Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Stripe of Red

(A New Autotelism IV)

In my mind's eye, I'm standing in the Quinta del Sordo — The House of the Deaf.

When Francisco Goya was well into his seventies, he lived here, alone. Driven to solitude by politics and the pain of Encephalitis, he still painted. He painted on the walls — not a fresco, on wet plaster, but secco: he brashly applied his oils directly to the white walls. He painted upstairs and down, between every window and every door. He accepted few visitors; the scenes he created were entirely for himself.

The 14 images around me are known as The Black Paintings.

I'm looking at one in particular, on the first floor, in a corner opposite the stairs. It might, if there were room left in me to think, remind me of Walking Man. Tn the center of the wall is a small figure, unposed, legs hanging; it has no arms or head.

But there is no room to think. The rest of the image is taken up by a huge naked man, who is crouched, his legs contorted, his shoulders twisted and unreadable. He head is thrown back and his eyes are unbearably wide and white. Clutched tightly in his hands is the dangling figure, like a doll. The little figure's head and arms are indeed gone — a strip of ripe red flesh pulls upward into the madman's mouth. His bloody hands are locked as though in rigor mortis; they will not let go. The brushstrokes are harsh and heavy and broad. The anatomy is impossible; the madman is a cripple, his shoulders are dislocated, his legs dwarfed. The blood is, in truth, only a flat stripe of red.

Goya did not title it. Historians call it Saturn Devouring His Children.

However uncouth the brushstrokes, the fear in this face is unmistakable. He's panicked. Saturn's teeth tear at his children because he knows one of them will cause his downfall.

The effect is painful and immediate. Saturn's fear is infectious; I see him and am disgusted and miserable and frightened in a soggy, unending way. I feel nothing for the nameless torso; the relation to Walking Man is meaningless to me, because I'm trapped in the small house of a hermit painter, watching a Titan, a God, lose his mind and devour his offspring.

1 comment:

  1. Postscript: The Black Paintings are no longer in the Quinta del Sordo; they were moved to canvas by a restorer over 130 years ago. Being oil secco, they were in terrible shape to begin with, and the migration to the new substrate did little to help.

    Some doubts have begun to surface of whether Goya painted the images found in his final home; documentary evidence is minimal and conflicting, to say the least. Nevertheless, they remain some of the most affecting, emotional, and influential paintings in the history of art.