Sunday, May 19, 2013

SILENTIUM: Let my lips learn the primordial silence

SILENTIUM: Pale lilac in black-azure. 20"×16", Oil on canvas panel, May 2013

This painting belongs to the SILENTIUM series-in-progress, named after a poem by Osip Mandelstam, which has been singing the underlying tune of my life and work over the last few weeks. 

This means, in effect, that it keeps emerging from the unconscious depths of my mind as the answer to the life's most urgent questions. Here is a link to the poem's text, just in case you read Russian, but if not, please, please don't try and google for a translation; it will be a disaster, really, trust me on this one. I'll try and give you something better in a minute. 

The poem invokes a day on a seashore, most likely, the shore of the Black Sea: the sea is calm, yet the day is madly, fiercely light, and so is the pale lilac of sea foam in its black-azure vessel (this is the image picked up in my painting). And for this poet, whose mind is filled and soft-wired by classical imagery and verse, this visual impression brings in the moment just before the birth of Aphrodite: this is, once again, the foam from which she is just about to emerge as she always does, but she isn't born yet (that's how the poem begins). And, since he is a poet, this moment, for him, is the moment when a poem is not yet born, but is just beginning to be heard in his mind, partly music, partly words, but really both, or neither just yet.

This moment of original inception brings with it the urgent, distinct feeling of connection to the ultimate source, the spark of life, and beauty, and art, and the poet wants this moment to stay, to prolong itself, and he prays for his lips to learn the primordial silence, as a crystal-clear note, pure at its conception, and for Aphrodite to remain the sea foam.

And so now you know why I think that the video (by Maxim Ustinov) I embed below might be better at conveying the essence of the poem than a translation: it has music, and some not quite distinct words, and a visual sequence, merging classical images with paintings of the Black Sea:


My painting may be much less of a "literal" translation of the poem, and yet it has emerged from essentially the same process: a visual impression unexpectedly brings to my conscious awareness something from the magnificent history of arts stored deep in my mind, and this invokes this urgent feeling of being alive, and of the ultimate, unbreakable connection to this strange place where there is no difference between art and life; and this feeling marks the beginning of a painting, when it's not yet a painting. Here, the pale lilac colour of these flowers (which weren't even lilac to begin with) sparked a connection to this poem, and so this painting was born.
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