Discover how Travel to Pompeii and Caravaggio Influenced my Aesthetic Style

Do you Ever Wonder, "Where do Artists get all those Creative Ideas From?"

I am often asked some form of this question from art collectors, curators, friends and family.  An artists' experiences are very important, and often artists' visual style is influenced by works of prior artists.  In my opinion, the process of maturing as an artist is to evolve those influences and synthesize them with life's experiences to create an expression that is unique, culturally relevant and timely.

"Eat your Heart Out: Homegrown Rhubarb Jam" by Ivana Damien George

"Eat your Heart Out: Homegrown Rhubarb Jam" by Ivana Damien George


"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."
-Mark Twain

My Travel Experiences Influence my Creativity

Mark Twain surely recognized the importance of experiencing new cultures, new sights, sounds, flavors, and ways of living to enhancing creativity, sensitivity and perspective of the self within the global context.  In contemplating how my travel experiences influence the art I make, I came to a realization that a trip to Pompeii in 1994 started me on a visual journey of creative influences that can be seen in my imagery today.  In Pompeii I saw for the first time many frescoes depicting spiritual celebration of sensual pleasures such as food, wine, and sexuality.  I had never before encountered any artistic depictions of a relationship between sensuality and spirituality and I found it extremely fascinating.  The most important frescos that I saw were in the Villa of Mysteries. This villa is thought by archeologists to be a place for religious devotion to Dionysus, the ancient Roman God of the grape harvest, wine-making and wine, of ritual madness, fertility, theatre and religious ecstasy.  Discovering the frescos here sparked my interest in studying Greek and Roman mythology.

The Villa of Mysteries: Scenes from a Dionysian Initiation Ritual ca. 65-50 B.C.E. (Reproduction courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)

The Villa of Mysteries: Scenes from a Dionysian Initiation Ritual ca. 65-50 B.C.E. (Reproduction courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)

My self guided studies in mythology were supported by my course work in art history as an undergraduate student.  I discovered many works from the Italian Baroque period of art explored the themes from ancient Roman mythology as a means of celebrating sensuality in a coded way.  The Baroque artists were living in Roman Catholic culture where delights of the body were regarded as suspect at best or at worst sinful; They were certainly not spiritual experiences as they had been in ancient Rome.  By coding the subject matter within a context of pagan mythology, Baroque artists could explore slightly more risque topics under the guise of painting historical sensibilities.  I was particularly influenced by the works of Caravaggio, such as the artwork below.

"Bacchus" by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, circa 1597-1598 Oil on Canvas, 95 x 85 cm (Reproduction Courtesy of Artstor)

"Bacchus" by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, circa 1597-1598
Oil on Canvas, 95 x 85 cm (Reproduction Courtesy of Artstor)

The Influence of Caravaggio's Style Upon my Own

In observing Caravaggio's depiction of Dionysus, I immediately notice the slightly sensual depiction of him in the vigor of youth, strength and health, which connotes his domain of fertility.  He is surrounded by an abundance of the fruits of the earth.  His relaxed posture and outstretched hand holding the glass of wine connotes his domain of merriment and reads as an invitation to the viewer to join him at his table.  The lighting of the scene is from one side and casts strong shadows, which creates a sense of theatricality. The use of a side light also emphasizes the textures of the fruits which makes them more appealing.  In my "Sustain" series I incorporate aesthetic elements of Caravaggio's style but in a contemporary context. I create images that celebrate the of abundance of the fruits of the earth that can be grown in an urban context.  I pose in ways that emphasize the sensual enjoyment of the food I grow.  Through the use of closeups, I invite the viewer into my garden.  Through the use of gesture and exclusion of my eyes from all my compositions I invite the viewer to identify with what is depicted. The influence of Caravaggio's work is also seen in my lighting style where I use one strong studio light in combination with the sun.  My use of this lighting style shows off the beauty and textures of the fruits and vegetables I grow in my garden.

How has travel influenced your philosophies, understandings and world view?  I invite you to comment!

"Heckled by Three Bluejays", by Ivana Damien George

 

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