FROM PILLAR TO POST 3

EMPRESSES & ABSENT FRIENDS

Wednesday 9 November

Having just watched, on YouTube, the Chinese Old Folks’ Choir cover of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance, I got curious and watched her original video. All I can say is, Who cares about a crumbling old palace? I feel irrelevant, stuck in a hostile place waving goodbye to friends, angry and lost and gone. Well, what the hell else should I do but draw? There doesn’t seem to be anything else that I’m uniquely qualified to do, so I am doing it. By God. Here’s where we left off last time:

I want to be out drawing right now, but there’s a commercial job I promised someone so I’m here in the apartment in Cihangir, trying to work. It’s making me crazy, because Jeannie and Rhonda are still at their hotel today and maybe won’t be tomorrow, since they have very happily sold it. They’re leaving forever very soon, and I do not know if I’ll ever see them again. They’re remarkable women and I’m glad I got the chance to know them and I’m so happy they are off but OH I will miss—

—– Thursday 10 November

At this point I realized: You moron, you’re mooning about your friends being gone and they’re still here. So I called them, said To Hell With Everything, went over to the hotel and hung out all day, and am I glad I did. That was yesterday. The day before that, I drew. And drew. The sky was so blue it almost seemed like the day was warm.

Drawing Session: Tuesday 8 November 2011, 1-5 PM
Here’s a photo that floats around the Internet, taken of the Boukoleon around 1860. It would have to have been from a ship.

This balcony was above the Sea Gate. That’s the round shape at lower right. I’m going to post some fabulous CGI recreations of the Palace, from byzantium1200. Here’s a recreation of this same balcony:

 ©byzantium1200.com. Used by permission.

The lions are the ones in our Archeological Museum. Byzantium 1200 works with facts provided by Byzantine scholars, mostly in Germany, so when there’s no information on texture the building is shown as standard grey marble. It was much more. There’s a lot of this broken grey marble lying around, but equal parts of colored stuff too, and no Byzantine building was left plain, even in the Iconoclastic period. Here’s Mr Oner’s view of the Sea Gate.

 © byzantium1200.com. Used by permission.

It’s the little opening in the middle of the wall, below the balcony and a little to the right. Here’s the Sea Gate in 2008, with the railroad in the background.

The Sea Gate ©2008 by Trici Venola

Those big carved chunks on the grass in the foreground, that’s the long balcony that runs clear across the front of the building, high over the water. The rounded broken opening, taller than a tall man, is the top of the gate, leading to a trash-choked place of butchered fig trees and dumped furniture, up to the wall over the railroad. This in front, while behind you are the cars whooshing along the highway. Back in 2008 when I drew this, I was with my friend Leyla, who makes waiters walk into walls, and the trains gave earsplitting whistles as they roared and rattled around the bend. Back then, I was living in an apartment right behind the Portals, in an airspace that once was Palace. I used to sleep better, knowing that. In this photo of the Portals, through the Right Portal you can see the windows behind the second balcony down on the pink building. That was mine.

All those drawings I’ve posted of the backside of the Portals were done from that little balcony, and a lot of living as well. I stood there in a red sunset over the silver sea one New Year’s Eve, listening to new Robert Plant, crying because the music was as good as the view. Singing hot days of August, the sea like mercury studded with ships clear to the horizon. April when the bushes began to grow again, misted with tiny flowers, October when they rained down red over the arches. In the black night of a December storm I went out there on a nameless impulse, the wind ripping my hair around like a ragged cloak, and suddenly saw myself through my friend Faye’s eyes, clinging on the edge of this ancient city over the ruined palace, over the savage alien seas. Faye, guide to all the wonder of our dawning adulthood, cackling priestess cohort of a thousand magical meanderings, emotional soldier. Later I discovered that was when she slipped into a final coma, I swear I felt her go by. Friends, friends, life is nothing without friends. You friends reading this, how glad I am that we are all still here, still interested.

Here’s the Palace at present. There are the Portals at the left of the photo.  At the upper right, see the pillar sticking out of the wall? That’s the first one of our colonnade.  I’ve indicated with a little white circle where I’m working now.

Here’s the same view “before.” And again, we must thank Byzantium 1200 for this CGI glimpse of the vast scope of the palace rising out of the sea.

© byzantium1200.com. Used by permission.

There are the big square stones where Hulusi painted his name, halfway up the wall. There on the left is Donna’s Big Arch, soon to be blogged about. There’s my little white dot, a rough idea of the present work spot. Sitting there in the snappy breeze I felt quite at home. Here came Hasan the Ghost, lugging a huge bag of cans, giving a friendly wave. From the other direction Ahmet Affable Guy ambled by, “Ah, Madame!” It’s too cold for the Neckers, but one pair wandered by, holding hands and smiling. I’ve never seen their faces, but their hair was familiar. I’ve been sitting down there drawing since June. I’m part of the scenery. Here’s what we got on Tuesday. Sometimes it’s all I’ve got, and increasingly it’s enough.

Boukoleon Pillars 3 WIP ©2011 by Trici Venola

11 11 11, and at 11 11 AM I called Jeannie and Rhonda. They’re dealing with business details, happily counting the days until they can be gone. The numerologists tell us that this day is some kind of convergence of energies. It’s a fine day for a new start. I’ve been so sad about this for what seems like forever but is only about ten days. I love them and I am glad for them. I admire Jeannie’s lack of sentiment. She feels intensely, but she can let go of everything and look to the future. She lives all at once. Rhonda has a gentler aspect but is just as intrepid, in a steel-under-silk kind of way. They are practical, they can do anything. Me, I struggle daily to free myself from my own past. So I immerse myself in a greater past, the thousand-year-ago past, and draw the grizzled, truncated foundations of Western Civilization. It’s all there, all my genesis, imagery as powerful as anything on video and seen by as many people in its day. I can see Lady Gaga parading ephemeral through these halls in her gold brocade shoes and white leather crowns, calling through these windows, over the eternal sea. Past and present converge in my consciousness and give a great comfort. I am present in the world, I draw myself a place in it. There’s the Internet, and there’s Skype, and friendships that bend tend not to break.

FROM PILLAR TO POST 1

BREAKING GROUND, WITH GHOSTS  

Saturday 5 November 1-4:30 PM

Ghosts walk at noon, said the ancient Greeks, when the light sears all the colors to white: bleached and bleak, they are paler than pale. But in my present-day Istanbul, ghosts walk in the intense amber light of November. I feel them down in the marble bones of the old city, like scraps of shadow scuttering in the dark of my day. Because my friends are leaving I’ve felt like a ghost myself. Suddenly the lively present is becoming the happy past, and I stalk down the hill to the Boukoleon, the palace site as changed by winter as I am by the prospect of loneliness. Only one thing to do with all this maudlin self-pity and that is to draw.

It was those pillars got me off Facebook and out into the brisk blue day. As you face the Boukoleon site, your back to the sea, the pillars are high up on the wall to the right of the PortaIs, ending at the Lighthouse. They look to have been centered between brick arches, in a colonnade. The two arches I can see are so desiccated as to resemble old twisted combs, but the pillars are still smooth and white. These original Byzantine pillars and arches are partially covered by a stone outer skin, perhaps added to patch the wall after the palace was burned by Crusaders in 1204, perhaps added by Ottomans after 1453. This stone skin is quite old and weathered. I love this visual history lesson and want to preserve it.

I found a spot next to a broken place on the low brick wall and set up. This consists of setting out my water bottle and putting down the light cushion I schelp down there in a light sack. Carrying it is a much smaller pain in the ass than the one you get sitting on a brick wall for hours at a stretch. I did a quick-and-dirty rough to figure out how to position it on the page. I was tempted to use a slanted format like so many of the sketchbook drawings, but opted for straight-up-and-down to harmonize with the other two big Boukoleon drawings.  On first glance it seemed like I could fit both the top of that wooden house, upper left, and the top of the Boukoleon Window, lower right, into the drawing.  But after invoking the Cross– you remember the Cross, don’t you? –where we draw a mental straight line from one point on the subject to find where another point is– I realized that the perspective was closer to this:  I didn’t actually re-draw it, this second version of the rough is tweaked in Photoshop  to illustrate my mental picture. What I actually did this afternoon in the cold changed Boukoleon site was to put the rough down on the bricks in front of me and weight it with a couple of rocks so I could look at it. Then I pulled out a clean new sheet, doubly precious as it is now Bayram, the Muslim equivalent of Christmas, and every store is closed for the next several days. I have a very few sheets of this size on hand, so I hope this won’t be a false start. If I run out of paper I can’t continue this project now. If I can’t draw my mood will flood up and choke me. Worse, it’ll poison the time I have left with my friends. So I stared at the site, holding out the pencil in a straight line, seeing that indeed the perspective really is that slanted. Sigh. Something has got to go, and it’s the top of the wooden house, because I’ve got to get that little corner of window down in the lower right.
I did a very few passes with the pencil to this effect, pulled out a #8 Artline drafting pen, turned the point sideways and began to draw. Little light strokes, not taking it too seriously. Heigh-ho, nothing heavy here. Drew for about half an hour, and here’s what we got. It’s the pillar and arch on the far left.

Boukoleon Pillars 1 WIP ©2011 by Trici Venola

An old fellow in a big coat shuffled up. He comes by every day but my old work spot was off his beat. He’s shrunk into his coat, which is new and stiff, and he’s had a bad stroke. He really, really wanted to talk to me, but all that came out was a series of baas. To my horror I realized that he wanted to sit next to me and watch me draw. If the drawing is well started, that’s not a problem, but in the early stages I could cheerfully rip the head off my best friend. Please not now, working hard, come back later, I said in Turkish. I think I said this. He smiled at any rate, two stubs of teeth, and shook my hand. His hand was clean, his handshake firm. Somebody takes good care of him. At last he left, and not a minute too soon. I’m polite, but the Art Demon is a real bitch, and rude to boot. If I didn’t keep a hard lock on that door I’d spend my life in trouble, apologizing or feeling guilty. I encounter and read about surly artists all the time, usually young men. I wonder what that feels like, to give into that desire to scream at people who interrupt you in the creative process. I’m a lone woman in an alien patriarchal society not my own, and being rude is stupid. So the Art Demon Bitch can complain all it wants but we are polite and save our fire for the drawing.

I drew for a little while and the light was more and more intense. The sun was dead on my little bit of wall, clear amber, a searchlight blaring just above the horizon behind me, when the guy I’ve been calling the Ghost walked over to say hello. I asked him to sit for his picture, and here it is. His name is Hasan. Not an old guy at all. Weathered, but young. As I drew him I thought of Boo Radley in To Kill A Mockingbird, that sense of a watchful sad guardian. He guards the Boukoleon. The two cats are his. I hope he is warm enough to sleep.

Then in a second, the light was gone. I see I’m going to have to get out here a whole lot earlier these days. The minute I stopped drawing I felt awful. Dead and grey, trying not to think of those halcyon sessions with Gabrielle, that day Nazan walked with us down to Kumkapi, the sea gold under the dark silver cloud. That was a bare month ago. Now all the leaves are brown, I’m wearing a heavy leather jacket, it’s dark at five. I stomped over past the tour busses to the cafe. Everyone was inside. I sat there smoking nargile and feeling punk, but I finished the drawing of Hasan and called my friends, and later we had a fine dinner together and I felt normal and happy again. But after the cafe I walked along the highway, the sea and sky dark clotted grey, lights across the water, a high silver half-moon. Coming through the Stable Gate I saw the fellow who stands there saluting the cars. He too resembles a ghost, but he can’t be one because he’s aged since I drew him in 2008. Hiking up the hill toward Hagia Sophia I thought of how I love the marble bones of this place, how they comfort me. My fears and cares seem to melt into the fabric of history, like the ghosts, black transparent overlapping wings shifting and changing, ready to swirl up and blind me. But at the bottom is all that Byzantine Roman marble, smooth and cool and blessedly solid under my feet, all the way home.

Gold Cat ©2005 by Trici Venola

Drawing the Boukoleon Portals 7

Tuesday 27 September 2011 2:00-5:30

EMPRESS ZOE & THE CROSS

Here’s a picture Joy Harvey sent me of Empress Zoe (978-1050) waving from the Boukoleon. How do we know it’s the Boukoleon? Because of the ships. That’s the row of portals right there. Those triangles on top are sitting on the lintels, over the arches I’m drawing these days, forgetting to breathe, trying to get it right. In the old days, they didn’t even show.

This splendid CGI reconstruction of the Boukoleon at byzantium1200.com shows flat grey marble around pillar and lion details.

©byzantium1200.com. Used with permission.

The CGI artist is working with Byzantine scholars, and his reconstructions are masterful. If there was any data on the color and texture of the Boukoleon facade I’m sure he would include it. From my years of wandering the Palace ruin, I think the facade of the Boukoleon was highly decorated. The Byzantines never did anything that wasn’t ornamented to the nth degree.

This vivid recreation of a palace by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema is close to the mark. I thought I was new to his work, but guess again, like everyone else in Western Civilization I’ve grown up on his imagery in the movies. All that Cecil B. DeMille Bible stuff, Spartacus, Gladiator, Rome and everything else of antiquity– full of Sir Lawrence’s imagery. This painting, Spring, was done around 1900. Pure speculation, but…Check out that layout!– a row of high stately portals on the right, a small arch to the front over a doorway, right where there’s the ghost of one in the existing wall, and behind those pillars at the left, an enormous arch. Notice the pophyry and malachite– those pillars in the back are definitely green. A pillar lying in the weeds inside the ruin is malachite and the thickness reaches above my knees. I wonder if Sir Lawrence visited the Boukoleon after the railroad ran through it in 1873? Before the highway, when there was still some neoclassical marble clinging above the portals and the front was a lagoon…

Another of his paintings, Hero, done in 1898, is also evocative of the Boukoleon.   Nobody rendered the ancient world like Sir Lawrence, and I’m grateful, he helps me. Thanks to all these artists and my own observation, I have a vivid idea of what this place looked like, with translucent sheets of white marble, giant lions, saffron and speckled green and amber stone, pophyry and malachite and white marble fitted together with a lo-rez ziggurat cut, as we can still see in the arches over the doors of various mosques and in Topkapi Palace.

Things like this play through my mind while I’m drawing the precious, dessicated old dragon that the Boukoleon has become. They play through all right, and I don’t notice them go, because I’m mired in ghastly perspective problems like this one, today. That damn pencil got me into it, and I had to use it to get me out.

Actually it’s a lovely pencil, the one I borrowed from the bus driver. I never saw him again although I look for him every day. He’s going to have to fight me for this pencil. It’s become a talisman. It’s so long and sharp. It’s much longer than my drafting pens, so long that I can hold it up to line up various points on the drawing and find the perspective. Which DOES NOT match the spiffy pencil horizontal lines I drew last week when the world was young and I started this project.

Just for laughs, before I started inking it in from scratch, I checked the topmost right point of the Third Portal, using the Cross Method. I held the pencil up, level, and Mah Gawd, it was level with…the inner arch of the Far Left Portal? This CANNOT BE!! It’s much higher than that…isn’t it?

I checked the other side. Level with that Center Portal top inner right corner? Whaaa? ?????The black inner top right corner? Level with that point HALFWAY DOWN the Center…oh, this can’t be right…

Well thank God for that pencil. I drew and I drew, and I knew the proportions were all wrong, yet I checked them over and over again and…

THE CROSS NEVER LIES. See? The blue lines are my faulty perspective lines. The red lines are the Cross.

This is EXACTLY the correct size, position and perspective of the Third Portal. I’m still wrestling with the bottom. It seems too steeply slanted, so I left it for tomorrow when I am not tired. Because  I felt like I’d climbed all Seven Hills. I had pack up and hike down to the tea garden, drink some water, shake my hand and my head around. I came back, unpacked, measured, measured, measured some more, took a big deep breath, and laid it in with the pen. After carving that thing out in pencil against all my drawing instincts, it felt like coloring in a book. I made a mental note: When the drawing is nearly done, blacken all the shadows to where they are at around 5 PM.

The drawing was right. The world was beautiful. I noticed that it had gotten really windy, almost cold. Hurrying down along the CIty Walls, I had to hold my hat on. Across the highway, the water was deep teal with ripped whitecaps and seagulls rioting all over the surface. Through the Stable Gate, up the hill and down, stopped at the Spice Bazaar on the way home for olives and cheese and cashews. Oh how I dreaded climbing the hill to my apartment, so I decided that that was going to happen to someone else: the person I was at that moment got to look at the minarets of the Yeni Mosque. The tram was jammed, but I did indeed turn into someone else, someone who didn’t care that much about a little old hill, for coming across the Galata Bridge, the light turned to that fairy color between pink and blue, the sea whitening under the fading sky.