Drawing the Boukoleon Portals 10 & 11

Sunday 2 October 1:00-4:30

INVOKING THE CROSS

Yesterday I put in the big lump of roundy brickwork at the top of the far right arch. It was not at all where it seemed it should be. I invoked the Cross: the method of lining up what I ‘m trying to draw with something I’ve already drawn. I do this by holding the pencil out in front of me, so that it makes a line across what I’m looking at and… NOOOO!! Couldn’t be that low… you can’t see it here, but that pencil is all over the drawing. That pencil  I was only using in emergencies…well, this was an emergency. A perspective perception emergency. Everything in me told me that big brick lump was WAY HIGHER than it actually is. Wrestled with this awhile when Gabrielle showed up. She’d come the day before, when I was home working, and her ink-wash drawing is now wonderful, dark and solid and mysterious. She decided to leave it alone, and about that time the affable guy, the one who works up at the gas station, turned up. His name is Ahmet.  I asked him if I could draw his picture. He was bewildered, actually pointed at his chest and looked around as though he stood in a crowd and I had beckoned. Then he stood rock-solid, without a trace of self-consciousness, for ten minutes until I said he could move. Here he is. For portraits I do a tight but light drawing as fast as possible, using my own code to indicate what’s black, plaid, etc. as people need to move. Then I darken and finish it up later. I meant to scan the preliminary since many people are curious about how to draw a portrait. But I forgot and finished, so I’ll have to show that another time. Afterwards he kissed my right hand and put a small handwoven multicolored bracelet on it. He told Gabrielle he would give her a necklace. Youth!

After a plan to meet later and play How To Blog, Gabrielle left to go do stuff on the apartment she’s fixing up. A friend from the first day. What a bright, talented beautiful girl with her whole life ahead, and a solid resume besides. I remembered where I’d been at that age, barely on my own radar, hadn’t even gone back to school yet.  I worked for awhile longer but my head, that old enemy, had started up like a rusty old engine. I started worrying about getting my work out while I’m still alive. If I live as long as I’ve been living, I’ll be 122. Hm. How hard I work, moan whine, and look at how little I make. Piss, grind. When my head really gets going I completely forget things like choosing to do what I love, choosing to do without other things to make it possible, having friends who act like angels…Then I noticed the slant on the bricks had gone all wrong and I quit while I could still fix it.

 Monday 3 October 1-3:00

DISTRACTIONS

Today was a short one.  I showed up at one fully prepared to draw my ass off for five hours. Ha.

Took the route down from Hagia Sophia along the Topkapi Palace/Gulhane Park wall and out the Ahirkapi, the Stable Gate, to the highway. Another beautiful day! So beautiful that when I walked through our tea garden in the wall and saw Osman sitting there smoking nargile (waterpipe, apple tobacco), I asked him for a hit. Staring out at the water and smoking was just what I wanted, and I got up to leave…and then I found myself going back to draw him and the cafe…just a few lines…

Forty-five minutes later, I got to the Boukoleon and started to draw. As always, the first look is clearer than any other. I tackled the Cross Hell Mess from yesterday and got some licks in.  Straight across, yes, it really IS that low on the page. Should I use the pencil again? I’m tired of all this backing and filling, I just threw the ink on.Looks like a pine cone, not like bricks. I drew what I saw and not what I thought I saw, and yes, it looks exactly like a pine cone. Why?  First the marble sheathing was removed or fell off. Then the wall began to erode. The mortar went first, from the surface backward, leaving the edges of brick exposed. Then the brick itself began to erode. So now there are these edges, curved from rain and wind patterns, sticking out like wafers, tongues of flame…a pine cone.

Just then, a mere hour and a half into the session, a group of truculent teenagers came striding up, through the gate in the Belidiye’s fence, and over to the little tree and the site of the bum tent. They carried pillows and rugs, and set about shouting and shoving each other and hanging the rugs to make a tent.  Five skinny guys and a lumpy big girl with a mean face, a dog on a leash. I wondered if they were going to draw lots. These kids looked angry. They punched and screamed at each other, particularly at one kid. He stormed out the gate and over past me, then came up too fast and close and demanded… a potato chip. He got it. Thanked me in English, too. Well, the dog looked clean, actually I think it was the same dog as the second day, when kids were emerging from the tent straightening their clothes, and the police stopped by and said I should be careful. So this time too I kept drawing.

A woman with winesores came up with her companion. She wanted me to know she’s Romanian and her mother was an artist. She kept petting me all over, wanting to be friends. She looked like she had been pretty, in an elfin kind of way. She looked like she lived under a bridge somewhere.  I didn’t wince away, she was harmless and I didn’t want to hurt her. But I was glad when they wandered away.

I started delineating the actual end of the wall, a time I’d looked forward to…but now I was just slamming it down there as fast as I could. Never know how long I’ve got with these things– can’t come tomorrow… drawing a little tree growing out of the wall up top, the dark of the wooden house behind it. I fixed the slant on the bricks. No white pen this time, just a lot of shading.

The group by the tent got louder and uglier. Years ago in my experimental youth I hitchhiked all over Greater Los Angeles, developed some street sense, and lived to tell the tale. Maybe these kids were just kids, but I didn’t know what substances they were ingesting, so I got out of there.

Back to the tea garden and drew some more, smoked some more. Osman told me he and Asim are buddies from ‘way back, started this place together. He did this by crossing his two fingers and shaking them emphatically.  I drew the boats across the highway, up in dry dock. I drew some trees and the water. What I didn’t draw was the traffic. Cars bumper to bumper, slowly moving, so I had to draw real fast and then wait.

Went home, carrying far too much since I stopped and bought cans of cat food. Walked up the Istiklal, the huge walk street down the top ridge of Beyoglu across the Golden Horn, on my way home. Saw a demonstration, women in photos with hangman’s nooses, etc, a petition for women who were under sentencing for murdering their battering husbands. I said I’d sign it, although I didn’t know if it would do any good since I don’t vote in Turkey, I’m just a resident. not a citizen. A woman passing by said, “You don’t vote? Where are you from?” When I told her she said, “Ha, you should go home and vote against Barack Obama.” A brisk exchange, and  I sorta lost it. They were all laughing. So I said, OK, fine, insult my President and my country, to hell with it. And walked off. Why can’t I ever remember to say that if one is going to trash America, then one should trash those Nikes and jeans. And toss that iPhone too. Go home and sever the landline, and while you’re at it, rip out the electrical box and toss that. And the refrigerator-it seems to me that this, too, is an evil American invention. No more Facebook either! Finally if one owns a car, get rid of it and never ride in one again. Most especially, no more American dollars, which I notice are quite high here right now. But I didn’t think of any of those things in time to say them, and they wouldn’t’ve cared. It’s fun to hate America. It makes the world kin. And here I am being political in an Art Blog. What do I know? There’s nothing I can do about any of this, not the battered murderer wives, not the trashed ruins, not my spent youth, not my hated motherland. One thing we don’t have in America is the Boukoleon, or anything remotely like it. All I can do is draw it, draw it all, make art out of it, make sense out of it, make sense out of something.

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Drawing the Boukoleon Portals 3

Wednesday 21 September 2011 • 4-6

BEFORE THE RAIN

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!

Drawing the Boukoleon Portals 1

 Friday 16 September 2011 *  3:00-4:30

INTERLOPERS

Showed up at the Boukoleon today where I was greeted by barking dogs. Awful, trash everywhere, weeds, and a new bum lean-to at the wall under the high Byzantine portals I’m drawing, rowdy guys in there. Police showed up, said Be Careful but don’t seem to care about the tent or the trash, nobody seems to care about this palace but me, drawing like a fool. A dramatic frenzy of brick shards radiating around the arches, marble posts and lintels bowed with age, muscular blackened spines of brick arcing up behind the portals. Then a shock, tourists actually walking around up in there. Had to be tourists, nobody else wears those bright machine-embroidered satin pillbox hats. One girl stood right on the threshold of the Center Arch. Right where I’d dreamed of standing. She probably never even heard of the Palace before today.
How dare they? Spent years! Staring at that arcade of arches and could never get in, days and nights imagining what it looked like from there.

Here’s my litte rescued cat Callista in the old apartment with the Boukoleon in the background.

Here’s winter and summer, hours spent staring out my windows at that arcade of arches, wondering.

And here are pages from an entire childrens’ book I set there back in 2005, months visually speculating what the Palace would have looked like if things had been a little different and people had fixed it up, lived in it in, say, the 1920s–  A place, a Palace, so

ingrained in my consciousness for so many years– how DARE they? I wanted to rip them right out of there. Of course, feelings like this are best not acted on. What I did instead was to

From "The Princess And The Pea" ©2005 by Kieran McGovern (words) and Trici Venola (art)

pack up all my paraphernalia, hoof it up the hill and around to the property adjacent to the Palace which has always been blocked

esolebooks.com/easyreads/princessandthepea.html

off by the owner of the house there. It’s open now, but I had to walk over a broken gate and someone’s garden. It’s forbidden to block off these places, but they didn’t exactly put up a sign either. But finally there I stood at last, high in the center portal looking out towards the sea, just where I’d drawn and dreamed so many times. The marble on those portals is ten inches thick, the mortar still holding over a thousand years. Back in 2008 around this time of year I sat on the table-sized balcony of my old apartment, hanging over the railroad, and drew this. It’s sheer bliss to know I’ve stood there at last. The view is the same, only closer, with the huge marble presence looming all around. A flat pounded dirt floor, sprung filthy couch, big pile of construction materials. I’d rather see it like this than turned into kitsch with “restoration.” Nobody can build like the Byzantines; ruins should be fortified, yes, but left as ruins. I want to know that what I am looking at is what was placed by fingers like mine. Built by hands now dust, like the place where there once were marble floors.

Boukoleon Twilight ©2008 by Trici Venola

Drawing the Boukoleon Portals 0

 Tuesday 13 September 2011 * 1:00-6:00

ULYSSES

Working down at the Boukoleon Palace again, this time drawing those three great portals looking out to the Marmara Sea. For three years I lived on the railroad behind them.  I stared at the backs of those portals, through the arcade of arches, in snowy mornings, sunny afternoons, evenings with the occasional festive jeweled cruise ship gliding between a space in the buildings, seemingly a fairy ship in the sky. Nights with a city of ships out there waiting to go up the Bosporus. Once there was a storm, waves so big they flooded the parkway; we could see them crash from my bedroom window. When I moved into the place, it was snowing and I did this one from a pile of cushions on the bed:

So now I’m drawing the portals from the front. From previous drawings I know every bum in the park and all the bus drivers. The biggest problem is that it’s too darn big for the page…there’s enough there for five drawings, pillars and portals and dessicated brick arches and waterstained old stone turning to yellow sand, studded with sprays of grass…what to choose, oh agony…

Clearly I won’t have room for the huge stones at the bottom, just above the grass. They would have been high over the water. This wasn’t grass until 1963 or so, when they filled in the harbor and built the highway. Someone painted his name, Hulusi, with “1945” and a picture of a cowboy hat. Someone standing on a tiny beach? Somebody who used to dive off the ruins, as I’ve been told they did, into the lagoon formed by the right angle of the big arch? Was it painted just after World War II, or was it painted by someone born in 1945? Hulusi is the Turkish form of Ulysses. Ulysses is a form of Odysseus, as in Odyssey, as in The Iliad and the Odyssey, which like most everything else in history took place in Turkey. You think the Trojan War was about Helen? That was a plot device by Homer. The Trojan War was about control over the Straits of the Dardanelles, because to control them is to control access to Asia from the West. Not far from the site of Ancient Troy is Gallipoli, where so many young men died in 1915. Australian, French, British and Turkish, Turkish, Turkish bones lie intermingled all over the ridges under the scrub, punctuated by grim cemeteries with rows of identical tombstones in English: “A strong, clean life, too quickly ended.” “A mother weeps to think of this foreign grave.” As if the parents were contacted and sent their epigraphs to be carved by the Turks. Their commander said “I am not asking you to fight, I am ordering you to die.” And die they did, but they won. They were fighting for their freedom. The Western powers planned to carve up Turkey after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, but they were foiled by the Turks. Their commander was Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Founder of the Turkish Republic, so great that Winston Churchill, who lost at Gallipoli, said “A general like Kemal Ataturk comes along once in a thousand years, and it was my rotten luck to be up against him.” Mustafa Kemal insisted that the foreign bones be interred and monuments built. The Turks said, “Where are our graves? Where are our monuments?” Ataturk said, “Look about you”– all the brushy ridges intersperced with the gleam of water, under a great sweep of sky– “This country is your monument.” What moves me to tears is the monument built to honor the foreign graves. Most of them were Anzacs: Australian soldiers whose descendants still pour into Turkey by the thousands every September on Anzac Day. Ataturk said:
“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives…
You are now living in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours…
You, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace, after having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”

My client, Donna Perkins of Back of Beyond, Alberta, Canada, is the same person who commissioned my drawing of the Big Arch. We’ll get that blog up as well, stay tuned. I finished the Arch and she said, Don’t Send it, I’m Coming, I Just Don’t Know When. Donna’s been here many times; our mutual friends Jeannie and Rhonda used to bring bellydance groups from Canada all the time, women getting in touch with their Inner Belly, having a ball in Istanbul, and she was up at Kybele Hotel, long blonde hair, big blue eyes, much enthusiasm. When Jeannie and Rhonda opened Modern Sultan Hotel, Donna and her husband Guy came and stayed in it, and I took them around. We stood right there, at the Big Arch and under the Portals and next to the Lighthouse, and took pictures. Every now and then, Donna calls me to hear about the Old City. Last June I was all excited because another friend had commissioned a big drawing of Hagia Sophia. “You mean I can pay you to draw something?” said Donna.

!!!

But the best part is that she said, “What would you draw?” And that is how this particular project came to be. I was drawing and sending bulletins to Donna to let her know the progress, sharing them with others, and it grew into this. Since I am not scrounging around elsewhere to make ends meet, I can treat this like a job, with regular hours. What hours? A fine question to ask the obsessed: All of them!