The minaret calls five times a day: dawn, noon, mid afternoon, sundown and dinner. Here in Tunis it’s the eighth day of Ramadan and most good Moslems are fasting. Apart from the ideas of purification charity and sobriety, there’s the concept of resolve — taking control and managing personal habits. For Muslims it’s a time honoured law that lives on through the ages.
I’m painting in Carthage, the ancient site of a power that once threatened Rome. Fallen granite and limestone columns, the tracings of masonery walls are what remains of a city of 400,000. Phonecians, Greeks, Romans and Turks all had a go at this place. Layers of diggings produce coins, lamps, musical instruments, combs, razors and spoons. Busts of Bacchus, Silenus, Hannibal and Caius Caesar, loaded with hubris, honour and monumentalize their own greatness. The Carthagenians were a cruel bunch, citizens and slaves alike in constant fear, their newborn babies held ready for sacrifice by live burial.
The minaret now sits atop these layers of history. Like a public wrist alarm the electronic muezzin sings a reminder to keep the faith and keep going. Below, our little worlds are measured by spaced hours and our minor accomplishments. Living and dying and the mending of nets still go on here. You feel a structure. It’s a prayer rug pointed in a certain direction. We too are invited to take part in this structure. We already have our altar the easel and our amulets the tools. What we do affirms life and points to something greater.
PS: “What you or I contribute may not be much, but it will be something.” (Muslim saying)
Esoterica: Tunisia is cubist with dazzling whitewash, blue and orange studded doors and doors within doors. Arches sweep over narrow stairways and repeat down colourful, pungent souks. French, Berber, Arab and deep African mingle. Sweet jasmine falls at your feet as you work. At this time Tunisia is safe, friendly, unadvertised, unpretentious and unMcDonald.
Images of Carthage
Art gallery delivered
by Mary Jean Mailloux, Oakvile, ON, Canada
The works chosen for this Friday’s clickback are fantastic. It’s like getting one’s private art gallery delivered. It’s daunting to think that there are so many gifted people in the world and I must refrain from comparing myself to those I can see are so much more advanced. Van is a work of art himself. When looking at Michelangelo’s statue of David would we not think he was the model? His work, “Passion, Will and Reason” is very powerful, and the details in the hands carries much of the power. That’s pretty impressive for one so young. I must keep my “green eyed monster” at bay.
Middle Eastern neighbors
Ellen Smith Fagan, Rockville, CT, USA
I am happy with the way our government is handling the Middle East things — we have an all-American middle eastern community here, many of them loved friends, and we are enjoying Ramadan here as well, and loving our Middle Eastern neighbors as tastefully and truly as we can. They express gratitude, both for their prosperous, safe and humane American lifestyles and the help and attention their people are receiving from the International Coalition.
Queen of Carthage
by Cristiano Didomenico, Sicily, Italy
It could be said that many ancient cities of the Mediterranean have been founded by murderers. However, according to legend, Dido, (from Deido the wanderer), also called Elissa, was the founder and first Queen of Carthage in the 9th century B.C. She was the daughter of King Belus of Tyre and wife of her uncle Acerbas. After her brother Pygmalion murdered her husband and seized power, she fled first to Cyprus, then to Africa with devoted followers. She was offered as much land as could be covered by an oxhide. Elissa spread out the oxhide in fine strips, and so had enough to surround a hill. Byrsa would become the basis of their new city Qarthadasht (Carthage or new city).
According to one legend, Dido threw herself on a burning pyre to escape marriage to an African prince that she hated. He threatened war if she refused. In the Aeneid, Vergil tells how she fell in love with Aeneas, who had been shipwrecked at Carthage, and destroyed herself on the pyre when, at Jupiter’s command, he left to continue his journey to Italy.
A prayer in paint
by Janet Warrick, Chicago, IL, USA
I like your thought that “what we do affirms life and points to something greater.” I feel that deeply, especially when standing alone in a wind-swept field, the sun cutting a golden path through the late afternoon air, setting the distant stand of trees ablaze with a light that is almost surreal, almost holy. Standing there in the silence, brush poised, noticing, comparing, taking it all in, becoming one with nature as perhaps only a painter can, the act of painting is a prayer, one of joy and hope, and most certainly one of thanks. It is also a renewal of life, of faith, of “connectedness.” And it is an act of love, for with each foray into the field I fall in love all over again, deeply, profoundly, irrevocably in love with nature, with painting, with life itself. What I contribute may not be much, but I pray that my little contribution adds a positive note of beauty to the world and never a negative one.
by Susan M. Rohacek, Georgia, USA
Regarding your letter about subliminal images, perhaps fifteen years ago, I was practicing Hatha yoga regularly. I remember reading during that period of time in my life that souls may appear in one’s work. I had done a mountain with sky reflecting in a lake. Very limited colors. I was extremely pleased and peaceful about it. The first person who saw it asked who the child’s face belonged to? There it was, a small child’s face within the snowy mountain’s face. Who knows?
Light source over left shoulder
by George Trabert, Walnut Creek, CA, USA
After reading a book about the work of Giorgio Morandi, an Italian painter who spent his life exploring his vision in still life and landscape paintings, I decided to do some still-life exploration. As I reviewed my sketchbook of some still life ideas, I found that, without thinking about it, I had put the light source over my left shoulder in all the layouts. It raised my curiosity as to why that happened and further thoughts about how would they look if flipped side-to-side. Would that break some usual convention about light source I wasn’t aware of? What effect if any would there be on the visual aspect of the composition? Does it make any difference? Questions for me to answer as my exploration continues.
Bills have to be paid
by Karen Fitzgerald, New York, USA
Sales of my paintings have been flat for months. Teaching work has been scarce. The end of summer saw me borrowing money to pay basic bills — a very uncomfortable place to inhabit day in and day out. Yet I still pulled monotypes for a show, no matter how numb I felt. Fire can’t burn without fuel. Bills have to be paid. Once my boat rights itself I can go back to the studio and look at those unfinished paintings and paint again. Until then, I’m spending my time on a new marketing campaign and lining up teaching residencies so the fuel will be readily at hand. It’s the first time in a very long time that I’m wearing blinders — so my focus is clear.
by Robert Turenne, Montreal, QUE, Canada
I agree with the usefulness of tough criticism. But not in the beginning stages of an enterprise. Only when the protagonist expects to take it to the professional level. Then, only the best should be allowed. The rest should do something else, or better yet, should keep practicing until they are good enough.
Art has become a “soft” refuge for all sorts of trials. Certain lucky individuals “make it” because their work touches a sensitive cord in others, often without showing a trace of professionalism. But in general, good artists are still the ones who work hard and know what they are doing. I find it sad that the buying public has lowered its level and will settle for low quality work (often because it’s cheaper!).
I have chosen to be an artist after a tough decision to change my career. But to this day I have not presented work for professional evaluation. I don’t think I have attained the level of technical and artistic proficiency I need.
In my previous career I have seen numerous people present themselves as “experts” or “consultant” when they were, in fact, beginners. It was easy to eliminate them from my contact list. But every once in a while, I could spot the “sparkle in the eye” that I knew would eventually make a good professional. I have encouraged many of these people, but in a frank manner, leading them in the right direction without false promises. The payback has been tremendous. I expect to be treated likewise… for my own good.
The Guardian of Liberty
oil painting on canvas
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2003.
That includes Paula Rey who wrote, “I know that there is a great likelihood that I will never see the places and the art you have the privilege to lay your eyes on. Thanks for making it happen… and thanks to your staff at home for covering all the things still going on while you’re gone.”
And also Stew Turcotte who wrote, “I wish I was there… drinking mint tea, eating those juicy oranges, the roasted almonds in the souks, the snake charmers and all the smells and sights and sounds.”