The Old Faeries (part II: The Untitled Green Man)

ike The Old Testament, Heileman’s Old Style, and the Great Old Ones, a certain aesthetic is instantly conjured by virtue of the use of the simple word: Old.

This is the second of a four post series  concerning “The Old Faeries” For more background on the genesis of this series refer to:  The Old Faeries (part I : The Antique Faerie)

(“The Untitled Green Man” click image for larger view)

I opened a jpeg to look at The Untitled Green Man prior to writing this.  My intention was to stare at the image until I no longer had any thoughts. This would undoubtedly  generate new ideas and reflection that would inspire my writing. It didn’t exactly work. But, something similar did spark it’s creation in early 2001.

In the spring of 2001 my intrigue with the crossroads of medieval religious art, paganistic fantasy and the surreal was well under way. I had been regularly making the CTA blue line pilgrimage each Sunday morning to the Art Institute of Chicago to gawk, leer and stare at the second floor European art. Depictions of Jesus alternately resembling a little girl and a corpse,  John the Baptist in red , and Mary in her ubiquitous blue were rampant.

Though I was of lower than pavement level income, the Art Institute of Chicago accepted donations of any amount for general admission at the time so I took full advantage. (I just read that weekdays are free through January in 2011)  I made my way through the galleries one painting and print at a time.  Each piece of art was slowly masticated by my eyes and digested by my brain.

Occasionally I made notes or scribbled out rudimentary sketches to preserve ideas, but that wasn’t entirely the intention.  Neither was it to learn the dates and names for later regurgitation. I wasn’t intending to write or talk to others about art, my intent was to make more art and this scrutiny was part of the process.  Working my way through the delicacies of the halls and galleries during those days in the museum my purpose was to look and think. To look and think until thoughts stopped coming, or my mind was satiated and only then, to proceed to the next piece. There were some days in which I felt exhausted having looked at only two or three pieces of art.  The thoughts could be about anything and often were. Sometimes they were more  about conquering the annoyances around me provided  by the more oblivious and less devote  museum goers than what was on the wall in front of me. (please turn your  phones off in the art museum or might  illicit profanity and evil eyes from the crappy little guy with the beard). This went on throughout 2001, and at some point before summer of that year I produced the Untitled Green Man.

The obvious difference between The Untitled Green Man and the other four Old Faeries is the medium and composition. It is a monochrome pencil drawing and it’s subject matter does not focus on a single figure. It also decisively delvers the concept that this is not a scene from a narrative, but a complete work in itself. Though it describes form and identifiable elements, it doesn’t claim realism as it’s primary goal.

The Untitled Green Man is a pencil drawing using mostly an HB lead pencil, a kneaded eraser and an eraser shield. There might have been a couple more tools employed in the effort, but these are three of which I’m certain.

Unlike much of my current illustration work the piece was done with almost no preliminary drawing. I do believe there was a very simple sketch of the idea of the two central faeries with the green man head on their back, but the rest was made up as I went along. I recall working  on it each morning for a short period of time before moving on to other projects, almost as a warm-up exercise.  In retrospect the exercise was probably more one for the mind than the wrist, as such circumscribed action is probably not physically the best way to warm up. If you asked me now-days I’d recommend a looser style warm up.

The title itself “The Untitled Green Man” is probably not self explanatory.  I attempted to preconceive an  idea and work to illustrate it though I was  also simultaneously adding and inventing on the fly. This contradictory method of creation can be a challenge.  The original concept was that of comparative mythology and religion and some kind of notion that each story supports those that come next. I was consciously thinking of the green man as the monotheistic god head at this point, as I have since in numerous other depictions. The fact that  I’ve never been entirely certain that the point was correctly communicated, resulted in my reluctance to title the piece. As it had to be called something  it took on the title: The  Untitled Green Man.

Though it is not yet complete, below is a preview of the long awaited sequel to The Untitled Green Man,

as yet itself untitled.

Part three in the Old Faeries series will be on Melencolia I. Keep an eye out for the continued series in the future.

About dk

Doug Kovacs is an Artist and Illustrator who lives in Chicago
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