July 29, 2003

Sonny Painted Saturn?

Last weeks' NYTimes magazine had an article about the possiblity that Francisco Goya was not the one who painted the Black Paintings, among which is the "Saturn, Devouring a Son".


"'I started to read what has been written about the Black Paintings,'' Junquera recalls in his small living room, crammed with books, bibelots and antique furniture, in the affluent Salamanca district of Madrid. ''I found that it was something impossible.''

He is suggesting that it might have been his son who painted these works, because the second story of the house he painted them in (murals, I guess) did not exist until after Francisco Goya died. The only way to tell is to conduct an architecturally forensic research which differentiates the former attic from the later addition.

Of the Black Paintings, "Saturn..." is the one that galvanized me to become a painter, an artist. I may have told this story elsewhere in this blog, but here goes (a mercifully short version):

I have drawn since I can first remember. I recall how intoxicating the smell of Ticonderoga pencils were for me as a tyke... grandma would have a box in the bottom drawer of her bureau and I thought it was a treasure. When you're a kid, your senses are on overdrive, and the smell of Pink Pearl and freshly sharpened wood dominated me. I remember winning a drawing contest in kindergarten and sitting on the clown's lap on T.V., and I remember thinking it was a hullaballoo before that word entered my vocabulary. I remember mom bringing me to the YMCA's drawing classes and I learned about roughing in forms in stages and proportions... and a new piece of equipment entered the arena: kneaded erasers. A revolution. That was when I was in the second grade or so.

But it wasn't until I was fourteen that I found myself standing in front of "Saturno devorando a un hijo" that I felt the call. My family was traveling to Australia and we were taking the long way 'round. We went through Europe, the Middle East (only a refueling stop in Rhiyad, and for that we had to have our priest certify in writing that we were not Jewish), New Dehli (overnight, bats filled the air), Bangkok (for a weekend), Manila (for a month with family), then Sydney to stay... or so we planned at the time.

We stayed in Madrid for a week and my folks let me soak up the Prado. They dropped me off and I had the place to myself. I remember Goya's "The Executions of May 3, 1808", I remember D?rer's "Adam and Eve", Bruegel, Titian, and of course Velasquez' "Las meninas". Later on that week, I took a bus to Toledo and saw Greco's "Burial..." and his studio. By that time, I had read Stone's "The Agony and the Ecstacy" and I had copied the masters in the margins of the history books... I was ready for this. Being on my own for that week was a signal of adulthood to come, and to be alone with the Prado came a feeling of being at home, a fit.

And standing in front of the "Saturno" submerged me in a sensation familiar to me from my childhood. As a kid, really young, I would lay on the bed and look at the ceiling, staring at the patterns, the features. I would get all lost in the visuality of it, noting every little thing about it... and then with an amazing suddeness, the scene would zoom into a close up like a delerious photographer's zoom lens... as if my eyes were inches away. I would hover in this state for a while and pop out, if I lost a balance of sorts. This was the same sensation I had in front of Goya's painting, the pigments flooding my mind, eyes full and hovering inches form the surface.

Posted by Dennis at July 29, 2003 8:55 AM

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