Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Where the rocks come from:
In an earlier post I repeated a story that my dad told me, when I was a child, concerning the origin of the rocks on Dutton Hill. "The Devil was flying over with an apron load of rocks and his apron strings broke."
In my 20s I discovered that the story was Welsh. (My dad's mother, my grandmother Sarah Belle, was a Cundiff, a family with Welsh roots.) In Wales the Devil was a Hag - the load of rocks was called "the dribble." I suppose it makes a bit more sense for a Hag to be flying overhead carrying apron loads of rocks, but a child's ear supersedes later reason. It is definitely the Devil.
Not that I had much of an idea as to what "The Devil" looked like. The only familiar image I knew of then was the rathe suave-looking devil on the Red Devil Lighter Fluid can. My parents, thank goodness, did not believe in Biblical-style devils. The only function of The Devil in our household, was to be a comical character, or a metaphor, most often sarcastic.
This little painting is my third version of this image. All three images, years apart in the making, are basically the same. I think that in the 2nd one ( a drawing), the Devil is flying the other direction. Once I began studying the history of art, I saw how the artists of the past envisioned the Devil, and eventually I zoomed in to survey the evolution of the image. In the earliest paintings, the Devil is most often a hybrid of insect and animal parts. Having a face for a crotch is really common. The Pan-style Devil, with ("cloven") goat feet and horns, etc. didn't become popular until the 19th century. The earliest devils were green, black or brown. Red, in those days, was reserved for painting the robes of the clergy.
As I was working on this, I realized that my Devil, the flying one with the faulty apron load of rocks, has certain features that must be present in order for me to approve of it. The eyes are crossed, and the tongue, pointy, is stuck out, in annoyance. The body is humanesque, but with reptilian claws, and scales. The tail is dragon-style, with an arrowhead-type tip. The wings are battish, but with moth or butterfly spots. All in all, the thing is ridiculous, but, and I realized this as I lavished care on painting the tiny scales, very precious. The sky he flies across, the world he has accidents in, is both miniature and vast. Once he's played his part, my hand, or rather the hand of my child, picks him up like a delicate toy and carefully stores him away in the box where things too wonderful to risk losing are kept.