Watercolor and Acryla-gouache, 13x17
My first instinct when confronted with conceptual art prompts is to fill the void of the (intimidating!) idea space with narrative, and this piece is no exception. I thrive on the tactile narrative details, the bits and bobs - who is present in this scene? What do they look like? What are they carrying? What's the weather like? What species of tree are endemic to this region? There's a thrill in trying to accurately transcribe the images created in my mind's eye while reading, purely because they're so ephemeral. There's a filter that lies somewhere between brain and hand, and it contributes to a piece involuntarily - whether in the lineweight of a stroke or the stiffening of a gesture. To me, at least, sometimes the sloppiest sketches are most accurate in describing the dream-image, and every step after that is a Sisyphean boulder-roll to return to that font of energy. The process often reminds me of putting words to a dream - poignant moments from sleep feel so much smaller once you relate them out loud.
Very early on, for this piece, I settled on Midsummer Night's Dream, which features three stories of love and disguise, but the most interesting visually is that of the royal couple of the fairies, Titania and Oberon, who are having a bit of a marital spat. I set out to do a straight interpretation of the play, but an Angela Carter story that I’d recently read wound up tinging all of my sketches…. so I gave in and just illustrated that instead. Carter was a British author who is best remembered for her efforts in un-Disney-fying fairytales and distilling them to their baser elements. Inthe short story “Overture and Incidental Music from Midsummer Night’s Dream,” she turns her sights on Shakespeare, and offers a little prelude in the form of a bawdy parody, set before the story of the play begins.
So. In this adaptation, the barely-mentioned reason for Titania and Oberon’s feud in Midsummer, the “Indian changeling,” is drawn to the center of the story, and is transformed into the sexually ambiguous figure of “The Golden Herm.” The stately setting in the play, a forest outside Athens, is replaced with the Romantic's landscape in England: a groomed, if soggy, garden. Queen Titania, now a baby-hungry buxom giantess, seeks to possess the Herm and to mother it as her fertility-goddess instinct calls. Nature is in tumult, and torrential rains strike as a result of King Oberon’s sexual fury at not having the Herm - and, by extension, Titania herself. All the fairies have colds. The Herm punctuates his/her narration with sneezes. Meanwhile, Puck appears as a shape-shifting sex fiend, and he, too, scrambles to possess the exotic little figure. Throughout, the elemental couple never acknowledge one other, each driven my their overt slack-jawed gendered-ness and their inherent instincts - to breed, to seed. The Herm, however, wants nothing to do with anyone. He/she is inherently complete, content (with the exception of his/her cold), held at a distance in a magic bubble, confounding everyone’s desires.
The story is bizarre, absolutely explicit, vulgar, and a lot of fun. At risk of contradicting myself, for marketability's sake I wasn't willing to draw a literal depiction of the story, but opted to try to show the story in one image. Thankfully, desire can be seen in a glance, a gesture. Titania is wreathed in green, buds and mushrooms, animals and infantile faces peeping out from the moss, while Oberon looms overhead, announced by the dark of a storm. Puck lecherously looks on, twined in his antlers. All only have eyes for the tiny Herm.
The trappings of gender and the instinctual autopilot of desire can make any two people feel that they're not speaking the same language with one another, magical golden changeling or no. Ironically, Carter saw Shakespeare himself as lost in translation through time, hijacked by high culture, tidied up and censored for public consumption by the repressive morality of the Victorians. “Overture…” works from a feminist and post-colonial perspective to un-castrate the popular, sexual, and political thrust of Shakespeare, stripping away the boys-marrying-girls gender binary of the original Midsummer to re-insert a bawdy, dark magic.
Be sure to stop by the Month of Love site for a steady spew of incredible work, and maybe next week I'll go with some less wordy subject matter! :P