A place for Nobody

19

Dear Artist,

In Homer’s Odyssey, when the hero Odysseus had to fight the Cyclops Polyphemus by putting out his eye, he first introduced himself by the pseudonym, “Nobody.” So, when Polyphemus cried out in pain to the other Cyclopses that “Nobody” was trying to kill him, they thought Polyphemus had been afflicted by a divine power and, instead of helping him, recommended prayer as the answer. Twenty-eight hundred years or so since the creation of The Odyssey, Homer scholars are debating whether Homer himself may have also been a Nobody. Was he just one artist or a collaboration of contributors, tuning over time a literary language via oral transmission? These days, most agree that Homer is probably not a singular, blind genius hailing from the coast of what is now present-day Turkey. Standing at his tomb on the island of Ios in the middle of the Cyclades, Nobody feels like an epic somebody.

bouguereau_equality-before-death_1848

“Equality before Death” 1848
oil on canvas, 269 x 141 cm (55.5 × 105.9 in)
by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825 – 1905)

Peter and I had growled up a dusty mountainside on our 200cc quad, hair-pinning until the path narrowed, where we jumped off to climb higher on foot. Eventually, alone in the wind, we summitted to a small, almost concealed stack of marble blocks. I’d read that centuries ago these low stone walls and their ancient, hillside terraces were lushly cultivated and populated as in the lower valleys — now all but abandoned save for a smattering of goats. A monastery, now a pile of rubble, stood nearby. Today, Ios is asleep, summer hoardes have gone, and we are left to straggle in the October wind.

bouguereau_homer-and-his-guide_1874

“Homer and his Guide” 1874
oil on canvas
82.25 × 56.25 inches
by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

Homer’s cairn is perched humbly before a staggering backdrop of tumbling cliff edge and smashing surf below. All around, previous Homerians, tourists and Nobodies had each erected an obos — a small, loose rock pile that can be toppled and rebuilt, made from the shards of quartz that make up the mountain’s shambled form. In the hundreds now, the obos ramble like a listening crowd, dotting the pathways, reaching out to the edges and down the hill. Here is a collection transforming, designed by the anonymous and waiting in nature’s amphitheatre for a silent reading in the wind.

Sincerely,

Sara

PS: “My name is Nobody.” (Homer, The Odyssey)

Esoterica: As Odysseus escaped from the island of Cyclops, in an act of hubris he shouted his real name back at Polyphemus, now blind from having his eye poked out. Polyphemus, in a fit of rage, prayed for revenge and hurled rocks at the ship. Odysseus barely got away. When debating the Homeric Question, scholars suggest that “Homer” might be best seen as a label for an entire tradition. In turn, Homer’s name for his inhospitable Cyclops “Polyphemus” means “abounding in songs and legends.” And, though the etymology of the name “Homer” is unknown, it’s been linked to the Greek word for “hostage” and also “going with a companion.” Harvard professor of Classics and Homer specialist Gregory Nagy interprets the name as “he who fits the song together.”

bouguereau_psyche-et-lamour

Download the new audio book, The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.

“The journey is the thing.” (Homer)

“Each man delights in the work that suits him best.” (Homer, The Odyssey)


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19 Comments

  1. Ios is one of the most beautiful places on earth. I was there for part of the winter of ’70, and it was like going back to another age; very little electricity on the island, and none at all away from the main town and the port. Climbing to Homer’s tomb was a right of passage for anyone staying there for any length of time. Still have my sketch books from my time there; an artist’s paradise. I’ve met only a few others who’ve been to this enchanted island, and when I do, I have to comment on it.

  2. So often Sara’s writing becomes a stepping stone …
    Of Equality before Death, The Musée d’Orsay article explains,
    “This sombre vision serves as a warning, as this note on a preparatory drawing demonstrates: ‘Equality. When the angel of death covers you with its shroud, your life will have been meaningless if you have not done some good on earth’ ”
    Another rock, another step: To feel helpless to do good is to know how to feel helped by goodness.

  3. Not that it has much directly to do with our various arts, but many Biblical scholars would say that much of the Bible was not written by the one named, but by numerous authors. This may have happened over rather lengthy periods in some cases. In times other than ours it was a way to give words a known authority by using a name most people could identify. If “Homer” really was a ” Nobody” but rather a collection of narrators, that would not be unusual in earlier times it seems.
    Wonderful writing, Sara, telling many of us about a special spot we will never see!

  4. Brilliant thanks Sara , the way you combine bits of stories, you take people in at a point then take them out and add something else and do it again, and it’s all done so smoothly and one can’t wait for the next bit and how it’s constructed! You write like a painter paints. And yes all painters are different – so you use words and verbal constructs as painters use paint and … no I can’t quite nail it, but I am onto something!! Thanks it’s always a pleasure. Best, Jen

  5. Thanks Sarah, for you thoughts on “nobody”. The necessary ego that is part of the artist’s baggage as your dad could have said, makes it difficult at times for us to face the reality of while being the creator of our artworks, we ourselves are nobodies, only recognized by our paintings or sculptures. That is if they in fact become an entity in their own right.
    I was happy to discover the early writings and musings of Robert the other day in a used bookstore in Chilliwack. The book entitled “In Praise of Painting” was as I’m sure you know, full of your family’s history up to a point of time in the eighties. Many of his later letters repeat the encouragement to the artist of any medium, to press on with this labour of love that is art. I enjoyed my brief time spent with Robert on his wonderful long green river boat, putting around in the delta of the Fraser River. My interest in sailing among the Gulf Islands for scenes and inspiration towards images continues. Your dad’s prolific output and vision will always be upheld as a measure of dedication that we all as artists must keep in sight.
    Thanks again Sarah for your work both in the arts and the continuing of Robert’s letters to us “nobodies”.

  6. Agreeing with Karen Blanchet- separateness is an illusion- but nobody but ME gets up every morning and goes to work. So if nobody is doing the work- no work is being done. There is a collective contribution from ALL Artists. Each and every one of them is doing their own unique work (even while collaborating) without which no collective contribution would exist.

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MEXICO WINTER GETAWAY – Plein Air Painting and Figure Drawing
February 14, 2018 to February 28, 2018

mexico-pleinairTake a winter break! Join me, Hermann Brandt for one or both of these retreat/workshops in sunny Mexico.

Casa Buena is a gorgeous art retreat center, right on the ocean. Jane Romanishko is a fabulous host and goes above and beyond to make sure you have a fantastic time. Included: Most art materials, meals, accommodation, a jungle-river boat trip and several sightseeing ventures. For beginner to intermediate level artists. Figure drawing (Feb 14-21) – from life; nude model. Plein air (Feb 21-28) – beach scenes, fishing villages and surrounding hills. I look forward to sharing a time of fun and learning.

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http://painterskeys.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/peter-hobden_bench-wpcf_231x300.jpgTwo Worlds (Alpilles, Provence, France)
oil on canvas
50 x 65 cm
2009

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