To the Unknown Helper #22: reflections on Mahler

A poor torn heart, a tattered heart,
That sat it down to rest,
Nor noticed that the ebbing day
Flowed silver to the west,
Nor noticed night did soft descend
Nor constellation burn,
Intent upon the vision
Of latitudes unknown.

The angels, happening that way,
This dusty heart espied;
Tenderly took it up from toil
And carried it to God.
There, — sandals for the barefoot;
There, — gathered from the gales,
Do the blue havens by the hand
Lead the wandering sails.

(Emily Dickinson)

Each painting session starts with using a small brush to “sharpen the contradictions” in the face, for Daniel V Thompson in The Practice of Tempera Painting emphasizes that in this medium (which I simulate in acrylic) “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not”: the mediaeval painter would shade the form all the way up to the highest lights and conversely spread a white that was neither opaque nor transparent down to the deepest shadows.

This was an application of Scholastic (anti-Platonist: Aristotelean) philosophy ideologically supported in the later middle ages by St Thomas Aquinas’ revival of Aristotle, for in Aristotle’s metaphysics, pure Forms exist only incarnate as in the “word made flesh”. Thus the Helper’s eyes are shadowed by her wild youth (perhaps she was a cocaine addled Bright Young Thing of the 1920s who became a missionary in the 1930s only to fall foul of the Japanese).

Major pentimento (correction)! The agony of da feet! I realized, d’oh, that Asian feelings of the sort Matteo Ricci encountered at the Ming court, that a teacher-helper would be paid just enough to afford shoes, could be reconciled with my desire, and hers, to cool her feet by giving her a nice pair of sandals, perhaps decorated with jewels. Oh dem golden slippers.

So, I did something I’ve always been afraid to do. I used Winsor’s titanium white to reprime the surface roughly and freehand drew her feet, and started to redo the wash shading.

At this time her farther leg may be coming in at the wrong angle and may need adjustment, and there may be a perspective issue in the nearer foot. You can make minor corrections to these angle issues because of mathematical necessity, a line drawn on a canvas, especially when inked with dark wash, is Heisenbergian/Bohrian: an expression of probability as to where the boundary is, which can be adjusted.

People who unlike me see with two eyes are forever seeing around these corners. I’d get the operation to restore full vision in my right eye, but I don’t have the money, and it might be disorienting.

Adjusting the child’s face with opaque black eyeballs, trying to match the almond eyes, and using horizontal shading. The devil of it being in the fact that the little girl has bone structure which is not completely obscured by baby fat, and she has a low-rising Asian nose which has to be modeled in subtle shades of white.

Looking at Asian Hair on the MTR to see how it catches the light, don’t have that right.

The magnificent robes of the Islamic world at the Dubai airport, the hijab, the head-scarf. The baring of one shoulder being the Helper’s affectation since it is not, in fact Islamic. It amazes me that the French want to ban head-scarves, for their Virgin Mary of their Catholic tradition was always portrayed in hijab.

A note on models. They are overrated and hard to get, as hard as girl-friends who aren’t psychos. I have to dig out “what she looks like” from my study of anatomy and my own kinesthetic sense from my own workouts, for my experience was that when I started to reduce my blubber through running in 1981, there was an ectomorphic crazy female which constituted my animating spirit.

But I realize one can make errors without models.

In the Tempest, Ariel is not subhuman. Instead, he’s pure super-ego made flesh: “you are men of sin”. Zizek writes that modern capitalism has replaced the super-ego with shopping and the worship of celebrities.


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