Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Study for the Infant Jesus

The process of creating Luke 2:19 began with making studies in charcoal and chalk on paper. The first study was for the infant Jesus. The model for Jesus was 5-month-old Leona D., daughter of David and Jillian D. My wife Nora was present at the birth of Leona on September 1 of 2016. Jillian would visit with Leona and her siblings, Samson, 5 and Darlene, 3. Nora entertained Samson and Darlene while Jillian sat for me holding Leona while she napped after nursing. I would have 45 to 60 or 70 minutes to work before Leona would wake up.

Jillian holding Leona
Photo Copyright Nora Koch 2017
She remained very still while sleeping and it only took three sittings to get the drawing of Leona’s head to an acceptable degree of finish. Two or three more hours were required to sketch the hands and the halo. The halo was drawn using several high-keyed pastels with varying warm and cool tints; so, an element of painting was introduced into the drawing. I considered including halos around both the baby Jesus and Mary in the painting, but rejected the idea because I would have had to make the painting bigger to include both the halos and the narrative elements in the background.

The Infant Jesus 15 1/2 x 9 3/4
Charcoal and pastel on paper
Private collection
Copyright Peter Bougie 2017
I sketched Jillian’s hands in the drawing from life. The gesture of Mary’s hands is an important supporting element to the theme and composition of the final painting. [See the painting here.] You will notice that the gesture of the hands in the painting is different than in the drawing. We went through at least four variations of hand design before settling on what is seen in the finished painting. In the end, Nora posed for the hands due to her being more readily available to model than Jillian was.

Detail, Luke 2:19 private collection
Copyright Peter Bougie 2017
In my opinion, drawing hands is at least as difficult as drawing heads. The many parts need to relate to each other as correctly as the features in a face. The arrangement of parts in hands is varied, complex, subtle, and easy to distort. Likeness to the sitter is a secondary but not negligible concern. Designing hand gestures is a tricky business by itself, as is integrating them into the overall composition. What you imagine will look good may have real problems when posed. The problems here included avoiding awkward tangents with lines in the baby’s face; avoiding finger placement that obscured the baby’s features, avoiding any arrangement of Mary’s fingers that looked claw-like, and avoiding creating areas that combined intricate shape with strong value contrast. The latter has the potential to unbalance the composition, by causing the eye to linger too long on a secondary area of interest. On the positive side, I wanted a relaxed and natural gesture that expressed motherly tenderness and some tentativeness born of a sense of wonder.  The final painting of the hands was not done from studies, as were the heads of Mary and Jesus, but working directly from life on the canvas, painting over a previous conception. (The corrections were first made in grisaille (monochrome) to harmonize with the original underpainting, with color being added in a finishing layer. Notes on the overall painting technique will follow in a future post.)

Luke 2:19 part 5

Detail, Luke 2:19 private collection
Copyright Peter Bougie 2017
The city itself is not intended to be an accurate representation of Jerusalem, although I took pains to represent the architecture as it would have been in that period. Jerusalem is not built on and around a steep bluff side by a lake. But that representation fits the vertical composition, and helps to convey a sense of the overbearing presence of worldly things and affairs. The city, seemingly burrowed into the very stones of the hillside, represents the efforts people put into vanity and material and power, things that shift and pass from one hand to another.

Detail Luke 2:19 private collection
Copyright Peter Bougie 2017

A fishing boat is pulled up under the walls, and men are at work in it, tending to their business. Jesus called Peter and Andrew, also James and John, from their fishing boats pulled up on the shore: “And Jesus walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea (for they were fishers). And he saith to them: Come ye after me, and I will make you to be fishers of men. And they immediately leaving their nets, followed him. And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets: and he called. And they forthwith left their nets and father, and followed him.” (Matthew 4:18-22)  Jesus could have chosen his followers anywhere but he chooses the foolish to confound the wise, and the weak to confound the strong. He does not go to the centers of power but to where the people live. He knows, and teaches, that real change occurs first in each human heart. Imagine a call so strong that it pulls you away from your livelihood, or from your father. Imagine how compelling it must have been. When have we ever felt such a compelling call in our own lives, and what did we do to answer it? 

Detail, Luke 2:19 private collection
Copyright Peter Bougie 2017

One fishing boat is setting out into the middle of the lake, and two more are in the distance, where they approach the far shore. There is a settlement there and abundant husbandry at work on the broad hillside: fields, orchards and vineyards. The lake itself suggests the gulf between justice and injustice. There is a village at the bottom of the hill on the shore and clusters of buildings scattered across its breadth. This represents the fruitful world we are called to build: “In labor and in toil we worked night and day, lest we should be chargeable to any of you. Not as if we had not power: but that we might give ourselves a pattern unto you, to imitate us. For also when we were with you, this we declared to you: that, if any man will not work, neither let him eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:8-10) This world, no matter how fruitful, is penultimate. What we hope for is seen obscurely as if through the mists of rain on the horizon. "Now faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not.” (Hebrews 11:1) The City of God, the heavenly kingdom, represented indistinctly as something vast and fantastic because of the hints we have been given about it: “But as it is written: That eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, [what no human mind has conceived, another translation reads] what things God hath prepared for them that love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9) And that “In my Father’s house there are many mansions. If not, I would have told you: because I go to prepare a place for you.” [emphasis added] (John 14:2) We know of it through these intimations given us by Jesus himself; it is the gift of a glimpse, and so it is represented as distant and indistinct. In reality it is only as distant as we separate ourselves from it. Admittedly, for most of us, that is considerable.

Detail Luke 2:19
Copyright Peter Bougie 2017

Luke 2:19 part 4

Detail, Luke 2:19 private collection
Copyright 2017 Peter Bougie

Just below the bridge, three figures are partially obscured by a rise in the landscape as they walk along the road. It is Jesus with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus on the first Easter Sunday. It is one of my favorite stories in the New Testament. The disciples meet Jesus on the road, but they don’t recognize Him. They are discouraged about the recent events in Jerusalem, of which Jesus feigns ignorance. It isn’t until after inviting Him to stay with them for the evening, when He comes in and breaks the bread at supper and then vanishes that they recognize Him. We also may not recognize Jesus as readily as we think we will; but He is always truly present in the breaking of the bread, the Eucharist.

What if you were a traveler in Jerusalem on that first Good Friday? Say that the road you are traveling takes you within sight of Golgotha, but not so close that you can see clearly what is happening. You can tell it is one of those gruesome Roman executions; you despise and respect them at the same time. You see the shapes of the crosses with their victims attached rising above the heads of the people on the ground. There are the sounds of agitated voices. There are glints of sunlight reflected off metal spear tips, helmets and armor. You always shudder when you see those Roman soldiers. You don’t ever like to be near them. What if there’s some disturbance, and one of them takes it into his head to grab you? Good luck with that. There is movement in the crowd, milling around a centurion on horseback, stage managing the whole dirty affair. People come and go. More faint sounds of calls – cheers or jeers? There was a breeze before, but it has died. The sky is darkening, there is thunder, a faint smell of decay, and flies. You quicken your pace, and feel all the effort it takes to do so.

Detail, Luke 2:19 private collection
Copyright Peter Bougie 2-17
In the painting the crucifixion is indicated by the presence of crosses on the top of the mountain above the city. To the right, a derrick indicates that the place of death is also a place of industry. It suggests the two are related. In Jesus’ time, the Roman economy was based on slave labor. Slaves were commonplace. Servants are featured in many of Jesus’ parables. In our own time, industry and prosperity are still founded on cheap labor.

"Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them until the end." (John 13:1) But Easter Sunday follows Good Friday. St. Augustine summed up Jesus’ ultimate act of love for us in this passage from his Confessions: “The true Mediator…was the Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, who intervened between sinful mortals and the immortal Just One, himself mortal like men, and like God, just. Thus, since life and peace are the compensation for righteousness, he could, by a justice united with God, annul the death of sinners now justified, since he willed to share death with them.”

“Rightly then I have firm hope that you will heal all my infirmities through him who sits at your right hand and intercedes for us.”

Continued in the next post.
Scripture quotations from Douay Rheims