Monthly Archives July 2016

BLOB #3 – “BIRDS OF A FEATHER”

“Birds of a Feather” By Karen & Tony Barone, 48″ H x 60″ W Oil Painting
Photo: ©XXIV Barone

When we created “BIRDS OF A FEATHER” Karen and I were in the middle of a run of 6 paintings that later became known as the “NOSTALGIA SERIES”. Each of the paintings in the series had been derived from pencil drawings I had made of Karen while we traveled the world. In the case of this painting, my drawing of Karen was done in Ecuador. The South American country that sits on the equator.

Sketch for “Birds of a Feather”
Photo: ©Barone

Leaving the capital city of Iquitos at 4 AM in a rusted stripped down bus without glass in it’s windows and top heavy with makeshift sacks and square cages packed with small farm animals, we started on the pot hole laden washboard road westward toward the outpost town of Santo Domingo De Los Colorados.

The bone rattling, standing room only, bus was a death trap – but we were overcome with a sense of romantic adventure and high on the love that made us indestructible.

Emerging from the dense vegetation, the close-to-the-ground jungle dwelling Los Colorados men and women squeezed out of the giant opaque thallo green leaves to make their way to the weekly Santo Domingo market. The jungle butted up against the town like a fortress. It seemed, if the townspeople were to put down their machetes, even briefly, the jungle would over-run the town.

Sketch of Los Colorados Indian
Photo: ©Barone

Los Colorados Indians wore very little clothing. The men and women both wore brightly colored Inca-like horizontally striped fabric wrap-arounds that hung from their hips. The men’s wrap was like a mini skirt and the women’s wrap was a little longer and fell below the knees. It is important to note that traditionally no garments were worn from the waist up. They adorned themselves in a highly creative, decorative and flamboyant, manner using what was  indigenous to them: dried vegetation, feathers and mud. Yes, mud! 

Sketch of Los Colorados Indian
Photo: ©Barone

The men fashioned the bright red-orange clay available to them in the jungle into a close-to-the-head “yamaka-like” helmet with a short truck driver cap visor. They appear to wear this very ceremonial looking adornment 24/7. They would repair, patch or refresh its smooth slick ceramic looking surface as needed. Their hair was shaved away below the “helmet” like a U.S.Marine. Hair on the top of their head was integrated into the clay to strengthen and re-enforce the red mud in the same way Z-bar re-enforces concrete. It kept the helmet firmly in place on top of the head and protected it from the sun. The clay also served as armor, cushioning the skull from blows to the head..

Thin long decorative woven fabric worn around the neck and down, scarf-like, came in handy for use as a bandalero to carry poisoned darts and a piccolo length blow gun. They skillfully employed the blow gun to take down brightly colored tropical birds in flight.  Mostly the Los Colorados would commandeer the feathers of the birds, gleaning  from their carcass, the rare vibrant colors from nature’s palette. Sometimes they would leave the entire bird intact, remove its insides, and preserve it whole. They would then use the whole taxidermy bird as a decorative element. Such was the case in the necklace Karen wears in the drawing and thus in the painting.

“Birds of a Feather” Detail – Bird Necklace
Photo: ©Barone

Although the Los Colorados Indians wore little to cover their dark red bodies, they did apply copious amounts of white and/or black heavy paint in thick bold lines over their face, torso, arms and legs and bare feet. Thin black line tattoo decoration over these same areas was skillfully and meticulously executed.

A small ramshackle and destitute looking “freak” show circus tent sat at the edge of the market. It gave us the sense we were part of a 50’s Fellini film being made in an imaginary place at the center of the planet near an imaginary line – the Equator.

Seeing Los Colorados arriving on market day to the town of Santo Domingo De Los Colorados, amazed us. Standing on the “Wild West” plankwood walk on one side of muddy streets, we watched the almost constant stream of small groups of 4 or 5 of the colorful jungle people come down the town’s muddy deeply rutted street. They were sure footed and determined as they headed into the market with the women carrying bulbous cloth sacks on their backs. But what was truly amazing was that each of the normally bare breasted women were not bare breasted. Each was wearing a humungous bright white brassier to cover their exposed breasts. This dress code was dictated by the town’s Christian leaders chauvinistically hanging on to their Spanish missionary bias no matter how ridiculous and silly the practice.  All this reinforced the earlier feeling of being on a Frederico Fellini film.

However imaginary it all seemed, the experience was indelible. A pencil sketch was all it took to have the memory bubble-up and become a painting.

 

T H E   B A C K S T O R Y

“Birds of a Feather” Detail – Portrait of Karen Barone
Photo: ©Barone

We placed Karen, the paintings subject, in the center of the canvas, and flanked her with the mirror image profiles of the head of our “JAGUAR – God of the Night” sculpture. By juxtaposing and overlapping the human and red transparent animal images in “our brand of see-through, self-appropriated, pastiche”, we are able to create both depth and mystery.

“Birds of a Feather” Detail – Jaguar
Photo: ©Barone

This allows us to be able to create a rhythmic composition that brings the viewers into the painting with the jaguar head from the left and moves the viewer in a counterclockwise motion around the painting.  We’ve almost intuitively practiced this compositional directive in all of our paintings. That was until last year, when we became obsessed with creating portraits and sculptures of “our imaginary ‘POLKA-POOKA’ rabbits”. The “POLKA-POOKA” paintings require one entering the canvas straight on and usually dead center and then going on a clockwise or counterclockwise compositional journey directed by the benign “readymades” in the background.

Karen and my interest in tribal art, masks, and indigenous people’s face and body painting, has lured us to search out the world’s most “primitive” cultures. Following Michael Rockefeller’s path through New Guinea, seeking out William Holden’s Kenya and Hemingway’s Mount  Kilimanjaro with the statuesque Giacometti looking Masai Warriors in the mix, added passion and depth to our creative output.  Each adventure and immersion morphed our artwork for the better.

The spread apart mask-like blank eyes in Karen’s face in “BIRDS OF A FEATHER” goes way back to a style change which shows up in my drawings and our paintings after being under the spell of traveling in West Africa. Senegal was more about textiles. However, the former French colony of The Ivory Coast is the Big Kahuna of tribal arts. The heavily sought after masks and figures of the Senufo people, as well as the elegantly carved small ancestral figures of the Baule tribes, are found there.  They changed Modigliani. They changed Picasso. They changed us.

“Birds of a Feather” Detail – Portrait of Karen Barone
Photo: ©Barone

When it comes to jungle foliage, reference sources are limited. Paul Gauguin is a favorite, but Rouseau is “top banana” and thus was the prime jumping off point for the jungle background in “BIRDS OF A FEATHER”.

“Birds of a Feather” Detail – Jungle
Photo: ©Barone

In referencing our own sculpture in our paintings, we are creating a dialogue between our two mediums. This practice is uniquely ours. The painting is ours and the source of the subject for the painting is ours. I’ve often thought of it as an exercise in “self-plagiarism”. The opportunity is derived from our ability to perform work as both painters and sculptors who are bringing the experience of each work forward into the next work regardless of the medium.

Whether we have you enter our paintings from the left or head on, the welcome mat is out.

“Jaguar – God of the Night” – Sculpture
Photo: ©Barone
tony-barone

PS: To see the other paintings in the Nostalgia Series” Click Here!