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Artemis, 2001-2006, oil on linen, 24 x 47"

Artemis

Artemis was the Goddess of the moon, birthing, and the hunt; she danced in sacred groves with her female companions throughout Greece and Asia Minor. The virgin Goddess met scorners and sexually aggressive males equally, she eradicated them both. One legend tells of a young man who, while hunting with his dogs, came across Artemis bathing naked in a creek.  Intrigued, the hunter watched her. With a flick of water Artemis turned him into a stag, which was then pursued, torn to shreds, and devoured by the hounds.

A recently discovered legend conveys that one night Artemis channeled all of her ferocious energy to consummate a sexual union. This act opened up  a new universe for her -- one in which the scorners and aggressors dropped from her consciousness and she was free to be whole. This painting is about this newly found legend.

I completed Artemis on October 22nd, 2006. I started her sometime in 2001 while living in Rhodes, Greece.

If you will indulge me, I would like to discuss how this painting came about.

Ingrid Carette, a dear friend, inspired and modeled for the painting. Her prominent features are her olive complexion,  sultry dark eyes, high cheek bones, expressive mouth, and lithe body. She was my neighbor while I lived 8 years in the medieval town of Rhodes. She had a degree in art history and it was a great pleasure to share thoughts about art and life with her while enjoying a drink and mezedes in some tucked away taverna.  It was quite surprising that on a Greek island I would find some of the most sophisticated and knowledgeable people I have ever met -- Ingrid being one of them.

In our discussions, her love of Modigliani surfaced as well as our joint fascination with the Fayum portraits of Greek Egyptians around 100-300 A.D. It's almost impossible, living in Greece, not to see how these portraits resemble contemporary Greeks.

Fayum Portraits, 100-300 A.D.      

 

Modigliani, 1884-1920    

Something clicked with me and I thought of doing a painting of Ingrid, combining the influences of Modigliani's women and the Fayum portraits.

I come from an athletic family in which my elder sister led the way. The legend of Artemis, a fearless and athletic woman, always appealed to me.  As I had been painting themes of Icarus and Venus at that time, I thought I could integrate Artemis into this painting, and, if possible, with a contemporary twist.

From art history I was already familiar with other depictions of Artemis. Here are a few of them:

Dealing with the human figure is not as simple as it might seem. These four art works all portray Artemis. If you strip them of the bow and arrows, however, I am not sure that their bodies and expressions convey Artemis' aggressive, feline qualities. Though, I do think that the sculpture works fairly well--she is looking over her shoulder while she strides and pulls a bow. But the figures in these paintings come across to me as posing, nymph-like, or matronly. 

In contrast to the above, it pleases me to show one of my favorite artworks from a contemporary, Praying Mantis by Martine Vaugel.

Compared to those other works, Martine catapults the female form onto another whole level of expression. This is a great example of communicating the spirit and meaning of an artwork exclusively through the form of the body and facial expression.

I set myself the difficult task of conveying the spirit of Artemis through her expression and body language. Also, I knew I wanted to twist the legend to my own ends.  I knew I didn't want Artemis to be a in crouching pose ready to spring -- that would be too much like a man eater. Instead, I wanted something a bit playful, yet with a suggestion of pouncing; her hands became very important for that purpose. Here is the first sketch for the painting. Ingrid understood the kind of thing I was after and she was instrumental in coming up with a panther-like position.

 

 

I transferred the drawing to the canvas with a grid -- the squares you see here. Then I began painting directly from the model, much like how I painted Icarus Landing. I knew I was going to take liberties with the Artemis legend--but it's O.K. to use artistic license just as long as the end result works.

As you can see, I moved her indoors. I wanted to stress that she was experiencing new things now, almost as if she were held captive in a strange environment inside. Here you see, the appearance of the clothes that she and X discarded in haste. Quite deliberately, I wanted the clothes to be visual metaphors for the type of dramatic, mountainous landscape that you find in Greece, and to be a reminder of Artemis' background.

My favorite painting of all time is Rembrandt's Danae. Danae is looking with anticipation into the source of the light, Zeus, that has arrived as a shower of gold. I love the idea that the other half of the subject matter of the painting is not shown. I enjoyed including that idea in Artemis.

 

I left Greece with the painting almost complete. Alas, it would be another 4 years in transition. To complete the painting I needed to detail her face and her hands. Switching models always makes for some difficult transitions. It is unfortunate that I didn't have enough time to make several extremely detailed pencil and pastel studies.

Here is Artemis at the 2nd stage of development with a 2nd model.  There had been a few things I was not a 100% delighted with. Some of the colors didn't flow. I thought that Artemis looked a little too mature. And, especially after I moved to NY, I became certain that I was not happy with the light.

Once in New York, I made several changes. I prioritized the lighting. Gave the brightest highlights to her forehead, then her thigh, and then her shoulder. I also prioritized the darks, making the blue silken shirt in front the darkest possible.

To facilitate these changes, I made several color studies.

Using a model in her 20's, I also made more detail studies of her expression and a couple of details of her hands.

For about the last nine weeks I had been working around the clock to finisheArtemis. One of the most vexing problems was that every time I thought I got the feeling or the light right the integrity of the forms would disintegrate at a large distance. My studio in NY has 50' long painting area. Being able to see my paintings from a great distance really drives home the importance of form. When you view paintings from progressively further distances, the integrity of the form breaks down. What looks great from 10' may look totally deformed at 35', 50', or 75'. I use a mirror at one end of my studio and, standing somewhere in the middle of the room, I look at the reflection of the painting in the mirror, increasing the viewing distance even further

If you ever have the opportunity to view some Rembrandts, try to get as far away from them as possible and you will see how wonderfully real they look while all the other paintings disappear. A work that holds its form from great distances is one of my standards for excellent painting.

Here is a thumbnail sketch of her head, which is just over an inch. I drew this a few days leading up the completion of the painting. Because the drawing is so tiny, it served as an example of form from a great distance, and it helped me keep the form of her head.

Simulating distance can be done by making the image tiny. Here is Artemis, quite small, and I think the essence of her form holds up very well.

In closing I would like to talk a little about my view of life and the theme of Artemis. I am passionate about an integrated existence, which incorporates:  expanding one's knowledge, having a rich emotional existence, and going after and making real one's desires.  In essence, living everything that you want to be. The legend of Artemis was one of an intensely proud and action-orientated woman who sacrificed love so that she could pursue her other interests. Many people do that as well. That is why I think the newly found legend has significance...one night Artemis channeled all of her ferocious energy to consummate a sexual union. This act opened up a new universe for her -- one in which the scorners and aggressors dropped from her consciousness and she was free to be whole.

Michael Newberry
New York, October 25th, 2006

2006  Newberry, All rights reserved.

 

 


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