Flying high and higher, experiencing everything, yet instead of burning and crashing, as the legend tells us, he gains love and wisdom and gently comes home.
Icarus Landing was completed in 2001 in my beautiful Turkish home/studio in Rhodes, Greece. There is a saying about staying at a friends home, leave it better than when you arrived. Art is a little like that too. If you borrow from history, don’t just copy but add to it and hopefully making something better out of it.
I get the moral of the original Icarus legend is to help curb young people from adventurous excess. They will burn, crash, and die if they fly too high. That story and warnings from “wise” people never felt right to me. Isn’t death a bit harsh? Wouldn’t it be better to go after their dreams, learn from their mistakes, and enjoy the journey?
Having Icarus land safely for me was irresistible. In the early stages, his pose took on a Christ-on-the-cross-like image. With reflection, I realized that coming back to earth instead of dying worked equally well for Christ. Ironically, if one removes the cross from the sadistic crucifix imagery, what it left is an amazingly beautiful pose.
The process creating Icarus Landing was a combination of plein air painting of sea/landscapes in Rhodes, notably in Kalithea (where there is a Hellenistic rock quarry at the edge of the sea), and painting live from a model in my studio. There is an interesting real-life story that intersects with finishing the painting, the model, and his future wife.
At a Turkish coffee house in the medieval town of Rhodes, I met a studious woman pouring over her manuscript. Scholars have a special place in my heart, and I introduced myself. Suzana was translating a French literary work into Croatian. I invited her to see progress on Icarus Landing and to meet the model, Thanasis; he plays Bach on his cello for fun. I might have introduced them earlier, but what I remember is that she came to my house during our last session painting, and she got to see me paint the finishing touches to his extended toe and the completion of the painting. And, of course, she got to see him naked as well. It started a world class romance between them, which culminated with a beautiful son.
When we embark on anything the idea is a successful resolution, why would it be any different with art? Why would an artist want to make a wonderful artwork with a good composition, show a mastery of anatomy, good light effects, and keep correcting until everything works — just to have his subject fail miserably? This is something I never understood with pathetic outcomes in art. And why I choose a different path.
Michael Newberry is Artist-in-Residence at The Atlas Society. He has exhibited in New York, Los Angeles, Athens, and Rome. Follow him on Instagram at @artnewberry.