After finding a dead body …
I lived several years inside the moated Crusader Medieval Town of Rhodes, Greece. Population about 5,000 people. There are 7 gates through the fortifications. The walls are massive. I had pastel show of about 50 works inside the ancient ammunition’s vault in 1995. I went around the town drawing plein air medieval urban. There are tunnels that lead to dry moat, and you have to stoop to get through them. With my pastel set up I was coming out from one of the tunnels and felt a eerie feeling in the corner of my eye, turned and saw a guy presumably sleeping under the shade of a bush. I didn’t think much of it, it was siesta time.
I went and found this location to draw, a bridge with contemporary steel polls and wood planks supporting the 14th century stones. The legend is that this gate was called the Red Gate because of the blood of soldiers stained the stones red. Little did I know the red pastel would be prophetic.
Red paper is very intense, and in using it as a base for pastel, requires that I think of the saturated red as a dull dark shadow, not so easy as it vibrates on an insane level. Van Gogh writes that he tried “to harmonize brutal extremes.” Like fireworks going off in your brain. I found my process works very with unconventional colors, to squint and ask myself if the next area of color needs to be warmer or cooler based on the base color.
After drawing this very complex piece with it overlapping polls and bridge railings, I sprayed packed it up, and went following light and shadow for another location to draw. This time I was outside and above the dry moat, recalling from this different perspective was was where the sleeping guy was. To my horror he was still under the bush and hadn’t moved. I went to a cafe across the street to get them to call the police, at the same time thinking, WTF, am I doing reporting a dead body in a foreign country?! The police dismissed me as uninvolved tourist, and later I found out the young man died from a drug overdose. Poor guy.
Working with red can lead to dangerous depths.
Michael Newberry, Idyllwild, 10/28/2020