A Triptych on the Psalms

I’ve been working hard, very hard,  on a new triptych. It’s made of three linocuts (of course) and it is about the Psalms. There are a lot of Psalms, so I decided the wisest way of going about choosing which ones to do was to ask my wife what she thought. Well, she thought for about 3 seconds before she said, “Psalms 42 and 43”. We’re on the same page. You see, this has been a very hard year for a lot of reasons, but the really big one is that my Dad died last October. It’s hard to overemphasize how colossal that was and is. I can’t really describe how truly terrible it’s felt, so I’ll just say that there has been sadness. These Psalms seem to speak to that in an existential way.

I’ve used St. Francis as a vehicle to think about these Psalms because, like Jesus, he was a man well acquainted with suffering. And I think that St Francis would tells us that our suffering can be redemptive. It can’t all be for nothing.

As is my habit, I’ll decline to go through and “explain” my drawing. Instead, what I’ll do is show you my thinking process and some shots of the image along the way.

 

Drawing St Francis and his halo

Sometimes a man needs some help along the way because drawings are hard!

 

I like to draw directly on the block. I know myself and if I draw it first, then transfer it, then start cutting it, I’ll lose interest. Nosce te ipsum.

The drawing is done directly on the block. I work out all the kinks right there and not in a full-scale preliminary. Some people do this, but I can’t. By its nature it’s very difficult to get spontanaiety in a linocut since the image is drawn and then cut into the block. This takes time and precision. Winging it (at least for me) is very difficult and fraught with danger! But if I can make the drawing directly on the block, perhaps some of the vitality of the initial, fitful drawing can be preserved in the final image.

At this point much drawing and cutting ensues. Several months later a finished print emerges.

I knew I had the St Francis Receiving the Stigmata finished and I felt very good about it since it was the most complex relief print I had ever made. Then my friend, Ned, visited and cooked up all sorts of ideas about a traveling show and how this could be the central image. I loved that idea. My wife, however, said she didn’t think this image was enough to anchor a show. Dang it, she was right.

The next step was to figure out how else to add to this piece. A triptych suggested itself pretty quickly as a way to not only “beef up” the St Francis image as an anchor for a show, but to add to his story. I won’t rehearse the whole thing here, but episodes of soldiery and a wolf figure prominently in his life. Exciting stuff. So I saw the wings of the triptych as a way of talking about his transformation or conversion and how he got the the point in his life where he was receiving the stigmata.

These are some brief drawings in my common place book where I was trying to work out what they would look like:

Figuring it all out…

This is called “jumping the gun”. I didn’t even have the wings worked out and I was planning a full-on altarpiece.

I figured out the Psalm. But I still don’t really know what the image will look like.

And here we go. I have it figured out. This is largely what the current images look like. The dinosaur is for fun.

Next time I’ll talk about those wings…

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