MIDNIGHT AT THE APOLLO: Drawing in Side 2000

Yeah, just run right out before sunset and render the Temple of Apollo, sure.  I didn’t even get halfway down the four remaining high sere columns when someone right off of ancient Greek vase stepped into view just begging for a portrait.  He’s woven into the drawing, so innocent and beautiful.

Temple of Apollo ©2000 Trici Venola

I’m pained by my limitations. These people are too splendid to draw, but that’s an old trap.  I try anyway; the attempt– if I’m lucky– is art. I’ve been drawing for the last two hours as the pinky golden light eased down the ancient stonework and the sea glowed blue behind it.

Like A Gift ©2000 Trici Venola.

And what do I find when the light finally goes and I close the book and wander? Down toward the base of the hulking dark Byzantine ruin across the way, a tiny sign with a stick-figure martini glass, piping in pink neon, “Apollo Dance Bar.” When I stopped laughing I went over there and, just next to it, found this swell café complete with jazz and Internet.  So, direct from the Apollo…

–Side, Southern Turkey, June 2000

Roman Theater Side ©2000 Trici Venola.

When I sent the email above, I had just sold my home in LA and ended my old life. This post is from a parallel summer 12 years ago, a look at some of the art created during breakneck decisions and change. I’m still living with those decisions. How many people get to jump off the bridge and live? I drew all the way down.

Tide Pool ©2000 Trici Venola.

At that time I was so burned out on computers I couldn’t face working on another one, and blogging was still in everyone’s future. But there was email, and I had my sketchbooks.

Side City Gate ©2000 Trici Venola.

Side—pronounced SEEday– legendary trysting place of Cleopatra and Mark Anthony, is on the Southern Coast of Turkey. In 2000 it was a feral little town on the site of some of the most spectacular ruins in Anatolia, and seemed dedicated to the principle of relieving as many Germans of as much money as possible.

Night Talk ©2000 Trici Venola.

Little Hustlers ©2000 Trici Venola

Prices were figured in marks.  Everybody spoke German. Kurdish mafiosos rubbed shoulders – literally, since the streets were very narrow— with Turkey’s most notorious gigolos.  It wasn’t uncommon to see European women in their sixties snuggling teenage Turkish boys.  These skinny little hustlers were everywhere. Past eight o’clock in the evening, you couldn’t drive a car through the gates of the town. The streets were thronged with people in shorts and halters and the kind of diaphanous getups women from cold countries buy to wear in warm ones.

The nights were heavy and wet with the sea. The oldest part of town is on a point of land jutting out into the big bay. At the tip of the point, spearing up from the tumbled broken blocks, gleam five soaring columns of the Temple of Apollo. In 2000, at the water’s edge was a disco, still a landmark, whose many-fingered lasers swept the sky over the black sea every night.

Lighthouse Disco ©2000 Trici Venola.

The land lets itself down gently into the Mediterranean, and the sea is warm. The beach extends far out into the bay, just a couple of feet below the lapping little waves. The sand is brown. The water is clear. About sixteen centuries ago, Byzantines built sea-walls around the town which are still there, pitted and ancient. There is sandy beach in some places, covered in summer with Germans browning in the blaze, and in the early part of the day the sky and water are blue. But in Summer 2000 I was with Kazim, who slept all day.

My Heart ©2000 Trici Venola.

 So in the Side I remember it is always afternoon, the immense sky and vast undulating sheet of sea pearlescent, luminous; like oysters and opals; honey specked with the black dots of swimmers, fading slowly down into the sultry indigo evenings spangled with stars, with the deep reds of the roses Kazim gave me and my Spanish fan.

Seaside ©2000 Trici Venola.

Byzantine Moon ©2000 Trici Venola.

My paints were still in the suitcase, since I still didn’t live anywhere. I drew constantly, even in the dark, scrubbing it down so I could see it, cleaning it up later. I was trying not to get eaten alive by the rapacious tortured fascinating muse.The drawing had taken a quantum leap. “I’m chucking it all to paint exotic peoples in a vivid alien land,” I told appalled friends back in LA before I left, “I’m turning into Paul freaking Gauguin.” I drew mostly portraits until the day when I came back to the Temple of Apollo which I had seen before only at groggy dawn. A five-column section of it had been resurrected several years before: reassembled and stood back up at great expense by private funding raised, I was told, by an American woman. The rest of the temple and two others were lying on the ground in a monumental pile of broken stonework. On either side of the Temple Ruin area were restaurants and nightclubs. A steady stream of people walked along the path through the ruin; laughter and fragments of conversations in many languages floated among the jagged hulks of old marble.  Between the town and the Temple on its spit of land out over the tide pools, the massive Byzantine wall stood somber against the deepening sky, with the tiny pink neon sign like a postscript.  I drew until I couldn’t see anymore.

Apollo Dance Bar ©2000 Trici Venola.

That night I looked at some snapshots taken three weeks and a thousand years before on the last day of my old life in LA. It was me, all right, a smiling stranger in a tropical garden. What a beautiful garden I’d had!  And what a nice woman I’d been! Nobody would know from looking at her that she was stepping off this cliff.

Steamy Hot In the Apollo ©2000 Trici Venola.

I shelved the rising tide of horror at what I’d done and walked out into the night. Side was in a blackout. Here and there were lit islands in the ocean of black, each with its snarling generator; the Lighthouse Disco’s lasers still raked the stars. I walked along the strand, past Kazim’s three old restaurants, all the way to the end toward the Temple. With the blackout it was like walking into a wall of dark. Some Turkish guys passed me. As I hesitated they said, “If you want to walk here no problem,” so I moved forward. I groped in my bag and found a baby keyring flashlight. It made a weak circle of light on the dirt as I walked into the black. As my eyes grew accustomed to the dark I saw first a silence in the glorious starry sky, then huge and pale in the deep sparkling dark, the five soaring columns rising from the edge of the sea.  All around me rose the pallid slanting shapes of fallen columns and blocks sunk in the weeds, some over my head and some just above the surface of the dirt. I sat down on one and stared up at the Temple. The lasers from the disco swept across the sky behind the ruin, right across the stars, and I knew why I had given up everything and why it was worth it.

Worth It ©2000 Trici Venola.

Twelve years ago. When life hands me a big indigestible thing that makes no sense, I make art out of it, and thank God I can. It took everything I had to come over here and draw all this, and it takes everything I’ve got to keep doing it. So I have to make something out of it that’s worth the price. Don’t we all?

Windy Night ©2000 Trici Venola.

All drawings Plein Air. All drawings from the Drawing On Istanbul™ Series: Book 6: Rough Passage, Book 7: Ashes of Roses, Book 8: Woman Wailing. Sketchbook art, maximum size 18 cm X 52 cm/7″ X 20″, drafting pens on rag paper. If you are interested in a particular drawing, leave a comment. Leave a comment even if you aren’t. We love hearing from you.


Drawing the Boukoleon Portals 3

Wednesday 21 September 2011 • 4-6


During three days of coughing and sneezing, I started to upload stuff for a blog. I don’t know what I’m doing and there’s a mass of stuff to do before anyone can make sense of it. God, blogging. The writing is the easy part, it’s all the uploading and what size and dayamn, I was never going to get into computers again when I moved here in 2000, I’ve been dealing with them since 1984, so damned difficult to surmount all the mechanized obstacles and still come up with something that resembles good art, good writing. But it will out, it will out. I’m really excited and thank you Gabrielle for helping me get started!

Back to the Boukoleon. All this art here is at the left side of 35 X 70 cm (about 17 by 35 inches) horizontal heavy rag paper. Back on Friday, I posted about a misfire of the Boukoleon Portals. We’re looking at the portal on your far left as you face them.  I made the mistake of penning in the posts and lintel first. The arch squeezed, don’t ask me why, it’s pointed and it shouldn’t be. I forgot to draw from the center and leave myself room to grow a bit. So that drawing is trashed.

I started all over again. So many people have asked me how long it takes, and how I start, etc. that I’ve decided to scan as much as possible with each day of drawing. (Note 1 November 2011: When I figured out what I was doing on this blog, I went back and inserted the scans into the earlier posts, including this one. I put the comment into boldface because it’s actually when I realized what we could do by showing daily progress. This may be an old idea on the Internet, but it was new to me.) Here’s what I did last time in three hours. 

This time I started with the left post and then immediately went to the inner arches, finishing the right post only at the end and then lightly. We learned our lesson, we’re going to the right only.

Today was clouded and sultry, storm weather. But it didn’t storm. I had lots to do after being housebound for three days and didn’t get down to the Boukoleon until four. What a surprise, no trash around the Big Arch! Maybe the Belidiye read Facebook. Still pretty foul inside the fence in front of the Portals, but oh, what a difference. Now in the time I was housebound, I got into Blog Mode…thinking about it, planning…so I really. didn’t. think. I’d get anything done, but sat down anyway and opened up the drawing, which I keep clipped on a double-thickness mortarboard, also 35 X 70 cm, wrapped in brown waxed butcher paper. Tried not to think about switching gears and how I hate it, tried not to think at all. And went into the paper. With the pen, dotted in some perspective lines; pencil is okay but it smears and soon, you’re doing inking over pencils instead of pen-and-ink Plein Air. So I reserve pencil for the very minimum and only on these big ones. Walking on eggs, delicately added some surface bricks to the top and left. I was walking on eggs because there’s so much detail that it’s easy to make the entire drawing so busy it flattens out and kills all the drama. So there’s some severe editing that has to happen, in addition to reducing millions of colors to two, and millions of edges to lines.  Another couple of teenagers watched, also a young Turkish guy. The guy who sits in the far corner is still there drinking beer. I don’t think he’s moved all week. Maybe he’s a ghost. The light went at six. A short, sweet session. Here’s what we got today: all the brick down the right side of the Portal.

Packed up, walked along the City Walls down to the Stable Gate. The sea was slate-blue and scuttering foam. Warm delicious wind, the whole darkening day gathering in anticipation of rain. Walked up the hill next to the Topkapi Palace Wall, watching the buttressed backside of Ayasofya spread out at the top like a trumpet blast. Past the ornate Ottoman fountain with its swooping canopy, past the guards at the Topkapi Palace gate, along narrow Sogukcesme Street between tall wood and stone walls, over the hill and down, past the cheap shops and nargile places tacked onto the wall, played with a filthy black and white kitten, wished I could take it home, ran across the tramline and just as I got where I needed to go, oh rain!