When it comes to birthdays and holidays, it’s a toss up whether my husband is happier to give me complete surprises or whether he likes having me pick out exactly what I want. He jokes that he’s lucky because, being married to a tool junkie, he gets out of the no-plugs-on-presents-for-your-wife rule. – For our fifth wedding anniversary, I was more than delighted to receive a new palm sander. – Last Christmas and the birthday before, he coerced me into the former (not that he had to try very hard), knowing there were couple of unique things I not-so-secretly coveted.
The first was an honest to goodness, real jar of Fra Angelico blue pigment. None of that synthetic ultramarine stuff! This is the real deal, mined in the hills of Afghanistan, ground to a fine mesh then painstakingly and repeatedly extracted from the powder by centuries-old methods into the rich blue of Medieval paintings, the kind of paintings I have to work not to drool on in museums. This pigment is literally more precious than gold by weight. I was lucky to score it on Kremer Pigment’s Cyber Monday sale last year. It’s the kind of jar you don’t open if you have a cold (gesundheit!). I have mixed a tiny amount of it with the appropriate binders, and a 1/8 teaspoon blob now sits ready in my watercolor palette. I have begun to use it, and it is glorious.
The other gift ranks among my most decadent and exotic desires, a drawing I have looked at for nearly 20 years in one of my most favorite books, The Venetian’s Wife. The original is a graphite drawing by Nick Bantock of a bronze Shiva sculpture from the V&A. In all my art seeking adventures, there have only been a handful of works that vibrated to the point I couldn’t leave them…that forced me to sit down and recover…then go back for more…
- Horemheb’s corridor tomb paintings in Valley of the Kings – just…eerie…
- Leonardo’s Ginevra at the National Gallery in D.C.
- Tutankhamun’s mask – probably the face of Nefertiti and repurposed for Tut
- 2 particularly odd mummies – One was discovered years later to be Rameses I, which I’d long before half-guessed.
- Ceremony of Innocence, the game produced by Peter Gabriel’s Real World, of the Griffin and Sabine Trilogy by Nick Bantock – Opening sequence to the end, and no, not just because Paul McGann is kind of hot.
- The Venetian’s Wife by Nick Bantock
- Tongue of the Hidden – based on the calligraphy of Jila Peacock and the poems of Hafez
- That bronze Shiva statue at the Victoria and Albert – When I saw in 2017 it caught me off guard and stole my breath, and I knew in an instant it was the same exact statue that had once besotted an 18 year old Nick. Now I have to catch my breath every time I look at Nick’s drawing of it.
No one believes me when I say I’m not as woo-woo as I look (I’m annoyingly practical, really). When my spider sense goes off, however, I take immediate notice because I know those will be experience that stick with me for life.
Now Nick’s Shiva, watches over me while I draw, paint, and design in that designated corner of my studio. I need to select its permanent home in my house, but I can’t bear not to have it near me when I’m agonizing over my own bits of graphite. If you’ve never read The Venetian’s Wife, it’s very well worth a trek to Amazon or your favorite book seller. I read it at a wildly transitional point in my life, and it left its indelible mark. However woo-woo I think I’m not, I can’t resist magic surrealism in books and movies, especially when it revolves around symbols of art.
My credo has typically been Ben Johnson’s famous quote: “When I get a little money, I buy books. If there is any leftover, I buy food and clothes.” My new version is