately falls into a dissociative state and wanders to a river, collecting flowers, singing love songs, where ultimately she drowns herself after adorning her hair with flowers symbolic of her relationship with Hamlet:

There's rosemary, that's for remembrance. Pray you, love remember. And there is pansies, that's for thoughts. There's fennel for you, and columbines. There's rue for you, and here's some for me. We may call it herb of grace o' Sundays. O, you must wear your rue with a difference! There's a daisy. I would give you some violets, but they wither'd all when my father died. They say he made a good end. And of all Christian souls, I pray God. God b' wi', you.

Ophelia Hamlet Prince of Denmark Act IV Scene V

Tragic and sad, but always compelling, both the image and the play.

More sketching today, snatching moments of time when I could. The first of Alcatraz prison in the fog which was closed in 1963, as seen from a street in San Francisco.

The second sketch is the beginnings of a portrait of my daughter. I start a draft sketch of portraits to get a feel for them. I find nothing worse than getting half way through a drawinng and deciding that I don't like the lighting or the tone and then hate each pencil stroke to completion.

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