Posts Tagged ‘Ozymandias’

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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Ozymandias ShoeThis is a new painting called Ozymandias Shoe, using the name of the previously mentioned king from P.B. Shelley’s poem.  It’s sort of an extension of my Archaeology series from last year but more about the rhythm of the the underground strata than the symbols and artifacts contained in the original series.  The piece that was the subject of the contest a week or so back, Laminae In Harmony, was in this same vein.

To me, these pieces are about the organic quality of the layers and the interplay of the colors.  I like having this semi-abstract element in a painting that is primarily representative in nature which is something that I feel is present in my best work.  As I’ve written before, the use of the representative elements in my paintings is primarily a means to engage the viewer.  For me , the paintings are about the abstract quality of the underlying elements, by which I mean the color and texture of the forms that build up the surface.

Okay, that’s enough of that.  I almost wandered too deeply into the land of artspeak.  If you stay there too long you may never come back and if you do, you’ll be wearing a beret and a cape.

Anyway, this piece is meant to speak to the theme of Ozymandias and the futility of believing in our own immortality, our dominance over the earth.  This painting will be part of my show at the Principle Gallery, starting June 12.

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Archaeology: A New WindI was going through some old books that I hadn’t looked over in some time and came across a thin paperback I had bought when I was in the third grade.  It was a Scholastic Book and the mere sight of it brought back memories of those days when the boxes of books we had ordered weeks before were delivered to the classroom.  There was a mix of excitement and anticipation until the teacher, white-haired Mrs. Rogers in this case, would finally open the box and hand out books to those who had ordered.  The smell and feel of the new books as they were came into my hands is as vivid now as it was so many years ago.

This was a book of poetry selections and across the cover was a photo of a group of British soldiers of an earlier times, astride horses in a desert setting.  It was depicting the doomed soldiers of Tennyson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade, one of the included verses.  Inside, going past my crude scrawled signature on the title page, there were poems from Frost, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Langston Hughes, Poe and others.  Looking at it now made me realize what a great influence this slim volume printed on rough paper had on my youth.

Turning the pages I came across a poem that still remains a favorite and whose theme has always resonated in my work, particularly in my Archaeology series.  It deals with time and the ephemeral nature of our existence,  how we cannot control our place in the future despite all the wealth and fame we may acquire now.  This sonnet from Percy Shelley still has legs today…

 Ozymandias of Egypt 

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 shatter’d visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock’d 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.

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