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″
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Lighting the Darkness: Jon Wos

Jon Wos, "Lighting The Darkness" Oil on Canvas 50.5" x 46"

Jon Wos, congratulations on the portrait. The pose is thoughtful, the proportions elegant, and you make great use of “Bouguereau” silver lining lighting. I like the texture and lighting of the dress, particularly the brilliant curve of light at the hemline that merges imperceptibly into shadow. And congratulations on being a romantic, though it can be tough because romanticism can trigger bullies, especially ones who can’t do better. I think my favorite painting of yours is the self-portrait with the lamp. I love it. The lighting, colors, forms, and the mysterious story are exceptionally well-integrated. The little dog sheltered underneath the wheelchair is very touching. The lamp lighting the scene is masterful; I prefer yours to some of the famous De La Tour paintings. I can’t put my finger on the mystery of what you (in the painting) are looking for, but the optimism of the colors, the brilliant clean light, and the frank expression makes me think that you have already found it. Perhaps it was something in you all along?

You can check out Jon’s work and poignant story here.

Jon Wos, "Lighting The Darkness" Oil on Canvas 50.5" x 46"
Jon Wos, “Lighting The Darkness” Oil on Canvas 50.5″ x 46″