Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Orpheus and Eurydice in the 21st Century: R.B. Kitaj, Rilke and Arcade Fire (Part 1)

by Gregg Chadwick

Last night the L.A. Louver Gallery held a rousing discussion: R.B. Kitaj's Life & Passion, with Tracy Bartley (director of the R.B. Kitaj studio), Derek Boshier (artist), David N. Myers (professor and chair of the UCLA History Department), and Paul Holdengräber (curator, instigator and Director/Founder of LIVE from the New York Public Library).

Orpheus and Eurydice
 15 9/16" x 20 7/8" oil on wood ca. 1508–12
Accademia Carrara, Bergamo

photo courtesy Metropolitan Museum, New York

As I listened to the conversation, I scanned the room full of many of Kitaj's last paintings and was struck by the realization that in these artworks Kitaj was attempting to bring his deceased wife Sandra  back from death - Kitaj as the poet/artist incarnation of the mythic Orpheus would bring Sandra (his Eurydice, taken too soon) back from the underworld. These vibrant paintings were not just a testament to their passion but instead an almost alchemical journey into the mystery and abyss of life, loss, and love. 

In the myth, Orpheus travels to the underworld to win back the life of Eurydice, who was bitten by a serpent (seen above in the left vignette of Titian's painting from the Accademia Carrara in Bergamo, Italy) and died shortly after the two wed. Orpheus plays music of such beauty for Hades, master of the underworld, that he allows Eurydice to return to Earth with Orpheus.  But with the strict condition that Orpheus walk in front of Eurydice and never look back during their journey from the depths. Overcome by an anxious fear, Orpheus breaks his discipline and turns to look back at his reborn Eurydice only to cause her to vanish forever. 

Los Angeles No. 27 (Go Down)

 36" x 36" oil on canvas 2003–4
photo courtesy L.A. Louver Gallery

When I reached home, Reflektor - the new album from Arcade Fire, was already downloading onto my computer. The songs on this album also engage with the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. 

Auguste Rodin’s marble statue of Orpheus and Eurydice, from the Metropolitan Museum in New York, graces Reflektor's album cover.  This image portrays the essential kernel of the myth, the mytheme of not looking back, which is also reflected in the Biblical story of Lot's wife escaping from Sodom and the Grimms' folk tale Hansel and Gretel.

Gregg Chadwick
Mulholland Blue
24"x30" oil on linen 2013

(Currently curated by Director Rebecca Wilson on Saatchi Online into featured collection)

My new painting Mulholland Blue also engages with the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. In my work, an Orpheus-like character in the foreground vanishes as a green dressed Eurydice figure slips into the distance. The distant lights of the city glisten in the night air. Does she stand for a moment to view the world she will never return to? Or is our 21st century urbanity the underworld?

In upcoming posts I will consider these questions as well as diving much more deeply into R.B. Kitaj, Rilke, and Arcade Fire. Next up in Part 2: Rilke Releases Eurydice. 

No comments: