Monday, January 26, 2015

Bosque-Larios I

My most recent artistic endeavor:

Bosque-Larios I, 7" x 5", watercolor on hot-pressed paper.
In 1675, the first expedition from Mexico into the part of Texas in which I live was organized at the request of the local Indians, a Gueiquesale group, who wished to convert and enter under the protection of the Spanish crown. The Bosque-Larios Expedition, named for its leaders, Fernando del Bosque and Fray Juan Larios, crossed the Rio Grande and traveled north toward the Edwards Plateau. A high mass – reputedly the first high mass in Texas – was celebrated on a portable altar not far from where I live, and attended by more than a thousand Indians.

There, according to the expedition's travel log, a curious story was related to the explorers by a Gueiquesale leader. The Cabesas, a group of Indians with whom the Gueiquesales had dealings, had some time previously come into the possession of two Spanish children, a boy and a girl. The boy they had shot full of arrows – he died praying over his crucifix – while the girl was made a servant of, until, long after, she too fell victim to her captors' arrows. Her dead body was left where it fell. Two years later, the Indians happened upon it again, and found it as fresh as though she had just died, with no sign of decay or molestation by wild beasts. They moved the body to a cave. The account ends by noting that the girl had long hair.

[Cf. The Native Americans of the Texas Edwards Plateau, 1582-1799, Maria F. Wade, University of Texas Press, pp. 39-40.]

Did this actually happen? Materialists might doubt the Indians' story, or posit natural causes. For what it's worth, there is a precedent of saints' bodies remaining incorrupt. The romantic in me would like to think of these two as nameless martyrs in the wilderness. Many a medieval cult was established on slimmer evidence. Being a circuit-riding professor who teaches night classes, it is my lot to drive long, lonely desert roads after dark, and the story often comes to mind, especially when I'm in the vicinity of where the mass took place. I imagine the girl's body still reposing undiscovered somewhere in the hills to the north, where limestone caves abound. Whether the episode is more likely to have happened around here or over in Coahuila is more than I can say.

The plants in the picture (agave, prickly pear, red yucca) are such as are found locally; the figure is inspired by depictions of St. Sebastian and St. Cecilia, whose tombs I visited several years ago. The upper part of the picture employs a lot of chrome green and Naples yellow, the lower more sap green and raw sienna, with plenty of cadmium red and burnt umber throughout. As usual, no black was used, but there is a bit of black in Payne's gray, which I frequently employ.

The execution was inspired by William Blake and his disciple Samuel Palmer. I recently read G. E. Bentley's biography of Blake, which is quite excellent, but found the author strangely dismissive of the "conservative," naïve Palmer, to whom we owe many important impressions of Blake's last days. Palmer's early visionary works are far ahead of his time and among the most glorious in British art. Before his youthful exuberance was curbed by his father-in-law, the painter John Linnell, he seemed obsessed with trying to portray nighted pastoral scenes under the glow of the crescent moon. I'm always trying to get something of the magic of these works into my own pictures.

I once spent time poring over a facsimile of Palmer's famous early sketchbook. Unfortunately, after the artist's death, his son burned the other sketchbooks from that period because of their "unmanly" qualities, which, given the historical context, I take as a reference to homosexual undertones. It is a shame. Indeed, it is a great crime against art. And a great sadness that such genius should have been sandwiched between two such uncongenial minds.

Sometimes, as I continue to paint and sell art, and to write stories and publish them here and there, I wonder what will have become of all of my faltering efforts in a hundred years?

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