Every year at the beginning of the school year we would be required to purchase supplies for our art kit. In those kits were many things, but one purchase we were to always have available and yet we were never instructed on the material was pastels. We were not taught the difference between soft pastels or oil pastels, and yet there in my art case was a box of pastels; oil pastels. When I tried my novice hand with them over summer break I was thoroughly disappointed and discouraged at the waste of a sheet of my Grumbacher tablet. I began to well, hate even the word: Pastels. Who even did anything with these messy, unresponsive sticks? I was young and it almost brings tears to my eyes when I consider how very naïve I was to this medium and to art as a whole.
I am an adult now and I don’t want to sound as if I am bragging but for the individual who finally achieves the ability to own a luxury motor vehicle is probably how I feel about my opportunities to visit legendary art museums. I have been able to visit and to stand in front of, close enough to touch but never would ten paintings by Leonardo da Vinci. That may not sound impressive but in the entire western hemisphere there is exactly one painting by that particular artist; The portrait of Ginevra Benci at the National Gallery in Washington D.C.
Having visited many museums in France, Italy and England, what I learn about art is small beside what I learn about myself; I love pastels. In the hands of an accomplished technician they are to paper what frosting is to cake. Time and time again visiting a prestigious museum to see world renowned paintings such as Leonardo da Vinci’s Madonna of the Rocks at the National Gallery in London England, I had the chance to see the cartoon of The Virgin with Saint Anne and Saint John drawn with charcoal and white chalk. As thrilled as I was to see the very mysterious and unfinished Madonna of the Rocks, it was with sheer wonder I viewed this cartoon. First, let me say the word cartoon has been diminished to something we read in the Sunday paper. This work of art is enormous and astonishing in the scope and dimension. I was transported not to London but as a fly on the wall to a studio in Florence Italy where the master drew those lines and blended with his very hands. Pastels, and even chalk and charcoal are a sport for the fingers, a get your hands dirty experience. The dilemma for me is Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings are so superb, so elegant, that it is nearly impossible to imagine how to begin such a masterpiece. His cartoon in the National Gallery is like a spy glass to the past.
Pastels are the most subtle of works and like the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci the closest we shall ever get to see the muse that whispered in the ear of the artist. In every museum I have ever visited there is of course that art that draws the crowds, the ones that are found on postcards, and stationery in the gift shop; however what about the artwork that isn’t so famous? Those are the ones that stand quietly on the edge of our vision, waiting to be seen, waiting to be heard. We may skim by them quickly missing their ethereal and misty presence, but when we do see them they are perhaps like spying on someone else’s dream like a voyeur. And that I fear is why many of us pass by pastels quickly because they are the rawest and most personal of works. I am always amazed at the courage of artists to reveal that inner portion of themselves; to hold it up for the world to see and judge.
If there be artists there will always be the critic and yet I wonder about our Stone Age ancestors and the motivation behind their cave art. There in the dark a dish of lit marrow fat to light their way they experimented with simple raw pigments to create the divine that would outlive their culture, their language, and even the names of their tribes. My summers in McConnellstown, Pennsylvania were punctuated not with just the present but the very ancient. Crooked Creek swept by the local quarry and scallop shell fossils were a frequent find. We used the red and ochre colored pebbles we found in the creek to draw on the road, and even to draw on the concrete walls under the bridge that crossed Crooked Creek. Standing in the water up to our knees we didn’t just look for bait to fish with but red and yellow pebbles to draw with as well.
Now when I see pastels displayed in museums I don’t just see the immediate work but the lineage of the media and that ghost of a muse that made them believe in the impossible. My full moon posts are about discovery and none more so than my love of pastels. It is the ultimate irony that this very medium I actually despised has become what I yearn to explore more and more. Imagine a cat learning to love to swim with dogs and you might have an understanding in how far I have come. Of course a visit to an art museum isn’t just about what you see, but what you feel as well.
Part V of The Guild we find Cygnus ready to explore the dusky caves of their prison to identify the lost muse that channels her words into their dreams. Chiaroscuro; the light and dark interplay not just through art but in our lives as well. The bright full moon is best viewed at night with a clear indigo sky. The most recent Nor’easter left us without power for a few days and the gilded candlesticks and picture frames in our home that seem so loud in bright sunlight almost appeared luminescent in candlelight. Sometimes to see clearly we do not need more light, but the inky dark to see what shines forth.
My Angel pastel drawing was done with Faber-Castell Pitt Pastel pencils and accented with Sennelier iridescent soft pastels.
On March 31st our second full moon this month arrives, a blue moon as it were. We have all heard or said, “Only in a blue moon will…” Well here it is a blue moon shining down on us. Our chance to reexamine our choices for anything from the color of our hair, our leisure pursuits and even to what it is we want to achieve in our days. A blue moon isn’t necessarily blue in color but in its rarity like a true blue diamond. Treat your days and nights like they are gems and you will spend them carefully on the pastimes that really, really matter.