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Posts Tagged ‘Boston’

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
–Ozymandias, PB Shelley
*******************

If you have ever been to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, you have no doubt seen the painting above. I’ve only been there once and the image of this painting and its strong presence in the space really sticks in my mind. It was painted in 1863 by artist Elihu Vedder, an American expatriate who lived and worked in Italy for over 60 years.

Its title is The Questioner of the Sphinx and it shows a man listening intently at the lips of the ancient monument with the hope, no doubt, of hearing some eternal truth. The skull in the sand makes clear that the Sphinx will not easily relinquish its secrets. The kneeling listener is said to represent man’s futile desire to find immortality.

With the still sand covered Sphinx and the scattered toppled columns, the painting presents us with echoes from ancient history of once mighty empires that are long fallen and forgotten. It is reminiscent of Shelley’s great poem, Ozymandias, shown above, that speaks to the hubris and folly of those who think they can lord over this world.

This was painted at a time when the US was in the midst of the Civil War and there was great doubt as to whether the county would be able to endure the struggle. The US was not an empire at that point. It was still young and finding its way but we still represented a great triumph of democracy, a country ruled by its people and  not kings or dictators or despots– a rarity in the whole of history. But in that civil war we found ourselves in an existential crisis, a tipping point, that put us in peril of being consigned to the dustbin of history before we even grew into any form of our potential.

I write about this painting this morning because it feels to me that we are again at a tipping point, divided in many ways as a country. It feels like there is going to soon be some sort of revelation that is either going to set us on a course that will either allow us to continue to grow our American experiment or will cause us to plummet into a darker and much more dangerous future.

It all hinges on people who are ethical and principled standing up and doing what is right and exposing the truths of our time.

But in the meantime, I find myself feeling like that man with his ear anxiously pressed to the lips of Sphinx.

 

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John Adams Whipple- The Moon 1851

John Adams Whipple- The Moon 1851

We live in an age where we are able to see, with the help of NASA’s Hubble Telescope and Cassini-Huygens spacecraft, truly amazing images of the far flung regions of our universe on a daily basis.   I often think that, as a result, we tend to simply stop looking up in the night sky and wondering at the moon and stars and planets that move above us in plain sight.  I know that one of my great pleasures was coming out of my studio to head home through the woods and looking up in the night sky to find those familiar landmarks.  Jupiter‘s strong glow as Castor and Pollux look on from a short distance away.   The constellation Orion‘s belt and brightest star, Rigel.  And of course, the large and calming presence of the moon in all its phases.

They become like friends after a while, true and  everpresent.  Well, when the winter sky isn’t filled with clouds.

John Adams Whipple- View of the Moon 1852

John Adams Whipple- View of the Moon 1852

All of this went through my mind in a flash when I came across the early photo shown above,  an 1851 daguerreotype of the moon, and this one here on the right, another moon image from 1852, from John Adams Whipple (1822-1891), a Boston area photographer who was a pioneer in early astronomical and night photography.  He took some of the earliest photos of the moon and stars using the Harvard 15-inch telescope which was one of the largest in the world at the time.

I like the idea that this image in its little precious case was perhaps carried and periodically looked upon  a century and a half ago, as one might look upon a photo of a friend or family member.  It makes me think that whoever carried this had similar feelings when they looked up into the night sky, a unity with something so much larger than that which is within our reach.  A nodding acquaintance with the eternal.

Seeing these images from Whipple makes me want to get out and look up into the sky.  Hopefully, the clouds will clear and I can see my old friends once more.

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John Tiumacki- The Boston Globe April 15 2013I wish that I could paint my paintings or write this blog in a vacuum, completely isolated from the often grim  reach of the outside world.  But that is impossible, of course.  My work is a product of my interaction with the world and that means that days like yesterday with the horrible scene that took place in Boston cannot be stripped away or shrugged off.  It affects the way we see the world, how we react to it and it makes me wonder about the motivations of those who were responsible.  Why this day?  Why this place?

Just why?

This is not something we know, not something that we accept as part of our life here, fortunately.  I have a friend, a pen pal really,  in Northern Ireland that I have known for over thirty years.  He lives outside of Belfast and works in the city and over the years he has experienced all sorts of partisan terrorism in his world.  He  has written of becoming so inured to a world ruled by terrorism that you become accustomed to crossing the street  when you see an unattended parked car on your side of the street or to having your bag checked when you walk into a store.  Bombing were regular occurrences  there and nobody was truly safe.  A bombing in 1998 killed 29 people, including 9 children, in the small city of Omagh.

Their troubles there have   waned  a bit over recent years and a sense of normalcy without violence settled in for a short while.  But,  as their economy suffered, the troubles have  began again.  He writes of recent bombs there and the police finding more and more devices.  His tone is a bit sad and resigned and I can’t help but think how fortunate we have been here to have thus far evaded pervasive local terrorism.

So far.

We don’t know who did this or why.  Obviously, someone with a viewpoint that hovers on the fringes of the political/religious spectrum.  Someone who felt that there was a point to be made with senseless suffering.  Someone who thought that their belief, their opinion,  would somehow justify an act of terror on unwitting victims.  But we will find out who it was and it still won’t make any sense.  There will never be any justification strong enough to excuse these actions.  Let’s just hope that this is not a trend and we can write it off as the tragedy born of one sick mind.

Let’s hope…

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