Monday, July 21, 2008

The Controversial Fox

In comments on the last post Happier noted that we eat each other. That can be a bummer, especially if your # is next up on the menu. But there's no way round it, and take it from a long-time gardener, being a vegetarian only gets you past the things that have big faces. Everything is pretty much alive in dandyland, and nobody exactly wants to be eaten, at least not now. Truth is that whether it's big ones or little ones, whether you think everyone (plants and fungi included) are sentient or not, we all kill to live. Or hire it out.

It's a curiousity to me that in a life-time of making images only two have had official complaints lodged against them, and both involved foxes.

My dad was a foxhunter, and that is the beginning of so many stories! He loved foxes and wouldn't have dreamed of killing one. He was in it for the music of the chase. Unlike British foxhunting, where there's a lot of fol-de-rol about blood, night-hunting here in the knobs was strictly a listening sport. What the hunters listened to was the noble, but hopeless, pursuit of the wily fox by the inevitably fooled hounds, who marked their progress with vocalizations ranging from "chops" to "squalls".
My dad told me that the fox could lose the hounds whenever it pleased, and that it enjoyed leading the hounds on a wild goose chase as much as the hunters enjoyed lying about who's dog was in the lead.

One of the treasures that my dad gave me, albeit inadvertantly, was a very old ballad that he sang called "The Fox"...

"Oh the fox went out one starry night, he prayed for the moon to give him light,
for he'd many a mile to go that night, before he reached the town-o!"

Back in the early 80s I made a bunch of wooden illustrations of scenes from fairytales and songs, about 60 in all, I think, and I sold almost all of them in Cincinnati. I had a show of them in a gallery there, and while the show was up, the gallery owner called to tell me that someone had made a complaint that one of the images was too violent and inappropriate for children to see. It was not the one of Punch beating the baby, or the Witch luring Hansel and Gretel inside the candy cottage, it was The Fox. I'd never thought of it. There's not even any blood.

So after thinking about it for awhile, I decided to try one with blood, to see what that was like. I made a watercolor sketch & filed it away.

When 21C Museum commissioned me to complete a set of twelve large oil paintings of ballads, The Fox made the cut and I had room to paint the landscape described in the story the ballad tells.

Sure enough, a mega-corporation, whom I suppose should go unnamed, but lets just say they've been the end of more chickens than the fox ever was, wanted to have a banquet in the atrium where the ballad paintings were hanging, but they didn't want to have it with one of those. It wasn't the pair of naked corpses with thorny plants growing out of them, it wasn't the psycho killer with the naked victim in a shallow grave, it wasn't the same-sex interacial couple, not even Hell imagined as an amusement park - again, it was The Fox.

The numbers are in; this my most controversial image. (So far - I'm still trying,)

In The Ballads of the Barefoot Mind book I tell a story about meeting two people who intimated they were were-wolves, implausibly it seemed to me, since they were both too mousy. And there's a story there about asking a helpful policeman for directions to St. Chapelle who didn't have to intimate anything about being a were-vulpine of some sort. The memory of his shining and utterly charming teeth can still raise the hackles on my neck.

Were-foxes, called Kitsune, are so common in Japan that you can buy their masks in department stores, like this one that I bought in Kyoto. A fox mask seemed like such a good idea that I made one of my own out of beech leaves. (My studio stands by a giant beech.)

William has this version of the were-fox in his house.

And then there's this version, one of the paint-one-ballad-a-day with-sepia ink-and-watercolor-for-36-days mini-project that was a subset of Ballads of the Barefoot Mind. It reminds me of Nosferatu. And Reynardine, a faked ballad made up by a "folk" scholar, is called a vampire ballad, because blood sucking just goes with those sharp teeth somehow and makes the whole thing extra creepy. (Cue creepy music)

But the fox itself, secretive and rarely seen, is a beautiful animal who uses his cunning and teeth to make a living. We can't fault him for that, and we shouldn't fault ourselves either.


William said...

I have a better understanding of FoxNews® now.

Dan Dutton said...

Oh yea! Check out that Hannity guy sometime & compare with Nosferatu.

Cathy said...

Reynardine is a faked ballad? Fox is faked news, so that makes sense.

William's were-fox is splendidly creepy.

Is that your dad, Danny?

Dan Dutton said...

Yes - Reynardine, as it is performed these days, is a text, apparently cobbled together from some fragments of old ballads & some poetic invention - by a "folk" scholar who claimed to have collected it from an elderly workman in England. (I'll see if I can find and link a text of the detective work that uncovered this imposture.) What intrigued me about this faux ballad is that the very faking fits the subject, and says something about the strange phenomena (still continuing) of the "folk revival".
It's a good song, and would be whether it was "ancient" or not. But the "folk" world, just like the "world of fashion" on Project Runway, is hosted by judges and a voice that says, "One day you're in, and the next day, you're out." Curiously, folk performers and listeners didn't question the authenticity of the ballad as much as they argued about whether the anti-hero was a were-fox or a "real" historical outlaw! Oh academia! You have to read constantly to keep up with it and my eyes are going.

I learned the song first from a Buffy Sainte Marie album & still think hers is the best. My version is worth a listen, I think, for the gorgeous playing of Susan Alcorn.

Yes! That's dad! He's posing at posing a foxhound pup in the pose that best reveals the ideal lines of an ideal hound! Ha!

Happier said...
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Dan Dutton said...
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shepherdgirl said...

I just can't keep up...

shepherdgirl said...

PS I saved a baby bat yesterday, from QUince. I found it in a cobweb, it had fallen from the nest. I put it in a bucket, cleaned the webbing off, but then what. I snuck away from Quince, and then snuck back. I left it in the bucket, the bucket on it's side, but in the barn so it could maybe make sounds for the mother nest. But off the ground. I did more chores, and in 20 minutes, it was nowhere to be found.

I know, this is bad blog etiquette. To selfishly write hee what should have been written in an email. But it's true, someone is always getting eaten.

Dan Dutton said...

Oh Shepherdgirl, dandyland muse is here for you! You write whatever you please whenever you please & we're all delighted. I'm glad you saved the bat baby, or tried to. & your gambit may have worked - I know that the bats in my studio left their babies laying around like the place was a daycare center, which I guess it is & then swooped back in and picked them up later.

Dan Dutton said...

Then again, Quince may have been thinking - "Hey, it's just a matter of retracing Ms. Rescue's steps to a babybat snack."

You'll have to admit that babybat snack sounds kindof good.