Saint Antony of the Desert
Today is the feast day of Saint Antony of the Desert (251-356); according to my Dictionary of Saints, “Antony” is the proper, if not archaic name for the abbot. I am not channeling my latent New Jersey “guido” tendencies.
He has been a favorite saint of mine since boyhood and I have played upon the theme of his wilderness exile numerous times, with varying degrees of success. But since leaving L.A. and moving quite literally to the desert I feel a keen kinship to the saint . San Diego, particularly East County where I now live, is a wasteland. It lacks interest in culture, intellectualism or beauty, San Diego of surfing fame is pretty in a vapid sort of way, but for something to sink your creative teeth into it is best to look abroad; or within your own reserves.
Like the famed abbot, I retreat to my cell and work, time and again I am stunned at how this”exile’ has been a boon. when I was in L.A. I would dawdle with vanities, little actual painting aside from what I was being paid to do was attempted. This hermitage has become a treasure.
I mentioned earlier I was reading a brief biography of Max Beckman by Reinhard Spieler, Max Beckman, 1884-1950, The Path to Myth (Taschen). I have long admired his beautiful 1936/37 triptych Temptation of Saint Anthony; what I didn’t know was his thoughts behind the subject. According to Spieler, Beckman felt:
“Ultimately Temptation deals with the inner conditions necessary for the creation of art. Beckman depicts the artist as a modern St. Anthony, exposed to a myriad of temptations; at the same time these temptations are the foundations and mainspring of his art.” (121).
This had me thinking, for Beckman’s thoughts made clear my own nebulous pondering ; so often I too am tempted by many wonderful inspirations, some “sacred” and some decidedly profane. How do I go about synthesizing them into work that is authentic to my own desires and not slavish to the source. What I do not want is a mock Baroque or Renaissance pastiche. I made a list of what has haunted and inspired : classicism, academic realism, Renaissance/Baroque art, porn, saints, narratives and myth making, on and on. What I hope to do in my next painting is confront these tempters/inspirations head on, in my own version of Anthony in the Desert.
The following are a few sketches that I have been putting together, many more will follow.
detail of tormenting fauns
Preliminary sketch, I am most likely going to replace the conventional depiction of the abbot with a self-portrait .
An earlier sketch, I like elements of this and may very well include them in the final painting …or not.
I was also, just to clear my mind playing upon an image of a seductress from one of my sketches, translated as a relief print.
It is a very poor initial print, I will play with it some more, make a final print in my upcoming class when I have access to a proper press. But I thought I would include it with this post nonetheless.
My introduction to the saint was not though religious fervor but through art. Numerous, far gifted artists have played upon this theme. I have in the past made note of it, this link is for a particular personal favorite; not only because there are numerous pieces of wonderful art but because there is a really wonderful clip by the incredible George Mélliès, his La Tentation de Saint Antoine, 1898. It is not to be missed.
Until next time,
take care, be well,