Agamemnon. finale (1963, diverse oils on primed cardboard) 32″ X 60″)
I was a student at Drew University 1959-1963. Summers at NYU in Manhattan about an hour away. I finished my major requrements in biology early and in my junior and senior years I was essentially an art major.
Elisabeth Korn was my mentor and Agamemnon was my senior project. I became aware of the gift this University and its atmosphere and ethos provided. This was 1961, a time, at least for me, of new convergences: At Drew University. Will Herberg was building bridges between faiths and Jackson Pollack‘s action painting was still in the air. I met Clement Greenberg at the Madison Art Gallery, in town. I had been reading Freud. Spontaneity was the hallmark of truth. I began Agamemnon. There were about 20 preliminary studies.
Endless splashes and controlled drips on many kinds of watercolor paper or variously primed panels of Masonite were followed by actual painting, but on water. I learned Sumi and calligraphy as part of studying Tao with Bob & Bobbie Cable near Morristown. A personal landmark was a gift from Bobbie: an illuminated verse from Tao de Ching that remains a touchstone 50 years later. It is has always been in a place of honor in my study.
Suddenly I felt I might have a way to out-action Pollack. Stand on the shoulders of a giant and encouraged by Kenko’s “follow the brush” aesthetic. No more splashes and drips … I channeled everything through Sumi brushes with black oils of varying qualities, viscosities, consistencies, and responsiveness to the brush.
Eventually, I could almost control what I painted rapidly on the surface of water. My lines and splashes had more control than flinging paint through the air, but none of the resistance of canvas or paper. The paintings floated and settled….and after evaporating , the oils fixed onto the canvas or Masonite, or paper beneath. Like much of my student work this was enthused with Greek myth. After reading the Oresteia at the end of my sophomore year I had the art thesis theme: …. In my way I sacrificed Iphigenia when a sophomore, betrayed Clytemnestra while a junior, revealed my commitment to Priam’s daughter, Cassandra, to the world, and experienced the wrath of the net and the two-headed axe in the bath.
But then, unlike Agamemnon, I rose and committed to Cassandra properly. These are easy transformations for an overheated adolescent. Agamemnon’s unlikely resurrection restored order—I loved art but was becoming a biologist and I was soaked through with the ethos of homeostasis. I put on hold my plans for more work in this spirit: Orestes, and then The Eumenides. Athena turned the ancient vengeful furies into protectors of justice (just barely), and I venerate her whenever I’m in the presence of her great statue in the Parthenon (of Nashville), and I felt their spirits ripple trough my subsequent work.
page Created: 11/10/1993 04:30 AM/ updated slightly in 2013
- Jackson Pollock also occasionally engaged in mythology-themed work: see his Pasiphae (the mother of the Minotaur)
- Writing on water? https://direct.mit.edu/books/book/2746/Writing-on-Water