Fiddling fails to calm the waters or extinguish the flames, pastel, 34×32 in,originally uploaded by ahtravis.
I have had a difficult time birthing this third expression of my rage against the violence of man toward his fellow man, as individual and/or his environment. I had originally conceived the interior of a car, with children and parents about to be overcome by water and hurtling toward fire seen through the windshield, “Armageddon, are we there yet?”
That image evolved to become suited fiddlers inside an impressive, elegant building that is breaking apart in water, fire and smoke and an obvious reference to the Emperor Nero, who reputedly fiddled while Rome burned.
I like this latest version but it too, has had its own evolution. Of course the building is the U.S. Congressional Building in Washington, D.C. with its tiers of windows and dome on top. I had to make myself relinquish its recognizable detail and instead work to identify its essential features. I also had planned to collage front pages of the New York Times to create the building shape, another sign of U.S. politics but in the end, that too, became an distracting detail and I have opted to use pastel as in the rest of the painting.
Another large decision concerned the “scale“ of the shapes. I began making the fiddlers in close scale to the building but too many were required so that they became inconsequential, silly, instead of one of the three main images that make up the whole. The fiddlers are not silly; they are powerful players in an inadequate response to the problems of the country and the world! The fiddler on the roof is unable to keep straddling the top, loses his balance and tumbles into the water. Their size had to reflect their influence.
In changing the scale of the fiddlers I lost some of the abstract appeal of the smoke against a red sky, as one can see in the Study, no. 2 (Flickr photos) but that route would have made an entirely different painting–maybe later.
With those two big solutions revealed I was faced with how to actually construct the painting. Anyone who knows me or has watched me painting knows I am messy; I fling my mediums around the room walls, floors, and on myself. I do a lot of revising as I go along. I am using pastel in this series and it will tolerate a minimum of “erasing” or layering and also stay clean. I even considered masking the shapes but I hate the hard lines and rigid shape frisket produces. In the end I have, as usual, drawn the entire thing freehanded. The thinking and thinking ahead of time did help me draw just the sizes and shapes I wanted.