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.
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.
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
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.
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—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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.