While walking the Camino I had to stop myself thinking about getting to the end or only my feet would have arrived in Santiago. Why be in a hurry? One step at a time, enjoy, be involved. Making Painted Steps poses a similar challenge. I get anxious about finishing, impatient to see all the elements in place, and all the interactions of the elements. It’s taking a long time…
is a long time?
After the Goya ‘side-trip’, I’m glad to be back to the little pictures of Painted Steps, to be back on the road’. It’s like on the Camino. Every morning; wake up, get dressed, packed, and walk off and feeling just plain pleased to be walking again. Before 8am! Amazing!.........
This is the road ahead, from the dovecotes of Villalcázar de Sirga to the swinerys of Tierra de Campos with wild boar in between.
The image of a dovecote quickly came to mind as a picture choice for Painted Steps. But on the Camino it took a while to come into focus.
We were walking through the northern tip of Tierra de Campos, land of farms and fields. For days, I had been hearing the soft cooing of doves. I began to notice some odd shapes among the farm out buildings. The strangely proportioned structures were windowless, round or square, often with fancy crenellations, or other decorative flourishes.
Finally in the town of Villalcázar de Sirga we came upon a similar structure in the grounds of a popular restaurant. This structure had been restored and was open as an interpretative center. It was a Palomar, a Dovecote.
I learned that the husbandry of doves/pigeons is a European tradition going back to medieval times and was widely promoted in Palencia in the 1800’s. Pigeons /doves were raised for their eggs, meat and feathers and their guano, bird-dropping fertilizer.
This Villalcázar Palomar is a classic of the region, round and 2- tiered with a ceramic tiled roof. The walls are plastered and white-washed adobe. Beautiful! Inside, there is an inner circular courtyard. You can see the roof structure, wood beams fanned like the underside of an umbrella. Fashioned into all the walls are rows and rows of niches, hundreds of nesting places for the wild palomas, the doves.
The dove is a potent cultural symbol. Maybe the dovecote is traditionally a place for lovers’ trysts, part of the association of dove with love. In Michael Ondaatje’s novel the “English Patient’ the nurse’s father dies hidden and alone in a dovecote. On the Camino we frequently saw this symbol for the Christian Roman Catholic idea of Holy Spirit. I would imagine that Lorca’s poetic image of the “bosque de palomas desecadas’ (the thicket of dried up doves) “resonates deeply into the Spanish cultural religious political psyche.
I will have the dove in Painted Steps.
We saw lots of adobe building in Palencia: heaps of straw, clay and sand on plastic sheets, ready to repair walls in towns and villages: work in progress.
Historically, building with such a malleable ‘user friendly’ material would allow each farm family to customize their palomar according to need and resources and individual taste in decoration.
According to an article in the local Sahagún (online) newspaper there is currently an effort to preserve and honour these unique and fanciful buildings.
Local? It’s all relative. Sahagún was 3 days ahead of us!
For Painted Steps I resisted the classic beauty of this restored palomar and painted a more modest one that I had photographed in-situ, on a farm far from the path, and without telephoto lens. Only when I spread/enlarged the image for the preliminary study did I discover its beauty, and that this one was oval, not round.
The bright June sun making strong shadow gives it a solid 3-d presence and evokes a living landscape in the picture’s background.
Multiple Points of view. If you see the painting it in real – live -- you might have to get in close with a magnifier to get the full impact of the picture.
It’s been interesting figuring out how best to show what I’ve been painting. If you’re looking at this on a phone, a medium distance Hi Res photo is all you need. You can spread/enlarge along an infinite gradient, ‘to taste’ for your eyes. If it’s printed on paper or shown on a fixed screen I need to choose and present multiple photographs showing a selection of distances, enlargements, crops.
It demands becoming more alert to the demands and opportunities of different forms of mediation.(ie medium/message)
Which device is the mediator of your experience?
What would be a ‘true photo’?
Does this offer different points of view or simply variety?
Who said every picture needs a thousand words?
So many questions…
Step back. One step at a time. Ok.
...Walking and falling and catching yourself from falling………
X el Centro de Interpretación del Palomar en Villalcázar de Sirga. http://www.palomardelcamino.com/
* Laurie Anderson *
“I wanted you. And I was looking for you
But I couldn't find you
I wanted you. And I was looking for you all day
But I couldn't find you. I couldn't find you
You're walking. And you don't always realize it
But you're always falling
With each step, you fall forward slightly
And then catch yourself from falling
Over and over, you're falling
And then catching yourself from falling
And this is how you can be walking and falling
At the same time”
Failure is a useful benchmark. In my copy of Visíon Fantástica I am pleased with the beauty of the colour but I was not able to capture the ethereal quality of Goya’s mountain.
This failure points out how subtle differences can affect the reading of a painting. In Goya’s Visíon, the mountain is a metaphor of hopefulness, more poignant. The man points, but it is pointless…
It is said that this mountain or butte refers to Gibraltar. Gibraltar; aka ‘The Rock’, the gateway into the Mediterranean, the threshold out, the Pillars of Hercules, the stepping stone between Europe and Africa. It marks a direction of possible escape off the Iberian Peninsula into Africa for those fleeing anti Semitism (a major ‘pogrom’ in 1350) as well as the 1492 expulsion of Muslim Iberians.
The Umayyad Caliphate gave it its present name from the Arabic, Jebel Tariq.
I get a picture of the ‘multi-culturalism’ of the peninsula as a whole in this reference to Goya’s town Zaragoza, which according to Enrique Cock, a 16th century Dutch Catholic historian exiled to Spain, was at one point inhabited fully by Moriscos. He wrote, "(They) would rather go on a pilgrimage to Mecca than Santiago de Compostela" http://www.proyectos.cchs.csic.es/humanismoyhumanistas/enrique-cock
There is a ‘classical ’ Olympian look to the city on the Mountain. Perhaps the city is an incarnation of the classical ideal, a pinnacle of rational living, peace, and beauty. Perhaps this is the “reason” referred to by Goya’s title for his etching “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters” (El sueño de la razón produce monstruos)(1798).
A third element in Visíon Fantástica is the long line of people on the move coming from as far as the eye can see. It’s the typical trail of fleeing populations, a straggle of men and women, on foot, on horseback, carrying bundles of all kinds.
The armed horsemen at the head of the line seem unsure of which direction to take. At the center foreground is the crossroads. Will they lead the way up the mountain road?
The right hand corner of the painting holds the fourth element that seems at first to exist in it’s own scale, in it’s own system of perspective. But then you notice how it intersects and interacts with the other elements. A shock!
Two soldiers, are tucked in the bottom corner of the painting, hidden from the road, sharpshooters, ready to pick off passers by. Their silhouette, with the distinctive cockade-ed cap is familiar from paintings, prints, movies, etc. - French soldiers circa Napoleon, identified by their ‘significant profile’ like one identifies a type of bird. Each member a no-name, called only by their species.
The soldiers, like the flying couple, are in close-up but with their backs to us. You can’t see their faces, you don’t relate to them personally or empathize with their individual lot.
Who are these soldiers, these men? Why are they here less than 20 years after the French Terror, after liberty-equality-fraternity, after the poverty of a France stripped to provide luxury, for the ‘1%’.
These men are the massive boot of Napoleon in the thirsty drive for empire. They walked across France, Spain, Portugal. They walked to Moscow. That was their Camino.
The painting Visíon Fantástica o Asmodia is a worldview with multiple systems of perspective and scale in a cohesive ‘natural’ landscape. It is an insistence that the world is all happening at the same time –now- believe it or not.
While walking the Camino it could be easy to feel like you’re living in a 2-d world with only one perspective - me! You’re living in a very local Here and Now: immediate concerns, immediate delights: my feet, my stomach, the folks, the food, the scenery.
The yellow arrows show you your way, the pilgrim menus are set out for you, your bed awaits, along with the friendly greetings of the ‘hospitaleros’ who have spent their day cleaning up after you and preparing for you.
Prompted by the ubiquitous coquilles Saint-Jacques, Scallop shell motifs you assume a simple identity: The Pilgrim. You look at the path in front of you and look at the path behind you. The Camino is a line!
The Camino was and continues to be created over time: thousands of people walking in a long line following in each others' footsteps, separated in and distinguished by Time. A thousand years of Time.
Each day, there are the ones who went before me (some probably woke me up!) and the ones who come behind me, following in my footsteps, different times, different perspectives. With the dimension of Time, the line unfolds into a 3-dimensional world.
Painted Steps will be seen one day, all at once. All in good time!
"Stay calm, wait for the sign",
Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions is a satirical novella by the English schoolmaster Edwin Abbott Abbott, first published in 1884 by Seeley & Co. of London.
The Inhabitants of SPACE IN GENERAL
And H. C. IN PARTICULAR
This Work is Dedicated
By a Humble Native of Flatland
In the Hope that
Even as he was Initiated into the Mysteries
Of THREE Dimensions
Having been previously conversant
With ONLY TWO
So the Citizens of that Celestial Region
May aspire yet higher and higher
To the Secrets of FOUR FIVE OR EVEN SIX Dimensions
To the Enlargement of THE IMAGINATION
And the possible Development
Of that most rare and excellent Gift of MODESTY
Among the Superior Races
Of SOLID HUMANITY