Following a Train of Thought.
I became fascinated by the archeological find this image came from, and felt moved to create an entirely new artwork based on it.
The Tomb of the Diver was built about 470 BCE, in what is now southern Italy. It was at that time a Greek colony, situated very close to the land of the Etruscans. (Fun fact: “Tuscany” derives from the word “Etruscan”)
Influence from the Etruscans.
During that era, the Etruscans had a marvelous funerary tradition that entailed building large, gorgeous, semi-submerged tombs. They were like little underground houses, large enough to move around in, with pitched ceilings, and limestone walls. Along with statuary and other votive offerings, they painted amazing frescos on the ceilings and walls.
Greek Tomb in an Etruscan Land
The Tomb of the Diver is definitely not an Etruscan tomb. For one thing, it is small, about the size of a coffin. But the influence of the Etruscans is undeniable. In this tomb, la dolce vita is the scene of a Greek symposium.
The tomb is made up of limestone slabs, consisting of four walls and a lid.
The four sides depict an idyllic world of beautiful men, laid out on their fancy couches, drinking, talking, flirting, playing music and reciting poetry. The only female present is a small slave girl, playing an aulos, or a double flute.
But the cover of the tomb, the lid, is a different atmosphere altogether.
A solitary young man, his beard just beginning to grow, is diving from a platform into sea-green waves of water.
The contrast between the sides and the lid of the tomb is enthralling to me. The sides are a pageant of activity. The atmosphere in the lid is utterly still.
There has been much speculation about what this dive symbolizes. Like Mona Lisa’s smile, it’s a beautiful, enigmatic image that compels one to ponder.
The Element of Sound
For me, the element of sound is part of the effect. You can almost hear the party going on. Along with the girl sounding the aulos, the men are talking and singing. One plays another aulos, and two have chelyes, or tortoiseshell lyres (more on this below.)
But then, on the lid, in the center of the action, if you will, there is complete silence.
Those of us who have ever had the experience of jumping off a cliff into a body of water, know that the span of time between when your feet leave the rock and when they finally hit the water is an eternity - and silence reigns.
The Grave Goods
There is no floor in the tomb, but the body was laid directly on the earth. Because of this, the deterioration of the body was nearly complete, with only a few bits of bone remaining.
Again, the element of sound is pronounced.
There is something especially sad when somebody young dies, and from what I understand, in ancient Greece it was considered particularly tragic. Moreover, physical beauty was considered sacred in ancient Greece.
An Amalgam of Elements
In my piece, I’ve attempted to synthesize different aspects of the tomb in space and time.
On small, separate panels, I painted the symposium scenes from the four sides of the tomb, and adhered them to the top and bottom areas of the panel.
Then, in delicate, transparent black and white, it spans the upper area, co-mingling with the upper symposium scenes.
A Little Help From My Friends
At first, I tried to keep the basic composition of the original tomb lid. But after layering all these other elements onto the panel, the figure of the diver had become puny and odd-looking. The different elements of the piece were isolated from one another, with no sense of harmony. Most of all, it didn’t give me the feeling I wanted.
With a little help from my friends (thanks Kelly, Beth, Elana, Lisa, and Karen!) I realized I was too enmeshed with the original imagery, and had to break free.
This is when the Diver arose to the foreground.
Using bold, loose mark-making with charcoal, I sketched out his body. I also felt the urge to use dry pigment, applied with my fingers. I used molding paste (acrylic medium mixed with marble dust) to white out the unwanted elements, which left sketch marks and increased dynamism.
He is the central element that ties all the pieces together. He is like a specter, hovering over the tableau. When I look at it, my eye travels over the piece in a figure 8 motion. A figure 8 tipped on its side is the symbol of eternity.
The very last thing I included is an image transfer of an actual passage from my journal, inspired by my feelings about this piece.
La Dolce Vita
The more I explore my fascination with archeology, and produce artwork about it, the more I realize that ultimately this art is about death. Not just because so many finds are tombs, burial mounds, and human remains, but because it is essentially about the passage of time. Time slipping away, and how we, in the present ponder what remains.
The wonder of The Tomb of the Diver is its uniqueness, its artistry. Someone* decided to interposed these two contrasting scenes to such great effect. The boisterous party, and the silent dive into the unknown, watery depths, reminds us to engage fully with life, la dolce vita.
Beautiful Video of The Tomb of the Diver
For a beautiful video about The Tomb of the Diver, click on this link. At 15 minutes long, it is a very worthy use of your time!
Symposium "Stock Images"
* Actually, it has been determined the Tomb was painted by two individuals, one more skilled than the other. And fascinatingly, the figures are “stock images” that have been found in almost exact replica on various pieces of pottery, scattered all around the Greek territories. Nevertheless, it took an individual artist to decide how to combine these figures to create this rich narrative.
You can read about The Tomb of the Diver in more depth by clicking here.
Ah, the life of an artist.
One boat is Film Noir, the other boat is Archeology.
One boat is public-facing promotion, the other is private art practice.
One boat is a confident beating of the drum, the other is diffident exploration.
Meanwhile, I was carving out an hour here or there to do some deeply challenging experimentation in the studio.
Like a lot of things, posting on social media is easier the more you do it, and the less you do it, well... the less you do it.
Social Media- a blessing and a curse.
Having a social media presence is practically a must for an artist these days.
I have long since came to terms with the fact that I am not, and probably never will be, a social media sensation.
But you know folks, I just can't seem to make myself do it.
Despite of, or maybe because of, having to appear confident for all the shows I've been having, I have been particularly reluctant to show my process like I normally would.
What I need to do, is start afresh.
A Social Media "Sabbatical"
Fortunately, I am old enough that I do remember those times. Bringing back a bit of that peace and privacy may be exactly what I need.
A few years ago, I read an article in Archeology Magazine, called When the Ancient Greeks Began to Write; Newly Discovered Inscriptions Help Explain How Literacy Spread.
The Cup of Nestor
The Cup of Nestor was discovered in 1954 at what had been an ancient Greek colony in Italy. The cup was probably formed and fired in 750 BC. Some years later, someone scratched letters on it. It is one of the earliest extant examples of the use of an alphabet.
What is an alphabet?
The thing that makes an alphabet an alphabet is that it has symbols that indicate consonants and vowels, in other words, smaller sound units. These symbols, or letters, can be used to indicate the sound of a word, not just a concept of a word.
This meant that it could be used to write down poetry, names, anything you like.
Before this time, writing was a skill used for very specific purposes, such as rituals or official diplomatic letters. But most of it was used for something that grew in importance as societies became more and more complex: money.
Along came the Greek alphabet.
Exactly how, where and when it was invented is pretty foggy. But what is clear is that it was developed from a writing system used by the Phoenicians, a sea-faring cluster of peoples living along the coast of today’s Lebanon and Syria. Someone took this writing system and developed it so that the sounds of words could be captured.
It took off like a house on fire. Elite men across the Greek world with its far-reaching colonies and cities started to write. Writing became cool.
It became all the rage.
So, the Cup of Nestor with its scratched inscription was a very early example of this. But what also makes even more it fascinating is that it isn’t just any old inscription, it is a joke.
One of the world’s first recorded jokes.
It’s an inside joke about old King Nestor in the Iliad. It reads: “I am the cup of Nestor, a joy to drink from. Whoever drinks this cup empty, straightaway the desire of beautiful-crowned Aphrodite will seize.”
In context, I can almost imagine the scene in which this occurred. This cup is a drinking cup. It would have been used at a symposium.
This brings me to the image I chose to lay behind my rendition of the cup.
The Tomb of the Diver
The Tomb of the Diver is a coffin-sized tomb in what was a Greek colony in southern Italy, probably created around 470 BCE. It’s made up of five limestone slabs, covered with plaster and painted with frescos.
Along the walls of this small tomb the scene of a symposium is depicted. Beautiful men are laid out on their fancy couches, drinking, talking, playing games- and flirting.
But the tradition of same-sex love affairs was strong during that time, as is demonstrated by this beautiful painting. Same-sex love in ancient Greece is a huge subject, fascinating in itself, and very very different from how we conceive of and enact same-sex relationships today. But if you were to look up “symposium” in an article or entry, often this very image is associated with it.
My artwork inspired by The Cup of Nestor blends three elements: the alphabet, a symposium, and being seized by the desire of beautiful-crowned Aphrodite.
I don’t want to completely understand or graphically illustrate this moment in time. I want to express the mystery of it. I do this by borrowing images of what remains and combining them together into an eurhythmic, evocative whole.
Libraries aren't just for books!
I’m very excited to say that I have been invited to participate in the Lake Oswego Reads program.
In addition to being an author, Wilson is the former Executive Director for Dream of Wild Health, an Indigenous non-profit farm, and the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance, a national coalition of tribes and organizations working to create sovereign food systems for Native people. Wilson is a Mdewakanton descendant, enrolled on the Rosebud Reservation.
The Seed Keeper
This dense, multi-layered story is about Rosalee Ironwing Meister, a Native American Dakota woman, and her quest to become whole. Interwoven into the story is the recounting of her ancestors’ struggle to survive the “Indian Wars,” relocations, boarding schools, and the collective trauma caused by these events. Throughout the book, the theme of seeds, traditions being handed down, and the evolution of farming techniques binds it all together.
My inspiration and interpretation
In this piece, I integrate several objects and moments in time into a single image.
The books protagonist, Rosalie Ironwing is a loner. She has had a tumultuous and insecure young life.
When John dies, she goes on a quest to make peace with her past, and in so doing regains contact with her family and her heritage.
I see the envelope, the pouches, and even the old white farmhouse as being safe places for seeds and souls to rest and incubate. From that place of rest, growth is possible.
Creating an encaustic-like effect
The technique I used to make this piece is part of a new method of artmaking for me. I wished to create an encaustic-like effect by using layers of different types of acrylic media.
Encaustic is painting with hot wax. It is an ancient painting medium that has seen a rebirth since the 1990's. Because it is wax, it has a beautiful, foggy opacity. The wax can be applied and fused in layers, so there are often multiple images peeking through, creating depth.
First, I drew and painted the main image. Then I covered it with Golden Clear Leveling Gel, then Golden Heavy Matte Gel. Then I drew the house/envelope. I added more color and detail to it. Then, using a scumbling technique, I intensified the white snow in the center of the image by adding titanium white and pearlescent silver. Many of the effects and details cannot be properly seen in a photograph, because there is depth iridescence and a wee bit of sparkle.
But ADD is also closely associated with having a creative mind. Artistic mind, attention deficit disorder, who knows where one ends and the other begins?
Distracted Mind, Artistic Mind
My mind is not organized. Information comes in the form of so many scraps of paper, fluttering about in the wind. Projects or professions that involve any complexity seems like an insurmountable undertaking.
But, I recently learned something sort of fun about my mind, and how it likes to organize itself.
I was trying to develop some sort of regular, consistent, doable habit in regards to posting on social media about my art. “Everyone” was buzzing about social media.
You know, “Everyone," don’t you? “Everyone” says:
And so on, and so on. All that resulted from this was a panicky sense of dread.
Enter, the Mind Map
Here is all is. I spent hours on this silly thing.
I tried to impress my friends by sharing it with them, but they didn’t even want to LOOK at it, and who could blame them? It seems overly elaborate and faintly ridiculous now, but the one most important thing is also true: now I know.
Now I know. Social media is no longer confusing to me. I may need a reminder of the specifics, but the tiny scraps of paper have settled down into an orderly pattern. Now I understand.
As I just wrote about in my post “Evolve or Die,” I revealed that I am starting on a new body of work, inspired by archeology and deep history. It’s really exciting, and really scary. For the first time in many years, I genuinely have no idea what I am doing. It will be an adventure into the unknown.
I am an avid consumer of archeology media and entertainment. Over the years, I have absently absorbed scraps of information. Over time, these bits of information started to formulate themselves into a loose, fluttery vision of the world.
I became filled with the desire to understand these little scraps in context, in an order, like maybe a mind map… or maybe… a time-line.
Enter, the Time-line
Fueled with this new obsession, I knew that I was not going to be able to commence on my new journey of art-making without tackling this. I took a large roll of paper, rolled it out on my wall and tacked in down.
I decided on a very general form: seven areas of the planet, drawn with seven horizontal lines. The time demarcations will be the vertical axis. But, I am still not sure what time periods I am going to depict, and where they will land. So, I started to write bits of information I find intriguing on bits of rice paper, and started to tape them up at various places. Everything at this point is in flux and movable.
I feel like a mad scientist.
Enter, the Mad Scientist
I have recently learned from The Google that there is a thing called “The Crazy Wall.” It’s a meme, stemming from the media’s dramatic use of an “evidence board” real detectives use to solve crimes. It was used to most dramatic effect in the 2001 movie *“A Beautiful Mind.”
For the first time in a long while, I am creating something that I have no real intention of putting on display or trying to sell. Somehow, I just know I need to do this. I need to capture and contain what I know, but cannot yet use. Something that simply comes out of my beautiful mind.
My beautiful, inefficient, scattered, forgetful, creative, artistic mind.
A video of me about to dive into the time-line.
*Please note that A Beautiful Mind is a movie about schizophrenia, not about a mild case of neurodivergence, like I have. I am using the evidence board in the movie as a symbol for the way I process information, and is not intended to make light of schizophrenia or mental illness and its effects.
"Evolve or die" is a common quote. I’m not sure I would die if I didn’t evolve, but stagnation is something I cannot exactly live with either.
Since the beginning of my art career, I have had two main bodies of work, which I call “Vintage Snapshots” and “Film Noir.” Now I am commencing on a whole new body of work! I don’t really have a catchy name for it yet, but it is inspired by my fascination with archeology and history.
Notice I make a lot of pencil notes on it, to keep track of what combinations I have used.
For the first time in many years, I genuinely have no idea what I am doing. It will be an adventure into the unknown.
From the adobe-style buildings, to the textiles, to the silver and turquoise jewelry, regional Native American peoples have created the basis of the “Southwest” style.
Santa Fe is chock full of museums. Now, I love museums. Wherever I go, I seek out museums, and can spend an almost distressingly long amount of time in them, reading every interpretive panel and label as I go.
Museums are different than when I was young (heck, everything is different than when I was young!) All educational materials were oriented from a white, male, European-oriented point of view. This has really shifted.
The Palace of the Governors
Now, back in 2004, Jim and I visited Santa Fe and went to the Palace of the Governors. I remember seeing exhibits in the long, rambling adobe building situated on the main public square.
There, I learned in great detail about the clash of three groups; Native Americans, the Spanish, and later the “Americans” (I wish to goodness I could call us “United Statesians”- far more accurate!)
Museum of Indian Arts and Culture
Contemporary artwork is included along side of the historical objects, giving an even larger sense of it being a living experience, not a dry report.
The main permanent exhibit is called “Here, Now & Always” The title is appropriate, because it used to be that Native Americans were described in past tense, like they didn’t exist anymore.
Museum of Contemporary Native Arts
What have I learned?
I understand that what I am about to say is going to be a cliché, so please bear with me.
European culture is very compartmentalized. Emphasis on the individual, especially here in the US, is unusually important. On top of that, artists and art are seen as being apart from the rest of society, as being “special” and isolated.
As I was immersed in and experienced what these museums were offering, two main themes emerged.
One, that for these Native American creators, communal identity is a part of what goes into every form of expression.
Two, that the things created and displayed were often regarded not as “objects,” but as living things with an energy of their own.
One terrific exhibition at The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture is Grounded in Clay: The Spirit of Pueblo Pottery. The collection of pots and sculptures displayed are from diverse places and times, and were curated by a group of Native American potters, historians, and educators.
In one video, a potter said “Each pot has its own journey. Each pot has its memories.” (See video below)
It seems to me that the act of creation for many Native American artists is not merely an attempt at personal expression, but is an essential tool. A tool not only for cultural survival, but for their communities to thrive, and communicate who they are to the outside world.
Yes, but what about Moi?
I am so happy to say that I have been interviewed by John Cornelison at Classic Movie Review. He read my “Why Noir?” article and realized his listenership would probably like to know more about how film noir inspires my art.
John is an author, movie enthusiast, archeologist and bonsai tree specialist who has produced Classic Movie Review podcast since 2014.
In our interview we talk art, movies, and even a bit about archeology (which, you may know, is also a great inspiration for me!)
Among other things, he asks me what my favorite movie is, and who is the best femme - and homme - fatales.
Here is an excerpt from the interview, where he asks me more about that perennial archetype in film noir, the femme fatale.
John: "Fatales have often been villainized for the methods used to attain their goal. I believe this is the only tool or agency that women have in these cases, in these films. And it's not more sinister than a man beating up or shooting another man. Do you have any thoughts on how femme fatales are portrayed?"
Leslie: "I would agree with you. Oftentimes they are presented as being more evil than the man. But I think that has to do with who's writing the films and who's reviewing the films and talking about the films rather than the actual story.
"There's a great quote that's attributed to Margaret Atwood that says 'Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.'
"I think that that that's relevant in this case because sometimes the men that are reviewing or making the films really think being laughed at or being made a fool of by women is worse than being violent."
For those who love traveling, it can be a tremendously invigorating and inspiring experience.
Why? Because it takes you out of your normal life and, in a certain way, changes who you are. It sort of rearranges your alchemic make up. When you come back, at least for a while, everything looks different.
So, when my friend asks me, “what was your favorite part of the trip?” I have a difficult time answering. Which part of me are you asking?
What aspects of myself went on this trip with me?
The Artist, of course.
The Dance Enthusiast
The History Geek
The Antiquarian/Archeology Nerd
(Also, The Spoiled Princess- who can’t sleep because she doesn’t have her special pillow with her.)
I am a bit overwhelmed by all the amazing things I saw and experienced on this trip. So, rather than being able to write about it in a single entry, I need to write about it in parts, and let the entries come out when and how they may.
This entry is about The Artist in me.
I saw a lot of art on my trip, both in museums and in the historic places we visited.
I also got introduced to an artist I had never heard of before, Renato Guttuso, which was wonderful.
Madrid is one of the major cities of the world, with two of the truly great historic art museums, The Prado and The Reina Sophia.
The Prado houses art from antiquity up to the late 1800’s. It’s a large and unique collection of European art, mostly Spanish, some well-known, others not as much. It includes some of the most famous paintings by Bosch, Titian, El Greco, Rubens, and especially Velázquez and Goya- a LOTTA Goya.
The Garden of Earthly Delights is one of the most wackadoodle paintings of all time, and it is, well, a delight.
A particularly satisfying art experience was seeing Las Meninas by Velasquez.
Painted in 1656, it is over 10 feet tall. It’s one of the most enigmatic paintings of the era, during a time when subject matter was really controlled and standardized. It is like a snapshot of a moment in time, rather than like the rigidly posed and symbolically informed art that was in vogue at the time. There are nine figures in the painting; the Infanta (or, Princess), various attendants, two dwarves (who were also attendants) the king and the queen reflected in a mirror, and Velasquez himself.
(A few years ago, I was able to go to The Museu Picasso in Barcelona and see a series of 58 paintings that he did in 1957, all based on Las Meninas. But more about that guy later.)
There is happy Goya, then sad, crazy Goya.
Then there is dark Goya, who really stepped out of the common, more commercial art-making of the day to create stark, raw paintings and etchings about some of the vile aspects of humanity.
The most famous of these is Saturn Devouring His Son, based on Greco-Roman mythology.
I have seen reproductions of these paintings all my life, and to see them in person was thrilling.
Then, there is The Guernica.
Picasso was born in Malaga, Spain. He lived in Barcelona and France. I have gone to a lot of museums devoted to his work.
I don’t love all Picassos. He was an immensely prolific artist, who lived and worked a helluva long time. He was one of the most famous artists of all time, even during his lifetime, so if he blew his nose on a hanky, some museum somewhere probably has it.
Moreover, he was incredibly versatile and his style ranged widely. So. I don’t love all Picassos. But I love The Guernica. So much that I actually call it The Guernica, for some reason.
It’s about the bombing of a Basque country town by Nazi and Fascist Italy forces in 1937.
It is over 25 feet long.
It is entirely black, white, and variations of warm and cool greys.
The forms fold and unfold upon themselves, and it the best of what cubism can offer. The abstraction supports the emotional power of the moment. Chaos, pathos, terror, grief.
Seeing it in person was like looking at the Grand Canyon for me. I could see the subtly of the “color”, the ghosts of lines and brush marks that had been corrected or shifted. In the room where it hangs are arranged drawings and paintings that are clearly sketches for the final piece.
Also included in this same room was Minotauromachy, a largish etching from 1935.
I adore Picasso’s classically inspired etchings, and this is one of the best. Because it is an etching, and therefore there are multiples of it, I have seen it before. But I it was great to see it again.
I somehow doubt I will go into The Spoiled Princess aspect of myself, as it is somewhat embarrassing.
A series on how film noir inspires my art- Final Entry!
So, Why Noir?
Being an artist may look like fun, but it is tough.
Putting yourself out there for others to see is perennially disquieting. In order to make it all worth it, the subject and method has to be captivating.
I am compelled to tell a story with my art. No matter if it is based on Shakespeare, mythology, or film noir, I am driven to explore and share the landscape of my imagination.
For now, I am entirely caught up in the dark labyrinth of film noir.
But who knows what future stories my art will tell?
Need more noir?
Check out The Film Noir Foundation, which restores films noir and shows them at their film festivals.
It's founder, the Czar of Noir, Eddie Muller, is also a host on TCM's Noir Alley, which shows films noir every Saturday night and Sunday mornings.
Why Noir? is a series! Read 'em all.
Take a Closer Look.
Here is an intimate, in depth glimpse into my thoughts, inspiration and artistic process.
Not seeing what you're looking for? My previous blog on blogspot can be found HERE.