Frustration, Inspiration and Friends (bW)

Back to the Derrybawn Project.

I was convinced to spend Tuesdays down in DC a few weeks back. I needed to get out of the house, I was frustrated in the lack of progress on a number of projects, and my house is a depressing wreck as my roommates and I struggle with home renovations.

One day a week, finding new coffee shops, wandering through museums and walking through new neighborhoods, is a good thing.

I start my Tuesdays early, heading out with my roommate when she leaves at 5 in the morning. I found a new coffee place to sit and sketch recently, near the DC Metro stop at Eastern Market. A waiter named Josh has the whole thing down perfectly. Check to see if my coffee (or tea) is low, and otherwise let me sit in the early morning sun and watch the world go by. I think he sneaks looks at my sketches when I’m not paying attention.

Then I pick a museum. Recently it has been the Sackler Gallery, near the Smithsonian. A display on early Chinese bronzes and jade has finally sparked a bit of inspiration in my quest to finish my work on Bloddeuwedd.

For those not familiar with the early Shang Dynasty in China, it is the first dynasty to be documented archaeologically in Chinese history. An earlier dynasty, the Xia, is not documented through archaeological finds, and is often considered a mythical construct. The chronology of these dynasties is provided in the writings of Xiu Lin, and in the Bamboo Annals. The Shang Dynasty is believed to have lasted from about 1600BC to about 1046BC, and was followed by the Zhou Dynasty.

The display of Shang artwork is really amazing. Early bronze vessels and jade pieces are wonderfully complex and dramatic. Animal forms are stylized and shaped in elegant curves. One of the primary motifs in decorating ritual vessels is the Taotie mask. You can search for information on this in Wikipedia. It is a style of mask-like face, created in bold relief, of stylized pieces which are filled in with fine, decorative line designs. Eyes, nose, mouth, wings and claws, all are reduced to bold shapes and contained in clearly defined spaces. The parallels to Northwest Coast Native American art were inescapable.

The Shang masks were primarily of unknown creatures, perhaps demons or spirits. But a few were definitely meant to be natural animals. My favorite is a pear-shaped ritual wine vessel, with a mask of an owl on it.

One of the other things I really find fascinating about the Shang artistic style is the line filler between elements of the Taotie masks, which are tiny spirals. It is extremely difficult to get detailed pictures of the fine designs, due to the emphasis of photos on the larger mask motifs. But I am hooked on the idea of the owl mask and spirals for my Bloddeuwedd piece.

I’m definitely working it out.

It is a good thing someone was kind enough to push me to leave my cave and limp down to DC for the day, forced to walk through museums until weary and worn…

Friends make it all worthwhile.


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