Lana Sutton #9: Tochter aus Elysium

Edward G. Nilges, “State of a Portrait of Lana Sutton, Holy Terror and the Dancer of Dawn, as of 22 Oct 2010”, acrylic on canvas 12 x 16 in

Edward G. Nilges, “Detail of State of a Portrait of Lana Sutton, Holy Terror and the Dancer of Dawn, as of 22 Oct 2010”, acrylic on canvas

Edward G. Nilges, “States of a Portrait of Lana Sutton, Holy Terror and the Dancer of Dawn, as of 22 Oct 2010”, photos of an acrylic painting on canvas

Freude, schöner Götterfunken,
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum.
Deine Zauber binden wieder,
Was die Mode streng geteilt!

Friedrich Schiller, An die Freude (“Beethoven Ninth Symphony”)

The highlighting of her face, in translucent and restrained whites, must show her gladdened by the dawn, turning her face towards the sun.

I toned down the sunset to foreground the arabesque of her figure.

I restrict my pallete to the following colours:

Yellow ochre
Burnt sienna
Cadmium red

This is because as you can see all colours can be synthesized from this simple pallette.

This is based on a recommendation in Daniel V. Thompson’s classic, The Practice of Tempera Painting. European painters of the Renaissance were barred by the Turkish Caliphate from trade with China, and there are no rain forests near Europe (the Sahara is in the way).

Rain forests produced colours of high saturation before German chemists discovered how to synthesize intense aniline dyes from coal tars in the 19th century. The Chinese had access to plants and animals that in the rain forest produce saturated colours to attract pollination or mates, or warn predators to back off.

As a result, mediaeval tempera painters had as saturated colours only lapiz lazuli (a semiprecious blue mineral, often reserved for the gown of the Virgin in her honour) and a few other mineral colours. Their most common colours were synthesized from the bright earths of Italy, with ochre yellow and sienna being the commonest.

They attained the brightness and purity found in Fra Angelico and Giotto both by setting colours off against each other, and always painting, Thompson says, thinly with sable brushes, and translucently.

Perhaps today, with China a rising world power and a resurgent Islam, Western artists should use local materials properly just as Lana recommends people eat locally!

This stage is where the Old Bastards actually set down to work, as a close examination of a pre-1848 painting will show, constantly enhancing form using colour. Cezanne was a great artist, but he did not discover that color is form.

A hank of her hair has to break your heart.

Above all, restraint, the sort of restraint that my fat pal Adorno finds in Mahler’s song-cycle Das Lied von der Erde: although Mahler used poems that were originally by Li Bai, he uses their German translation, which makes the poems utterly unlike Li Bai. The orchestration isn’t Orientalist, and doesn’t use pentatonic scales. It is Mahler.

According to Adorno, Mahler had no interest in lighting out for the Far East. Instead, Mahler wanted to get out of the bullshit of Vienna and actually relocated to the USA just before his death.

The other night, a friend was describing the reason why some expatriates come here to Hong Kong without making much of an effort to learn Cantonese. It’s because, he said, that when you live in an environment where you don’t speak the language, you don’t have to listen to the constant bullshit in the media: get rich quick, lose weight, and buy more useless crap.

Mahler had no more interest in living in the USA than in China. If his music expresses in some way how he felt, it is the music of a wayfarer out of tune with the world who nonetheless has his moments.

Likewise Lana Sutton is not easily categorized as libertarian or Tea Party, just, on a case by case basis, able to recognize malfeasance and do her homework. She’s giving the corrupt mayor of Chattanooga fits based on specific, concrete facts (such as charging the taxpayer $27 for a printout).

If you’re aware in some way of the Negative Dialectic, that is you know right and wrong on a case by case basis, you escape false humility (as in Lana’s song I Do Right and you focus on day to day struggles, beating against the current of history.

I want my work to be innocent of and outside of art history like the little kid in a grocery store in Yung Shue Wan who always just shines brightly when she sees me.

Lana Sutton is an artist, activist, gardener, environmentalist, foodist, musician, dancer and Mayor Ron Littlefield’s worst nightmare in Chattanooga, Tennessee, who doesn’t mow her lawn. This painting is based on photography by Native Son.


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