Corybantic

“I have been put on earth to accomplish a certain number of things. Right now I am so far behind I will never die.”   — Bill Watterson

Alright, perhaps that’s a little melodramatic, but it sure did feel like one of those weeks. Work in earnest has finally begun on a new commission. It’s behind schedule (some might even say laughably so) but that is at least in part because of the single stipulation that was given me when I accepted the commission: it has to be corybantic. For the uninitiated:

cor·y·ban·tic
ˌkôrəˈbantik/
adjective  1. wild; frenzied
Over the last many weeks I’ve come to realize that “corybantic” is not something that comes easily when I paint. So I’ve been referring to artists whose works are corybantic. And in my mind, the most corybantic of them all has to be Jackson Pollock.
The She Wolf (1943) by Jackson Pollock.

The She Wolf (1943) by Jackson Pollock.

I think Pollock’s She Wolf is one of the great masterpieces of the 20th century (I always felt that if Stravinsky had to paint the Rite of Spring, it would look like this). What blows my mind about this work is the primal energy — it’s simply staggering — but even though it looks like Pollock attacked the canvas in a fit of utter abandon, the formal cohesion is undeniably controlled and premeditated. Pollock is walking that fine line between discipline and chaos.

Next, I looked at an artist closer to home: Jack Shadbolt. Shadbolt was a BC based artist who, after serving in World War II spent two years studying in New York City. It was here that he became acquainted with the works of Picasso and the Abstract Expressionists. Intense colours and motion are signatures of many of his works, but I’ve found myself focussing on a five-panel painting of his that was completed in 1976 called Dog in an Empty Room.

Shadbolt: Dog in an Empty Room, panels 1 & 2.

Shadbolt: Dog in an Empty Room, panels 1 & 2.

Shadbolt: Dog in an Empty Room, panels 3, 4, & 5.

Shadbolt: Dog in an Empty Room, panels 3, 4, & 5.

The intense energy of these works is heightened, I think, by the fact that the viewer is “trapped” in an enclosed space with a purple canine vortex.

I find myself referring to both the Pollock and the Shadbolt as I begin work on my own painting: the savage yet calculated brushstrokes of the first; the alarming claustrophobia of the second. I’m also seriously working with purple (weirdly, a relatively new colour for me). Shadbolt’s use of purple is shocking and I want to capture that “unnatural intensity”. Needless to say, it feels slightly embarrassing posting what is essentially the first scribblings of my new painting beneath the completed works of renowned artists. And at this point, my work does seem to borrow heavily from the Shadbolt (perhaps the Pollock, too) But for the first time in ages I’ve begun liking the direction the new work is going, and as layers are added I’m feeling pretty confident that it will end up looking less like a Pollock-Shadbolt pastiche and more like a corybantic McGregor.

First layers of "Corybantic".

First layers of “Corybantic”.

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