Icarus: How Visual Artists Such as Myself and Bryan Larsen Steal, Borrow, and Originate

Larsen, Triumph of Icarus Study, 2008

Myths, legends, and stories infiltrate our collective and individual consciousness, and the same holds true for the visual arts. The myth of Icarus, who flew too high then crashed and burned, was mentioned by Apollodorus around 150 BC and has since shown up countless times in visual art.

Icarus Landing, Phaethon, and Ayn Rand

An interesting twist in the legend comes with my 2000 version. The concept was inspired by Ayn Rand, who rewrote the myth of Phaethon in Atlas Shrugged. In the ancient myth, Apollo gives the reins of the sun chariot to his son Phaethon, who is unable to control the flying horses or escape his destiny. Phaethon and the chariot threaten to crash and annihilate Earth. Zeus, watching, kills Phaethon with a bolt of lightning, forcing Apollo to retake the reins and right the sun chariot’s course.

In Rand’s version, her character, Richard Halley, composes an opera in which Phaethon brilliantly succeeds to steer the sun chariot to a glorious course. I loved the concept of taking a tragic myth and changing the outcome to reflect my absolute inner belief that magnificent experiences are the stuff of living. The chariot thing was too archaic for my modern sensibility, but with some thought I landed on the concept of Icarus. After flying wildly high, I thought, Icarus would return to Earth with gentle gratitude, lit by the orange glow of the day’s setting sun. I opted for no wings, just the outstretched arms. Appropriately I painted this while I lived in Greece, and I won’t lie, I loved scaling the rock cliffs in the buff, jumping from rock to rock, as my friend philosopher David Kelley can attest to.

Newberry, Icarus Landing, 2000, acrylic on linen, 55x36"
Newberry, Icarus Landing, 2000, acrylic on linen, 55×36″
Continue reading “Icarus: How Visual Artists Such as Myself and Bryan Larsen Steal, Borrow, and Originate”

Icarus Landing: Incorporating and Transcending Two Major Traditions in Western Civilization

Newberry, Icarus Landing, acrylic on canvas, 55"x36”, studio collection
Newberry, Icarus Landing, acrylic on canvas, 55"x36”, studio collection
Newberry, Icarus Landing, acrylic on canvas, 55″x36”, studio collection.
A tricky aspect to painting big-themed works is that they run the risk of becoming a mental construction. I painted the figure of Icarus alla prima, live from a model, giving the mythical figure a living flesh and blood presence. I particularly like the line of highlights extending from his shoulders to the tips of his fingers. That line gives a sense of kinetic energy and the indescribable feeling of a breeze pushing back gently to slow his descent. Hands and feet are, figuratively speaking, the high notes that make or break a work’s expression. I love the spatial movement from back to front separating his feet, and how his big toe is reaching out preparing for contact with the earth. This is my tribute to Michelangelo’s God reaching out to give the spark of life to Adam. Icarus’ dialog, in contrast, is between himself and Earth, just as my art is between me and the universe.

Looking at Icarus, I had a passing thought that you did for the Icarus legend what Rand’s character Richard Halley did in making of the Phaethon legend a triumph. And afterwards I was reminded of Susan’s McCloskey lectures…in which she explained how Rand was aware of the epic figures and forms from the two major traditions in western civilization, the Greco-Roman and the Judeo-Christian, as exemplified in the characters of Odysseus and Jesus, and how with her characters in Atlas Shrugged Rand both incorporated and transcended those traditions. Your Icarus does that with the substance and symbolism of the Greek Icarus and the Christian crucifixion. Incredible.

Stephen Hicks, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy

Freedom and Gravitas

For many people, the sexy, entitled lifestyle of living on the luxurious mile-long stretch of Pacific coastline in La Jolla, California in the 1960s was the height of success. For me as a kid it was exhilarating to build up a salty sunburned sweat, leap into the air, and be able to execute a brutal backhand overhead smash on the tennis court. (Later I ended up playing pro tennis to pay for my art education in Holland). Afterwards, to cool off, I’d ditch my shoes and socks and run a few hundred feet from the tennis court and plunge underneath the perfect wave crests made famous by the Beach Boys, All Over La Jolla … Surfin’ USA! The feeling of freedom was omnipresent; no rules, no school if you didn’t feel like going; no homework; and no curfew. It was as if kids had a built in automatic path, their destiny awaiting them, meanwhile they could do anything. There was also stuff you couldn’t talk about … which was way too complex for a kid to cope with. And later shushed because it involved people still alive. I lived in a world of physical fun with an ominous feeling that not all was well when you scratched the surface.

Continue reading “Icarus Landing: Incorporating and Transcending Two Major Traditions in Western Civilization”