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Posts Tagged ‘sketches’

Thackeray Gets Grotesque

October 27, 2014 | by

thackeraylead

When William Makepeace Thackeray died, near the end of 1863, he left behind a formidable library in a mansion he’d only recently designed, erected, and occupied. A few months later, his home was dismantled and his books were put to auction. On the flyleaves and margins, their new owners discovered a wealth of Thackeray’s sketches, some in pencil and others in pen and ink.

Thackeray’s talents as an artist were no secret—he’d contributed illustrations to many of his own novels, including Vanity Fair—but few were aware of the extent of his doodling habit. More than ten years later, in 1875, the art collector Joseph Grego published Thackerayana, an assemblage of more than six hundred of Thackeray’s drawings with extracts of the books in which he’d drawn them. (Grego, perhaps fearing the consequences of his blatant copyright infringement, presented the collection anonymously.)

What surprises most about the sketches in Thackerayana is their range—Thackeray was an adept caricaturist, but these drawings find him equally at home in more high-flown styles. As his source material moved him, he could do landscapes and portraiture, the irreverent and the solemn, the macabre, the surreal, the juvenile. It’s these last three qualities, in particular, that caught my eye; with Halloween around the corner, it seems as good a time as any to present a portfolio of Thackeray at his most imaginatively unhinged. He had a thing for combat, for instance, and for men with hideously bulbous noses. Here, then, are a series of Thackerayana’s more unsettling entries. Read More »

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Just Slap Something on It

October 2, 2014 | by

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A sketch of a cicada in a van Gogh letter from July 1888.

Next month will come Ever Yours: The Essential Letters of Vincent van Gogh, which runs to nearly eight hundred pages and is frequently more absorbing, expansive, and instructive than a collection of letters ought to be. (He seldom seems to miss the forest for the trees, you could say.) As I thumbed through it, a passage leaped out at me from exactly 130 years ago—a letter van Gogh wrote to his younger brother, Theo, on October 2, 1884. It’s both Grade A existential grousing—were it not for the (faintly) uplifting conclusion, I could’ve believed that Thomas Bernhard wrote it—and, it seems to me, pretty sound advice.

Just slap something on it when you see a blank canvas staring at you with a sort of imbecility.

You don’t know how paralyzing it is, that stare from a blank canvas that says to the painter you can’t do anything. The canvas has an idiotic stare, and mesmerizes some painters so that they turn into idiots themselves.

Many painters are afraid of the blank canvas, but the blank canvas IS AFRAID of the truly passionate painter who dares—and who has once broken the spell of ‘you can’t.’

Life itself likewise always turns towards one an infinitely meaningless, discouraging, dispiriting blank side on which there is nothing, any more than on a blank canvas.

But however meaningless and vain, however dead life appears, the man of faith, of energy, of warmth, and who knows something, doesn’t let himself be fobbed off like that. He steps in and does something, and hangs on to that, in short, breaks, ‘violates’—they say.

Let them talk, those cold theologians.

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A letter of van Gogh’s from May 2, 1890.

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The Man with the Companion Animal

March 10, 2014 | by

This week, we’re presenting five vignettes by David Mamet.

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Detail from Ivan Makarov’s Unknown Man, c. 1880s.

The fellow down in the front row of the auditorium was around my age. He was massively obese, and he was overdressed in many layers of wool. He held an oversized pet carrier which, one presumed, held a large dog. He was permitted to carry the dog to the concert, then, as it was designated his “companion animal.”

What did this mean? That his mental state was such that he could never be without his dog. The dog was his security totem.

But it was in a bag. And his look was furtive. He glanced right and left, never making eye contact, as he settled himself into his seat. What was he looking for? He was looking for nothing. He was merely drawing focus. It was a performance. He was performing exemption. The pet carrier was his badge, and it indicated he had been certified as exempt, and so, beyond criticism.

But one saw that he felt he had also been certified as pathetic. He had traded his self-respect for a societal indulgence, and he loathed himself for the choice. He was caught, for the daunting price he thought he had evaded in adolescence—that of matriculation into the mature world—was still being paid at age sixty.

He was a man without friends. How do I know? He was at the concert accompanied by a dog in a bag. He loathed his life. He had, perhaps, at some point, been “injured,” who has not? And he suffered as he’d never found someone or some idea from which he could take courage. I felt I was looking at myself.

David Mamet is a stage and film director as well as the author of numerous acclaimed plays, books, and screenplays. His latest book is Three War Stories.

 

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