Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Mercury, The Winged Messenger

The planet Mercury is a fairly unremarkable lump of rock, being not unlike our own Moon with it's pitted and scarred lunarscape:

Mercury That's what becomes of taking up residence so close to the sun!
It has no moons and therefore it is to mythology that I turn for inspiration,

Hendrick Goltzius's Mercury
Here, Goltzius has shown Mercury bearing the Heralds staff with entwined snakes, accompanied by his companion cockerel, and a winged helmet.

My first thoughts were centred on the idea that my Mercury would have wings in the form of a silver foil band running down the length of his upstretched arm:

Concept Study 1
Unfortunately it was too dis-similar to all my other paintings and since I was striving for consistency in all matters, especially end result, I abandoned the idea and re-considered.

What followed was a period of "scratching". This is a term I picked up from a book by Twyla Tharp called "The Creative Habit" and refers to what all creative people go through while trying to generate ideas - research, casting around to see what other people have done, opening up to possibilities from whatever source. I went 'scratching' through old portfolios and sketchbooks which turned up this comical figure made a number of years ago:

Self-portrait with Hair and Extended Arms
Pastel on paper, A2.
Once I had stopped laughing I thought that this would make a good Mercury with arms out behind like wings as though he were flying.

The process then begins again with studies in my sketchpads, working around the idea to make it into a suitable image:

Sketchpad Sudies

Here I have included Mercury's herald staff with the twisted snakes and his cockerel companion which I have placed on his shoulder to provide some uplift from his flapping wings. Trying to simplify the design into simple colour fields I have set the figure between the dark sky of space behind and a bright yellow/orange representing the sun's blast of heat and light. Also, to suggest forward movement there is a light blue edge along Mercury's back and arms intended to represent an image shift.

This concept is worked up to a larger scale to see if it still holds water:

Colour Study 1
Pastels on paper, A2.

I somehow manage to convince myself and proceed to painting in oils:

First Attempt at Final Painting
Oils on canvas, 61x42cm.
The planet has mercurial flecks of silver foil and also collaged to Mercury's chest like a breastplate, and his cheekbone, creating visual links between the figure and the planet.
In an attempt at introducing a contemporary element, and since very few people I know have hats with wings on them, I have given Mercury a baseball cap turned around to provide a bit of backwards motion.
But this is where I really come unstuck: I extended the light blue image shift down his back and out from his heels to represent some sort of wings at his ankles but only succeeded in making him wear high-heeled shoes!

All was not lost, however, and now also as part of my painting process I am not afraid to destroy all that I have done so far by scraping all the paint back leaving a multi-coloured, multi-textured, base from which to rebuild:

Final Painting
Oils on canvas, 61x42cm.
The concept remains mostly the same but now I have made changes:
i) The light blue image shift line has been removed;
ii) The cockerel has had it's neck twisted and put in a pot to make soup;
iii) His headgear has been extended backwards more like a cyclists helmet to provide better shape and greater speed;
iv) He now has a pair of Nike sunglasses;
v) I have re-introduced the red t-shirt to make him stronger and more potent;
vi) The paint has been applied with richer variety and texture.

I am now not only pleased with the end result but pleased I kept my nerve when things were going badly wrong!

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