Illustrating the Iliad Exhibition and the Book

20, August 2011 § 4 Comments

“Illustrating the Iliad” opened on the 30th of July at the Aegean Center and just recently closed on 17th of August. The exhibition was very well attended and it was interesting and rewarding how many people returned several times to view the work. There were 38 images, each with corresponding texts in English and modern Greek from the Iliad.

Printed wall-mounted summaries of the story helped those that could not remember the details of the events of the story. Pleased with the many compliments I received I was also delighted that so many people mentioned they felt moved to reread the Iliad after seeing the works.

A book was also printed in Athens to accompany the exhibit. It includes the images of the show and the excerpts which inspired them in three languages, English from the translation by Fagles (published by Penguin), the modern Greek by Maroniti (published by Agra) and the ancient Greek (found in Homeri Opera from Oxford University Press). Jeffrey Carson wrote the preface and it includes an artist’s statement. The book is published by The Aegean Center Press and can be ordered via a link (soon to be) found on the Aegean Center’s website.

My son, Gabriel, sculpted a Trojan horse which held a place of prominence in the main gallery and which the children visiting found particularly alluring. I saw many of them on their hands and knees looking up into the horse’s belly from which dangled a rope ladder. Although the incident of the Trojan horse does not occur in the Iliad it did not seem right to exclude it entirely. Gabriel also made a short video of the monotype process which helped to illuminate my process. Thank you to all my students and friends who have inspired me and informed me over the years. I appreciate all of you who attended the exhibition, and for those who could not attend and sent their warm words of good wishes and congratulations, I thank you all of you for your joyful presence.   Jane Morris Pack

Illustrating the Iliad: Monotypes & Paintings, Opening at the Aegean Center 30 July 2011

22, July 2011 § 2 Comments

I can not remember when the idea of illustrating the Iliad first occurred to me. I have known the stories of Achilles and of Helen, the “most beautiful woman in the world”, since childhood. These stories float in the western psyche and reappear in various forms as archetype and impetus for the re-creation of new stories. I loved these stories and I could recall their flavor, almost the way that a fine taste can linger in your mouth. When I came to live in Greece I sometimes caught a flash of a sea nymph in the waves, or Pan among the olive groves. The gods were still here and inhabiting the island. When I walked the streets I sometimes glimpsed Helen and Paris as their modern counterparts went about their daily lives. Once the project of illustrating the Iliad surfaced I knew I had to realize it. It took me many years to begin as I felt I was not ready, perhaps not mature enough, but also not skillful enough. With years of painting now behind me and entering into my fifth decade I decided I had waited long enough.

The Iliad begins western literature. Created by Homer in the 8th century BCE it depicts a war that took place more than four centuries earlier. Roberto Calasso, in “The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony”, said that the idea of progress in the arts is refuted by the perfection of the Iliad. It has never been surpassed. The Iliad brings together stories of human passion, evokes the dangers of hubris, illuminates the futility of war, and shows us the responsibilities we owe to our fellow man. All of this born out of the events of an ancient war, fought by men but urged on by the capricious gods. The war is fought over Helen. A war waged over a unique woman, the most beautiful woman in the world. A war fought over beauty and honor by very flawed men who come to understand the depth of sacrifice and loss that are demanded. The heroes are trapped in an epic war, while Ananke, the goddess of necessity, tightens her noose about their heads. It is a tale of transformation; the characters change as the conflict rages. We question the nature of revenge when Achilles dishonors the corpse of Hector and see his transformation as he learns that material wealth and military honor cannot replace lost love and life. Our sense of what is honorable comes in the actions of Hector, who fights a battle he knows he will lose but who keeps faith between his words and deeds. Our sense of a true King comes from Priam who refuses to lay blame on Helen for the conflict and who is able to beg on his knees for the body of his son. These and the other characters form complex webs of knowledge about the content of human souls. Little has changed in three millennia.

I hope that my illustrations can lure students into reading the Iliad as the loss of this story from our modern dialogue would be monumental.

Jane Morris Pack

Illustrating the Iliad by Jane Pack

27, February 2009 § 10 Comments

Paris takes Helen from Mycenae

Paris takes Helen from Mycenae

My recent work has been occupied with investigating and rendering  three dimensional space using vegetation and tree branches. Deep space, as in landscape, is not difficult to capture, but dealing with space a mere 6 inches to a foot is a more difficult proposition. I have been looking at Japanese and Chinese  screen painting for inspiration and what I have learned I can now apply to other work.

This winter I decided to undertake a new project which I  had dreamed of doing for many years. I want to illustrate the Iliad. This meant rereading Homer’s epic–I am using the Fagle translation–and thinking again about figurative work which I have not done in years.

Greek vase paintings are one of the high points of draftsmanship and one I return to often for inspiration. Their lively line work and human quality are incomparable and their deceivingly simple style shows a complex understanding of the human form. I wanted to use them as a resource without imitating them. I looked at John Flaxman’s work of the early 1800’s which take vase paintings as their starting point and are clear and accurate, dated now however, too stiff to our modern eyes.  Browsing the internet for additional resources of more recent work I found little other than photos of the Hollywood movie “Troy” and some bad comic versions of the story.

Idea Sketches from Greek Vase Paintings

Idea Sketches from Greek Vase Paintings

Studies for battle scenes

Studies for battle scenes

Sketchbook ideas

Sketchbook ideas

First I had to make a decision  as to the look of the armour and weapons as this is the most identifiable element to the story. The historically accurate type, of which there are few examples, are not familiar to the general public.  The boars teeth helmets and figure eight shields of 8th c bce Mycenae are, wrongly, not associated with the romantic ideal of the Greek warrior of the Iliad.  The vase paintings illustrating Homer in the 6th century bce  used the classical style armour of the time which became the conventional model. The heroes are frequently seen fighting nude which probably did not reflect reality but which gave the Greek artists a chance to reveal the human form as it was being perfected in the canon of the time. I  have chosen to inform my work from the vase painting style, so being guilty of historical inaccuracy myself.

The Greeks meet the Trojans in battle

The Greeks meet the Trojans in battle

Another consideration was the depicting of characters which every reader has developed in their own inner eye.  I felt it was necessary to keep the faces vague in many cases so as to leave as much as possible to the imagination of the viewer.  And painting Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world, poses problems which every generation has grappled with. See the story of Zeuxis for his version of the problem.

Aphrodite leads Helen to Paris

Aphrodite leads Helen to Paris

I wanted to use the printmaking press and do some monoprints just to generate ideas, but I liked the images I was getting and  decided to stick with this process.  Inking the plate entirely I then wipe out the image with cloth, fingers, the back of a brush, a stick for line.

Making a monoprint

Making a monoprint

This method enables me to design in a very loose way the composition and re-sketch and wipe out innumerable times.  The process is so limited that it forces me to stretch my handling  but I like the small scale and the expressive quality I can get by dragging the ink around.  I have been adding tempera paint on top with a palette of just four colors, an earth palette essentially with black, white, raw umber and small amount of yellow ochre. These limited colors on the black ink give me control over opacity and transparency, warm and cool, and value.  I try to use these tools to vary the character of the illustrations but also to add space, movement and volume.  The limits I am imposing on myself demand a higher level of creativity, something I always try to stress to students; do more with less.

I will probably go on to do some oil paintings and mixed media drawings around this same theme.  Time is always in short supply but I hope to continue this project into the summer when classes are over.

-Jane Pack

Apollo kills the dogs and horses of  the Greeks

Apollo kills the dogs and horses of the Greeks

Aegean Center / A school of Living Art

23, July 2008 § 2 Comments

Thank you Brianna

Thank you Brianna Privett (’06) and Illustration Friday!

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