Monday, August 31, 2009

#9 Dream (Homage to Salvador Dalí)

Charcoal on Mylar drafting film, 12 x 24".

A surrealistic impression of John Lennon's murder.

For the drawing, I've used a reference photo of the Charter Arms .38 revolver the police confiscated at the scene of the crime, tagged as shown in the photo. The butterflies, white lily, and stormy backdrop are from my own references I took on recent vacations. The flower placed inside the gun barrel is reminiscent of 1967's “Flower Power,” photo by Bernard Norman, showing a long-haired antiwar protester shoving carnations into the gun barrels of MPs during an anti-Vietnam protest at the Pentagon. The caterpillar and butterflies are symbols of the earthly life, spirit, and transformation in the afterlife, and were often used by artist Salvador Dalí.

Lennon was murdered on December 8, 1980, shot four times in the back.

In 1979, Lennon's assassin (nameless, as Yoko requested) began drinking heavily and developed an obsession for contemporary art. He bought numerous items of art, including a Salvador Dali, amassing a debt that was becoming way out of control. He began reading with an insatiable appetite, especially “The Catcher in The Rye.” He often interpreted lyrics as if they had been written especially for him. #9 Dream from Lennon's "Walls & Bridges" album was a special song for John - some say the strange and haunting lyrics of #9 Dream are John's premonition of his own death. According to John, the foreign-sounding phrase "Ah! böwakawa poussé, poussé." doesn't mean is just a phrase that came to him in a dream and he decided to base a song around it.

As I was drawing from the storm landscape reference photo, I noticed a vague dark spout along the horizon. There was a tornado touchdown this past July during the storm I had photographed while we were driving, skirting the eye of the storm near Galena, Illinois. I'm not sure if I had captured the funnel's beginning, but I emphasized the funnel effect in my drawing. The sense of impending doom was strong that afternoon and it matches my unease in the current climate in the states.

My motivation for drawing this piece is the surge in gun sales since U.S. President Obama was elected, just one of the many issues in the current American landscape. "It's simply paranoia," said Thomas Mannard of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence. "And it's irresponsible, from my point of view, to be touting how wonderful this is. More guns definitely equal more death."

Mr. Lennon still inspires.

I have a dream...

#9 Dream

So long ago
Was it in a dream, was it just a dream?
I know, yes I know
Seemed so very real, it seemed so real to me

Took a walk down the street
Thru the heat whispered trees
I thought I could hear (hear, hear, hear)
Somebody call out my name, as it started to rain

Two spirits dancing so strange

Ah! böwakawa poussé, poussé
Ah! böwakawa poussé, poussé
Ah! böwakawa poussé, poussé

Dream, dream away
Magic in the air, was magic in the air?
I believe, yes I believe
More I cannot say, what more can I say?

On a river of sound
Thru the mirror go round, round
I thought I could feel (feel, feel, feel)
Music touching my soul, something warm, sudden cold
The spirit dance was unfolding

Ah! böwakawa poussé, poussé
Ah! böwakawa poussé, poussé
Ah! böwakawa poussé, poussé

Lyrics, by John Lennon

The butterfly wings along the flower stem are after this painting by Salvador Dalí:

Artist Statement, Black Butterfly: The Muse

Solo Exhibition opens September 18th through October 10th 2009 at 33 Collective Gallery at Zhou B Art Center, Chicago.


It’s all about inspiration.

In my series of symbolist figurative works “Black Butterfly: The Muse,” the ethereal butterfly represents the artist's muse and subjects are always those who are involved in the creative arts. Butterflies may seem a trite symbol, but in the summer of 2008, I had an unusual amount of butterfly sightings, especially black varieties. These occurred just as I was going through a burst of artistic creativity. I wrote my first poem in decades about the encounters as metaphoric of the artist's muse and began to include butterflies in a new series of charcoal drawings executed on heavy weight frosted Mylar drafting film.

I'm most influenced by the visionary artists, magic realists such as the Pre-Raphaelites, William Blake, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Andrew Wyeth. I admire the deep emotion they convey through use of the figure and props and their subtle manipulation of reality.

Classical themes from literature or gods and goddesses find a place in “Black Butterfly.” The artist’s muse and gifts can have destructive effects on the ego, and the butterfly metaphor of death and transformation in the afterlife is a strong element in my works depicting celebrities who died through drug abuse or murder. Celebrity portraits have an element of a “cover tune” and are not my usual fare; however, I have used a few of them here to illustrate the idea of giftedness and the celebrity that can be the result of strong personal charisma. These icons of popular culture are our heroes, gods and goddesses of our era. Wherever possible, I have obtained the permission of the original photographer to use their references.

While I most often use my own references, I also embrace the contemporary idea of internet community, sometimes presenting drawings from online artist friend’s self-portrait photography. Combining historical classical painting themes with these personas and symbols, my intent is to relate a deeper truth about the subject and the meanings of life and art in general.

From a technical aspect, I enjoy playing with the translucent quality of the Mylar film in the drawn and erased surface, which is so beautiful for rendering the reflective quality of human complexions. I am also experimenting with the color and texture of the backing paper, sometimes layering a drawing or digital image on the backing paper which shows through the Mylar surface. One drawing of John Lennon is framed in a lighted shrine box, with an electric candle shining through the Mylar. Cast off vintage frames are part of my process; I enjoy taking something that may be regarded as trash and reusing it in an unexpected and creative manner. These lend a sculptural quality in the work, and reflect on my classic style and subject matter.

These drawings are meant to be noble representations of individual subjects, and also illustrative of the best aspects of our time: bringing together a wealth of influences, a recognition of art history, and a contemporary attitude, to create images that are of the moment, but that hopefully will also remain relevant in the future.

~ Alice McMahon White, Chicago, September 2009

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Still I Rise ~ Daily Drawing

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” ~ Maya Angelou

Black Butterfly series, miniature portrait of poet and author Maya Angelou. Charcoal and white pastel on Mylar drafting film with digital print poem underlay, in vintage tabletop swing frame. Image size 9 x 7"

Still I Rise by Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Picture of Dorian Gray

"I knew that I had come face to face with some one whose mere personality was so fascinating that, if I allowed it to do so, it would absorb my whole nature, my whole soul, my very art itself." ~ Oscar Wilde ~ The Picture of Dorian Gray

My solo show is scheduled to open at 33 Collective Gallery on September 18th. I have just a couple more wall holes to fill before then. “The Picture of Dorian Gray” (36" x 28" charcoal on Mylar drafting film in vintage mirror frame) is another work for Black Butterfly: The Muse, my series inspired by the arts, with my subjects coming from the various artistic disciplines.

This is a portrait of artist/musician/model Ryan Dies. I met Ryan in an art jewelry shop, “1 ofmykind jewels” during a recent trip to the historic town of Galena, Illinois. Ryan was friendly and engaging right off. He was wearing a heavy beaded choker of his own design and looked so handsome I couldn’t resist asking him if I could take a few photographs to be used for a drawing. Ryan was happy to pose for the references, and the natural light was beautiful that day. Peacock feathers and ornate gilt mirror frames were part of the décor of the shop, so ideas for the drawing were formed almost immediately during the shoot. We had a nice conversation about the Chicago art scene and I talked with Ryan about a couple of his very good surrealist paintings that were on display. Later as I looked through the photos I decided Ryan would make the perfect model for a contemporary “Dorian Gray.”
The Picture of Dorian Gray is the only published novel by the Irish poet Oscar Wilde. It is a story about a handsome young man who becomes enthralled with the idea of a new hedonism. He begins to indulge in every kind of pleasure, moral and immoral.

I used a compilation of several of the reference photos from Ryan’s shoot for the finished drawing. The peacock feathers seemed a natural symbol for Dorian’s pride in his physical appearance, the pride that made him wish to never grow old. I took liberties by changing Ryan’s existing forearm tattoo to one with a butterfly and poppy flowers – symbols for transformation and for “Dorian’s” travels to an opium den as a way to escape his crimes. I decided to add the skull ring on Dorian’s hand – a design by Jodie McGill of 1 ofmykind. I thought the skull was very appropriate as a reference to the plot of Wilde's novel. The butterflies in this work refer to Dorian’s muse: his own handsome mirror image; saved from corruption by the putrefying portrait that grows more horrifying with each sin committed by his increasingly evil character. I decided that I’d prefer to keep the decaying “picture” implied only, by using the ornate mirror frame to display this work.

Outside of physical beauty there is no comparing Ryan’s pleasant personality with the ugly character of Dorian Gray. He has been delightful to work with and I look forward to following this talented young man’s career.

Here's a fun and appropriate related video. Enjoy!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Roses and Rue

From the Black Butterfly series.

Mini portrait of Oscar Wilde – image size 10×8” Charcoal and white pastel pencil on Mylar film. A copy of an early draft of Roses and Rue, in Wilde’s own hand, shows through the translucent Mylar.

Roses and Rue

by Oscar Wilde, for actress Lillie Langtry

Could we dig up this long-buried treasure,
Were it worth the pleasure,
We never could learn love’s song,
We are parted too long

Could the passionate past that is fled
Call back its dead,
Could we live it all over again,
Were it worth the pain!

I remember we used to meet
By an ivied seat,
And you warbled each pretty word
With the air of a bird;

And your voice had a quaver in it,
Just like a linnet,
And shook, as the blackbird’s throat
With its last big note;

And your eyes, they were green and grey
Like an April day,
But lit into amethyst
When I stooped and kissed;

And your mouth, it would never smile
For a long, long while,
Then it rippled all over with laughter
Five minutes after.

You were always afraid of a shower,
Just like a flower:
I remember you started and ran
When the rain began.

I remember I never could catch you,
For no one could match you,
You had wonderful, luminous, fleet,
Little wings to your feet.

I remember your hair – did I tie it?
For it always ran riot -
Like a tangled sunbeam of gold:
These things are old.

I remember so well the room,
And the lilac bloom
That beat at the dripping pane
In the warm June rain;

And the colour of your gown,
It was amber-brown,
And two yellow satin bows
From the shoulders rose.

And the handkerchief of French lace
Which you held to your face-
Had a small tear left a stain?
Or was it the rain?

On your hand as it waved adieu
There were veins of blue;
In your voice as it said good-bye
Was a petulant cry,

“You have only wasted your life.”
(Ah, that was the knife!)
When I rushed through the garden gate
It was all too late.

Could we live it over again,
Were it worth the pain,
Could the passionate past that is fled
Call back its dead!

Well, if my heart must break,
Dear love, for your sake,
It will break in music, I know,
Poets’ hearts break so.

But strange that I was not told
That the brain can hold
In a tiny ivory cell
God’s heaven and hell.

Scenes from the 1978 mini series "Lillie" Francesca Annis as Lillie Langtry
Peter Egan as Oscar Wilde, music "Oscillate Wildly" by The Smiths