Or of the Most Serious Business of Watching Moving Billows of Water, Musings on the Weight of Words, a Paragraph or Two on Unsupported Transit, News Regarding Resin & Bronze and Even a Bit About a Book Trailer
I’m no man of the sea, rather (to steal a line from famous French maritime photographer Philippe Plisson) a man of the edge of the sea.
“Wave” is an old word, certainly as old as man’s standing on the shore watching them crash on the beach. I enjoy those words that are old in many languages, as if their venerability somehow augmented and enriched the substance of their meaning, as if a lengthy etymology comprised some sort of pedigree. (Of course, it’s puerile to measure the age of man against the age of the Earth, given the relative brevity of human existence, but the naming of things is such an important mythological act that it’s not to be taken lightly, as if there was somehow the possibility of taking the measure, as it were, of the things long contemplated but whose very nature cannot be touched by man. Moreover, it all harks back to the myth of a proto-tongue common to all humans, as if the first naming of things was shared by humanity as a whole, an ancestral language that has more to do with an unavowed yearning for Eden lost than mitochondria and behavioral modernity .)
The Naming of Things has always been an essential mythological act. Names are not given lightly in a world where their meaning is entwined on spindles of Skuld and her siblings, and the simple existence of portent and destiny warn of the dangers of wishing to see the future. So, I find a measure of solace in the knowing that some things have been long contemplated by countless eyes and minds and that the names they carry now are perhaps the product of some long naming through slowly spoken words.
This is why the periodic schemes that appear to modernize and rationalize language by harmonizing spellings, dropping idiosyncracies and generally indulging in a frenzy of simplification and lexical cleansing make me shiver when I’m not throwing up my arms in frustration. Each word is a history lesson. Besides being just the name over the door, each word is a boutique of antiques and treasures, of things abandoned or reworked, of travels and encounters. (If words were suitcases, they would be full of stickers from all the countries they have passed through.) To sever the past of a word through some clever stroke of a pen or program would be like cutting all the branches off a tree because raking leaves is a bit of a chore.
But, back to waves. Wave: “moving billow of water,” 1526, from wave (v.), replacing M.E. waw, which is from O.E. wagian “to move to and fro” (cf. Old Saxon, Old High German, wag, Old Frisian weg, Old Norse vagr “water in motion, wave, billow,” Gothic wegs “tempest” see wag (v.). The usual O.E. word for “moving billow of water” was yð. As for “billow”, it is attested from 1552, from O.N. bylgja “a wave,” from Proto-Germanic. bulgjan, from Proto-Indo-European bhelgh– “to swell”, or “to belly”.
Etymology aside, I believe that what attracts me in waves is that they are the essence of everything a painting is not. They are never still. They are a continuous challenge composed of exquisitely fleeting instants. Every second is a provocation of sorts, a chaos theory conjugation of elements – light, water, wind, current, shore – that can never be properly captured.
Except of course, now we can. Fast shutters and high-resolution technology, capacious memory cards and zoom lenses, all contrive to make instantaneity ours. But do they do a better job of capturing the essence of it all? Whatever the case, I spend a good deal of time perched on rocks looking at waves, and occasionally getting soaked for my pains, as I did a couple of weeks ago, after clambering well out on a succession of rocks to snap pictures of kelp roiling in the surf, only to look up and see a great thumping rogue wave rolling up. The camera didn’t get (too) wet, but the rest of the walk was a soggy one. (My wife, bless her, filmed it all, so now has solid proof of my stupidity in the name of art.)
Nowadays, it’s easy to take stop-action view of the world for granted. So much of what we know, we cannot see unaided. As late as the 19th century, there was still an animated debate about whether or not a galloping horse’s feet all left the ground at any time, debate which seems incomprehensible now. (Actually, it seems incomprehensible then too, since painters had been painting centuries of galloping horses with air under all their hooves.) Nevertheless, along with other debates like the flat earth controversy, it was an animated one, with the defenders of “unsupported transit” at loggerheads with those who claimed that if all the animal’s feet left the ground at once it would come crashing to the same (ground) by golly.
And, speaking of animation, this was the age of zeotropes and praxinoscopes and the like, the first instruments which could reconstitute the illusion of motion, rather like elaborate flip-books. At any rate, this is where Eadweard Muybridge enters the scene, with the financial backing of former Governor of California Leland Stanford, who was a staunch advocate of “unsupported transit” (as well as being a race horse owner, which may have explained his firm convictions). In the late 1870’s, the first steps were taken towards bullet time, and Muybridge finally managed, thanks to a battery of 24 cameras with electrically-triggered shutters, to provide the conclusive proof (certified unretouched).
“Certified unretouched” (with its curious aura of déjà vu), because earlier in the same decade, Muybridge had submitted to the press a series of less perfect photos, but had to admit that they had been retouched by hand. Retouching photos was a common thing in the infancy of the photographic plate, since figurative painting provided the visual references and parameters that the public expected. Remember hand-coloured postcards? All this to make the photo somehow more “real”. Nowadays we have the same problem with reality, because digitally anything is possible. We’re no longer quite sure what exactly we are looking at, or more exactly, just whose agenda is being subliminally fulfilled….
Now, this is in no way a Luddite pontification. Photos support an essential, even crucial part of my work, and I spend a good deal of time taking them. Photography has multiplied tenfold the scope of what we can see by freezing it in time, adding so many prefixes to our vision: micro-, macro-, tele- and more, that it is quite inebriating. I leaf through all my books on stop-action photography, looking at bats poised in mid-wingbeat, water drops that resemble modernist sculpture, or on the other hand, time-exposed nature photos, where streams become smooth ghosts of flowing curves, and I wonder what the world was like in our eyes before we could do that. Richer because we had to look carefully if we wished to see or poorer because it was limited to what we had in front of our faces? (Part of me wants to know what it was like when the only music you ever heard was played live, when cathedrals could be read fluently, when images from afar were the work of artists, not the stuff of f-stops.) Then all this thinking makes my head ache and I wish I hadn’t begun.
So I go out and watch the waves.
I’ve got some good news about the Middle-earth Sculptures. After their successful launch at Comic-Con in San Diego last month, Tolkien Enterprises has very graciously accorded us the license to do them in faux bronze (resin with bronze paint finish).
Now, given the rate at which merchandise seems to appear these days, that may not sound much like news, but it really is, as you’ll see.
Bronze sculpture, as you might guess, is a true juggling act, trying to make the investment (hundreds of hours of sculpting) and development (casting, pouring the statues themselves, advertising, shipping) make sense financially. This to say that, given the very limited number of bronzes produced, these costs were of necessity reflected in the price. (A bigger edition means a lower price per sculpture, but can quickly become self-defeating when a “strictly exclusive limited edition” is no longer that exclusive or that limited after all.)
The new resin edition will allow the bronzes to be sold at a more accessible price, as well as making an attractive, lower cost alternative available. (All existing bronze orders will see their prices adjusted accordingly.) Three hundred faux-bronze resin statues will be done, in addition to a more exclusive edition of twenty bronze statues.
The faux-bronze resin will retail at US $430 and the bronze will sell for US $4,500. For more detailed information, please visit the Weta site.
In addition, each statue is accompanied by a lovely little 22-page book that details the joys and difficulties of turning two dimensions into three. There is an interview with Richard Taylor, a lot of babbling on my part, and a few judicious words from the lead sculptor, Daniel Cockersell.
AND LOST BUT NOT LEAST
The internet is a wonderful tool that always means someone else sees things before I do. (Happily, they usually write to say “Hey guess what I saw!”) Lost Worlds.