Saturday, December 18, 2010

Memory changes everything

I visited "Oannes et le Sphinx," by Odilon Redon yesterday. Funny how memory changes everything. It has been an unusually hectic few months and I had not had a chance to visit in too long, but encountering the painting again yesterday reminded me why I love it.

In my memory of it, in my mind, the image is transplendent, full of crisp lines that playfully and gracefully define and ornament the two metaphysical creatures located in a dark afternoon-like, almost subterranean environment.

Seeing it anew, I noticed more muck, more chaos. The two bodies were far less separate from their surroundings than I recall them to be. Their surrounding, far more mucky, more like ochre mucous, than my mental image would suggest. The purple stripes decorating the wings of the Sphinx look like day-glo acrylic paint. It's hard to believe Redon generated that color from the oil paint of his day. The disturbing little set of teeth (presumably the only part of Oannes that is identifiable) in the lower left corner is even less specifically attached to a body, than I recall. And most surprising, the breaking of that adage- "thick over thin." Redon painted several thin glazes of earthy-raw sienna over some very thick chunks of impasto smack dab in the middle of the painting.

I love it. I love how he broke the rules in such a clunky way. I love the inexplicability of the foreground, wide irregularly shaped swaths of the ugliest green which somehow add up to a comprehensible space. Utterly brilliant.

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