A DATE WITH AN ANGEL: Worlds Collide in Hagia Sophia

A Date With An Angel ©2012 Trici Venola

IT’S ALL ALIVE The date of this angel is probably slightly after 1261. That’s when the re-enfranchised Eastern Christians of Constantinople dug up Henri Dandolo and threw him out the window of Hagia Sophia, officially ending the sixty-year Roman Catholic aftermath of the Fourth Crusade. You remember Dandolo, don’t you, from two posts back? The old blind Doge of Venice who told the Fourth Crusade to sack Constantinople? And he was buried in Hagia Sophia, center of Eastern Christianity and its foremost temple, which he turned into a cathedral after trashing its entire congregation and their city? That guy. Out the window, his bones gnawed by the dogs. How I love the history here.

Ayasofya Angel photo

This Angel is actually a Seraph, a sexless bodiless representation of Divine Thought. Its re-emergence in 2009, thanks to the Turkish government, colors the whole eastern side of the basilica. It’s the only whole survivor of four, mosaiced into the four pendentives below the dome. A pendentive is that triangular space  that allows a dome to join with the square space beneath it. Why not fill the space with angels? Made sense to the Byzantines. Makes sense to me, but then I’ve been living here awhile.

A Date With An Angel Progression ©2012 Trici Venola

ALL HISTORY MUST INCLUDE A CAT So: fifteen hours drawing this angel from this exact spot: a complete sweep of history. We have the 6th-Century windows around the dome, the post-Latin mosaic Angel, some of Sultan Abdulmecid’s 1841 paint, the Byzantine balustrade, an Ottoman chandelier, and a medallion with Abdulmecid’s tribute in Arabic to family and Allah. All of this in one shot required sitting on a campstool precisely lined up against certain scars on the marble floor, because I have to get up now and then, moving the stool, and the perspective hangs on a hair. Lots of concentration here! As always I muse, while drawing, on the passionate concentration of the original mosaic artists, keeping the grand gesture in such a slow tedious medium. That face up there is over three feet wide.

To break things up a little, I wandered around drawing those graffiti crosses, probably put here by Fourth Crusaders. We talked a lot about them in HOT CROSSES: Drawing Crusader Graffiti in Hagia Sophia. I was down on the floor in front of the nave drawing this one hacked into the floor when another sort of angel came over to watch, followed by his parents.

Emirhan on His Sunnet Day ©2012 Trici Venola

COMING OF AGE If there is an icon of boyhood in Turkey, this is it. Emirhan here is attired for his Sunnet, his circumcision, followed by a  party to celebrate his manhood. Every Turkish boy goes through this ceremony, and it bonds them for life. It may or may not take place with an anesthetic, but it will take place. Before the great event the little boy parades around town in as grand a fashion as his parents can afford, often in this costume of a miniature Sultan. Normally I don’t take requests, but when his father asked I just couldn’t resist.

Obama Kitty & Friends ©2012 Trici Venola

Here is one of Hagia Sophia’s stellar guards with Obama Gule Kitty, who our President petted on National TV while visiting Hagia Sophia back in 2008. Hagia Sophia is popular with American Presidents: here it is in 1999 with the Clintons inside.

Ayasofya wClintons 72

Ayasofya with the Clintons Inside © 1999 Trici Venola

Obama Kitty In SituObama Gule lives in Hagia Sophia and like all girl cats has always behaved as a queen, but since her media appearance with the President she is even more fat and smug.

WHIRLIGIGS UNDER HEAVEN

And check out that inlay work above the pillars around the upper alcoves! I always loved whirligigs and so did the Emperor Justinian. St Catherine was one of his patron saints, and we find Catherine Wheels everywhere in Hagia Sophia. Is it mother-of-pearl? With some dark wood or tortoise-shell or black stone, porphyry in the circles…

Justinian and his Empress, Theodora, began building on Hagia Sophia in 532, to replace the previous temple which had been burned in the Nika Rebellion. To create what they hoped would be a glory for heaven, they commissioned Isador of Miletus, a physicist, and Anthemius of Tralles, an architect and mathematician. Justinian and Theodora’s love was legendary. Like Hagia Sophia, it has outshone all the contemporary criticism, all their probable and all too human flaws. For fifteen hundred years, now, it has stood, a miracle of sensual symmetry, of space and light and beauty. It’s what happens when  great physics, architecture and mathematics combine with total faith and great love.

DSC01142 copy

So, whatever this whirligig façade is made of, it was made in the 6th Century. It’s recently been cleaned, and what a revelation. It used to look like shallow gray bas-relief. Here’s a drawing from 2004, see? I couldn’t make out the design and had to make do with curlicues.

Balustrade Cross Graffiti 72 ©2004 Trici Venola

The roughened surface of this marble is fifteen centuries of people carving their names. Over time the names fade down into the marble, leaving a scratched, pitted texture I love.

DSC01143 copyPEELING TROMPE L’OEIL The far right arch in these photos is trompe l’oeil from the Fossati Brothers, Swiss architects hired in 1841 by Abdulmecid to do a restoration. That’s their yellow paint job peeling off the upper walls, trying to match the original gold mosaic below. The Fossati Brothers found the Angel face plastered over. They carefully documented it, drew it, and according to Islam’s proscription on faces, covered it up with a medallion like the ones still on the other three. Our angel is on the northeastern pendentive. The ones to the west are trompe l’oeil to match the mosaic ones to the east. The southeastern medallion may have a face under it. I sure wish I knew.

Guards at Ayasofya ©2012 Trici Venola

Here are more faces from Hagia Sophia’s wonderful security staff. I drew each one at different times and separated them for gift prints. If you are going to spend any time drawing monuments, be nice to the guards.

RELENTLESS BEAUTY

St Irene in Pala d’Oro Altarpiece, St Mark’s, Venice

That there are faces at all on the walls of Hagia Sophia is due largely to Empress Irene of Athens, who ruled Byzantium at the turn of the eighth century to the ninth. Notice her shield and cross: she was a kind of warrior.

ICONS: PORTALS TO POWER  Irene’s Emperor Leo from Armenia, the first Iconoclast, is said to have been influenced by Islam in his abhorrence of icons. We all know icons as those little gizmos that pop up on your desktop, letting you know where to click to access all manner of things.

Mac Icons

Their origin, like so much else, is pretty much Byzantine. What the Byzantines were accessing was faith. Here are some religious icons.

Religious Icons

A modern program icon designer works with much the same limitations as the original religious painters. In a small space with limited colors you must create an instantly recognizable image that conveys a sense of where you want the viewer to go.  We icon designers want you to know you’ll be  transported to Desktop or Skype or Adobe Photoshop. The Byzantines wanted you to be transported into Faith. Faith that the saint represented by the icon would intervene with the Power of the Universe to help you. Come to think of it, they’re not so different.

Battle Over Icons, Medieval painting

Icons are a touchy subject. In Communist Russia you could get into a lot of trouble for possessing them. Many were said to perform miracles, survive all manner of cataclysm. In our time icon has come to mean a powerful representational figure, or face, like Hitler meaning Fascism, or Steve Jobs representing idealistic progress. The Byzantines prayed to pictures of the saints, lit candles to them, went on their knees before them, fought wars under and for them. The power was in the faith, but Emperor Leo believed that people worshipped the pictures themselves, so he destroyed them. All of them. Every icon, large and small, and then every pictorial mosaic, fresco and bas-relief went. Hagia Sophia is full of empty frames, carved marble around a vacant space, and lone, austere crosses. The original gold mosaic ceiling, with its geometric designs, was allowed to remain. After the Iconoclasts– the breakers of images– had done with the pictures, they started in on the artists. Leo is not my favorite emperor, but at least there aren’t a lot of pictures of him.

Ceiling Gold in Hagia Sophia

HELL HATH NO FURY… Irene his wife was an Iconodule or Iconophile: she loved icons. She is remembered as a beauty: a tall noble brunette. One fable has Leo discovering some icons she’d hidden, and refusing to sleep with her afterwards.

Harun Al-Rashid

Was she a woman scorned? Leo died in 775, and Irene set about gaining the throne. Beset by her own ministers, Bulgars, and Harun Al-Rashid, she never gave up…wait a minute. Worlds collide….Harun Al-Rashid? Isn’t he supposed to belong in Arabian Nights? Yes, and he did his best to invade Byzantium. Irene kept him out by paying him a whopping annual tribute. When the Pope refused to recognize her rule and crowned Charlemagne Roman Emperor, rather than sulking over the insult, she simply arranged to marry Charlemagne. But she was deposed first.

Medieval drawing of Pope Crowning Charlemagne

ECLIPSE OF THE SON Her son by Leo, Constantine VI, grew up in the shadow of his vivid autocratic mother. He too was an Iconoclast. When the inevitable clash came, Irene gave him short shrift: she seized the throne, and very likely in the same purple chamber in which she had borne him, she had him blinded. This killed him and sickened the people, who proclaimed it “a horror of Heaven” and blamed on it a 17-day solar eclipse.

Byzantine Empress regnant Irene of Athens

Irene and Constantine VI by Hubert Goltzius 16th-Century

THE SKULL CARAFE Nevertheless Irene ruled for five years before being replaced by her minister Nicophorus. You remember Nicophorus? He wound up beheaded by Krum the Horrible, Khan of the Bulgars. That’s Nicophorus on the right, being carried in filled with beer.

Medieval drawing of Krum the Horrible with his famous Byzantine beerstein

THE SAINT The Iconoclasts stuck around until the mid-9th Century and finally petered out.  Irene ended life on an island, spinning to support herself, and in Hagia Sophia, the heart of the kingdom she ravaged her soul to protect, there is no image of her. I doubt there’s one in Istanbul. Fourth Crusaders carried them all off to Venice, the city of that Doge thrown out the window. Yet she endures, for she restored image worship in Christianity. Under her rule in 787, the Seventh Ecumenical Council at Nicea refuted the Iconoclasts, declaring that artistic materials merely represent the saints, a belief upheld to this day. The glorious pictorial mosaics of St Savior in Chora, as well as many surviving in Hagia Sophia, are all from after Irene. Throughout Christianity, religious art endures, and it always has a face.

Greek Orthodox Icon of St Irene of Athens

THE EVOLUTION OF AN ICON Santa Claus, called Noel Baba (Father Christmas) is big here in Turkey. St Nicholas himself was Bishop of Myra, down on Turkey’s Mediterranean Coast. A benevolent leader, he gave all his money to the poor, hiding dowries in the shoes of impoverished virgins to save their pride, which comes to us as the tradition of Christmas stockings. St Nicholas is huge all over Europe. Think of all those Greeks named Nick. Here’s one of many Russian icons of him.

Russian Icon-St Nicholas of Myra

Russian Icon-St Nicholas of Myra

At some point, he became mixed with Lapland myths of tall, fur-suited Father Christmas who lived with reindeer in the snow. Vikings were in Istanbul, the Varangian traders invited in the 9th Century. Here’s their graffiti in Hagia Sophia, and even I feel I’m stretching to imagine that’s when the mix began. But worlds DO collide here…could it be?

Viking Graffiti ©2004 Trici Venola. Means "Halvdan was here."

Viking Graffiti ©2004 Trici Venola. Means “Halvdan was here.”

Victorian Clement Clark Moore turned Father Christmas / St Nicholas into a “a right jolly old elf” in his iconographic (!) poem The Night Before Christmas. And in 1930, Coca-Cola hired Norwegian-American illustrator Haddon Sundblom to depict St Nick for their ads in the Saturday Evening Post. This became the prototype for Santa Claus as we know him today.

Haddon Sundblom for Coca-Cola, 193

Haddon Sundblom for Coca-Cola, 1931

Justinian undoubtedly included icons of St Nicholas in Hagia Sophia. After all, he built the church at Myra in memory of the 3rd-Century saint. And as  the snow whirls in the darkness outside and the wind howls up over the mouth of the Bosporus on this 20th of December 2012, the day before believers in the Mayan Calendar tell us the world is going to end, it’s fitting that we end this post with a commemoration. Since the beginning of recorded history, people have been crying that the world is surely ending, but we will more surely see another Christmas, another New Year…

2014 POSTSCRIPT: It’s two years into After the Mayan Calendar. We may be flying blind, but we’re still flying. Once again, Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Noel Baba New ©2011 Trici Venola.

Noel Baba New ©2011 Trici Venola.

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All drawings Plein Air, 20″ X 7″ / 18cm X 52cm, drafting pens on rag paper, sketchbook format. All art ©Trici Venola. All drawings from The Drawing On Istanbul Project by Trici Venola, see description on this blog. Thanks for reading. We love your comments!

EVERY STORY HAS A FACE: Plein Air Portraiture

 THE TAILOR SHOP

The Tailor Shop ©2012 Trici Venola. Minerci, Yorganciler Caddesi, Aga Han #20, Kapalicarsi.

Suleyman the Magnificent

Sahin Gurvardar and his son Taner work up top in the Grand Bazaar in a shop the size of a teakettle. That’s Sahin as a young blade over his own shoulder, and that’s his father in the photo below. The Gurvardars have been in this shop since the Republic, laboring under towering piles of fabric, making thousands of cushion covers and bedspreads, and when you buy a pair of jeans in the Grand Bazaar, these are the guys that shorten them.   They work constantly. They have a nice summer house in a town a few hours away, and Taner just got married. Sahin is a direct descendant from Suleyman the Magnificent, the great Sultan of the Renaissance, although not from the infamous Roxalana. You can learn a lot about this place, drawing the people.

I sat in the shop for about three hours, mostly getting the background.  I’m increasingly grateful that I can do this because it makes people very happy. These folks are not on the tourist track; nobody makes a fuss over them. They were so excited! Sahin and I had a celebratory tea while Taner rushed off to the photcopiers with the drawing. It was an event.

A 16th-century Ottoman painting of Suleyman the Magnificent

A portrait isn’t a figure study or a lesson in facial anatomy, although it may be used as such. A portrait is a celebration of that particular individual at that moment. These are all Plein Air portraits: done on the fly, from life, and cleaned up later. Yes, I was sitting there with the person at the time. It all has to come alive from lines on paper, so I ask myself, “How can I make this more interesting?” One way is  to put it in context. Lighting, background, placement on the page: all contribute to our information about the personality.

TEA IN A CAVE

Tea in a Cave ©1999 by Trici Venola. The Open Air Museum, Goreme, Kapadokya.

Here are guards at the Open Air Museum in Goreme, Kapadokya, descended from The Conqueror, the Conquered, or both. They gave me tea after I spent four frigid, gritty hours drawing St Barbara’s Chapel, and pointed out a stone gorilla in the rocks opposite.

THE BROTHERS AKBAYRAK

The Brothers Akbayrak ©1999 by Trici Venola.

Mike, Alpaslan and Hasan Akbayrak of the Kybele Hotel. Nobody posed, I was just noodling around. Always carry your sketchbook!

AIN’T SHE SWEET

Ain’t She Sweet ©2004 by Trici Venola.

New Year’s Eve 2004-2005. For years I was afraid to ask people to hold still so I could draw them. What if they didn’t like it? Would they hate me? I prettified people. Not anymore! There’s pretty, and there’s beautiful. So now I just let ‘er rip, and if they don’t like it, sorry. I believe this lady was a journalist, but I’ll never know because she hated her portrait and left before I could get her name. Everyone else thinks she’s adorable.

MISCHIEF

Mischief ©2006 Trici Venola.

Drawing women of a certain age…my nightmare. I am one, and I know the horror of realizing that the elder person in the photo is you. But some folks don’t care. This lady came out to investigate and watched for two hours as I drew cave houses across the way from her home in Goreme, Kapadokya. She held absolutely still in the chill winter sun for about twenty minutes. I was able to get the scarf shadow on her face and the pattern on her shalvar. Placement on the page is important. I tend to put people where they are in relation to me while I’m drawing them. Filling the page above or below is not always a good idea.

OLD POET

Old Poet ©2006 Trici Venola.

He loved his drawing. A translator and poet: seated in a rattan chair in the 16t-century Writer’s Union Han in Sultanahmet, he looked right out of a Somerset Maugham story. Shrunk in his white suit, he carried an old leather briefcase stuffed with clippings about himself and made great conversation in elegant English. Sadly his name has been lost to me, but I’ll have him always.

NURETTIN AND HIS WALL

Nurettin and His Wall ©2011 Trici Venola.

Master craftsman Nurettin Mantar is fond of this wall he built from local stone in his hometown of Ortahisar, Kapadokya. I tried to show that Nuri and the wall are somehow of the same material. As I drew him, I asked if the derelict cave, next to the beautiful one he restored, was part of the original complex. “Hibe dede,” he said, “grandpa grant. 800 years ago, seven brothers came from Uzbekistan and settled here. They married, had children, and they lived in all of these caves. They were my ancestors.” Now how many people can tell you who their ancestors were eight centuries back, let alone make a palace from their caves?

STREET DRAMA

Sogukcesme Street ©2004 Trici Venola.

To draw this little street next to Gulhane Park in Sultanahmet, I sat on the porch of an ornate building on the tramline when  I noticed a line of village women sitting across the street. I drew them and left out their faces, since I didn’t want to offend them. One of them noticed and brought over her little girl for a portrait. Here she is in the center.

Outside the Juvenile Court ©2004 Trici Venola.

I thought these women were waiting for the bus, but I was sitting on the portch of the Juvenile Courts Building. The woman on the left was very angr when the others, all delighted, showed her the drawing. She made smearing motions over the page and dressed me down in Turkish. When I found someone who spoke English, I realized that all these women were waiting for their sons to be tried, and the woman’s anger was about a stranger witnessing that. When the soldiers came out with her son between them like a criminal, she fainted in the street, and all the others revived her, henna-stained hands patting her limp ones.

JEANNIE AND LEYLA JANE

Baby Face ©2010 Trici Venola

Baby Face ©2010 Trici Venola

What is it that creates that need to catch a face? I see people, and like it or not I just have to have them.  I want to dress them in line and share them forever. I hung out between drawings at the hotel Jeannie managed with her friend Rhonda in Sultanahmet, watching the sun and the moon on her growing belly as the three of us solved all the world’s problems. How we found time for this I’ll never know, because nobody ever worked harder. It paid off: the hotel thrived and so did Leyla, who was born with the brightest red hair anyone had ever seen. For Jeannie and her famous blonde hair in the sunlight of Leyla’s happy childhood, I used very little shadow. And I wish it to the both of them, in life.

MOMO

Big Momo ©2010 Trici Venola.

Genghis Khan

Muhammed Rahimoglu looks like a modern version of Genghiz Khan. I had never seen a face like this and have drawn him many times.  He’s Turkman from Afghanistan, from the area of the giant Buddhas. It’s not farfetched to claim Genghis Khan as an ancestor if you are from Central Asia: DNA testing proves many, if not most, people are direct descendants. Modern depictions portray the great warrior as craggy and fierce, but contemporary portraits show a wide face with a long straight nose and Asian eyes.

Genghis Khan

Muhammed remembers walking out of Kabul through the Khyber Pass with his family when he was three, remembers his brother getting lost among the forty other families, remembers hungrily drinking milk from a red spice bowl like the ones in his Istanbul tribal arts shop now. The familly grew up in Pakistan. Muhammed pioneered tribal felt in Istanbul: items made by the women of Kyrgystan, cottage industries started by Unesco seed money to give them economic parity. Starting from a few pieces of silver and a lot of guts, Muhammed did his own buying, touring the ‘Stans with his many languages, and became an institution in Tribal Arts. His shop, Ak Gumus, is still in the Grand Bazaar, but we’ve lost him to Kyrgystan, where he’s now cornering the market in Green Tea.

GHOST OF ISTANBUL PAST

Then there’s Nizam. Huge presence and a fascinating face: dozens of drawings over the years. Here he is in 1999:

Nizam Odalisque ©1999 Trici Venola.

and again in 2003.

Still A Porsche ©2003 Trici Venola.

Here’s our friend Bayram in his salad days:

Bayram in a Leather Jacket ©2004 Trici Venola.

I used the hands and jacket from this portrait, re-drew Bayram in profile, and dropped him–using Photoshop– into this drawing from 1999.

The Everlasting Carpet Shop ©1999, 2006 Trici Venola

Here are the same guys in 2010.

Ghost of Istanbul Past ©2010 Trici Venola.

Some people are better as art, God bless ’em.

PETER HRISTOFF PASHA

Professor of Art Peter Hristoff flung this priceless tribal blanket around himself and sat for 45 minutes in front of his rapt class from the School of Visual Arts in New York: our lesson in portraiture in the Grand Bazaar. I spent the time drawing Peter and got the exact pattern of the blanket later from a photo. It was important. Peter’s gift for teaching and his enthusiasm and expertise in tribal arts are major elements of his personality as I see it, so I’ve couched him in these terms.

ISMET AND HIS SAZ

The donor kebab is fabulous at Hayat, Ismet’s corner stand on Akbiyik Street just down from the Arasta Bazaar, but his saz music is even better.

If I were a better artist I might be able to catch that instant when the still, posed face breaks up into curves as the subject cracks up in self-conscious delight. Still I try. If time allows, I sit there a bit and let them talk, and then I ask them to Hold It…. It’s only five minutes, I lie, and the more you hold still, the better it will look.

CLASSIC MARIO

Mario here loved having his picture drawn and held his patented ladykiller grin rock-steady for twenty minutes. Not many people can do that, but he’s had a lot of practice. I usually start with the eye on my left, proceed to the nose, and go from there. I often cut off the top of the head. It’s not intentional. At least I’ve progressed from the bad old days when the neck looked like a stick and the ears were too close to the eyes.

ANNE

All these guys are well turned out by their mothers. Anne is Mother in Turkish, and this magnificent matriarch posed for me in 2004 in her village near Kayseri. These hard-working women have palms textured like the soles of the feet of city women. And what a beauty she was! Below, her daughter busied herself in the kitchen, making us welcome.

COOKING CHICKEN

Cooking Chicken ©2004 Trici Venola.

The kitchen, plaster over cinder-block, was painted deep turquoise, inspiring the color for every bedroom I’ve had since. Tribal art decorated the walls, all of it with a purpose: curtains, tools… She squatted down and in about fifteen minutes cooked the best chicken I ever ate, while I stood there and drew her. Drawing someone is intense: Immersion in that personality. This is why I don’t draw on demand or do street caricatures. I take commissions, and sometimes I work from photos, but I’m a real prima donna about who I draw.

THE BACKGAMMON PLAYERS

Oh, I love portraits. I started before I can remember. All the architectural stuff and landscape, that’s more recently-acquired skill, very hard to learn. As I labored, the principle of portraiture spilled over into the surroundings, making the backgrounds as personal as the people in them.

The Backgammon Players ©2004 Trici Venola.

Eventually I was able to make a drawing interesting to me without people. Now I draw a portrait of a place or object at a particular point in its existence, and I make it as personal as possible. I include all the little details. I love old buildings for this reason. A building that’s been sandblasted and made to look new is no fun at all. What makes something drawable is that individual personality, the patina of having lived.  There’s another word for it in English: charm.

Topkapi Wall at Gulhane Park ©2004 Trici Venola.

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All drawings Plein Air. All line art © Trici Venola. All drawings are from sketchbooks: a two-page drawing measures 18 X 26 cm / 7 X 20 inches, done with drafting pens on rag paper. All art is from The Drawing On Istanbul Project™ by Trici Venola. Thanks for reading. We love your comments. The Drawing On Istanbul Project has many friends but is not affiliated with any government, university or corporation. If you are interested in sponsorship, or purchase of a particular piece of art,  please  contact us here.

ST JOHN’S: Drawing in the Wake of the Gospels

Great Artemis ©2012 Trici Venola

Great Artemis ©2012 Trici Venola

Clicking on the pictures will make them bigger.

ST JOHN’S BASILICA

it looks like it has been picked up and dropped.

The vast rambling ruin of St John’s Basilica was demolished by earthquake, ravaged by marauders, scavanged by later builders. Huge jagged chunks of sixth-century masonry rear at improbable angles. Columns  march in all directions, supporting nothing, reassembled and re-erected by the Turkish Government. Hordes of Christian pilgrims stagger in the heat, a babble of guides in all languages, and I crouch in the weeds to draw this:

My Favorite Capital © 2012 Trici Venola.

It’s my favorite capital. Rows of them are set out in a field. Nearby, storks nest in season– this time of year, they’re off to Africa. The tombstone at left is likely a gladiator who converted. Here’s a drawing from years ago showing the same capital, this time with storks.

Weedy St John’s with Storks ©2007 by Trici Venola

SELÇUK

Selçuk is near the Biblical city of Ephesus, about ten minutes by car from the Aegean Sea.  Ephesus was rediscovered in the 19th century and somewhat reconstructed. It’s big tourist business. It seems like every travel agency pushes Ephesus tourists to stay in nearby Kusadasi, which is great if you like rampant development, traffic, clubs and stores, but I’ll put my money on Selçuk–in English: Selchuk. It’s got the Selchuk Museum, full of Ephesus, with its statues and gladiator tombstones. It’s got storks nesting on a Byzantine aqueduct. It’s got great tribal art stores and hotels. It’s  got St John’s Basilica, and above it the Citadel.

The Great Virgin & St John ©2007 Trici Venola.

And it’s got Female Power. At the edge of town is the Great Temple of Artemis, a swamp the size of a football field, filled with broken marble, the ruined seat of power for the great Goddess of Asia Minor: the place where it all began. The Great Temple, a wonder of the ancient world, was burned so long ago that Alexander the Great had it restored. Centuries later it fell in an earthquake.

The Goddess Artemis, the Great Mother Goddess of the Near East, appears to be a previous incarnation of  the Blessed Virgin Mary, having much in common with her: powerful  purity; attributes in Holy Trinities- three griffins, three bulls, three bees, etc; affinity with nature and birth; affinity with the moon, ancient source of female power;  powerful, self-sufficient, life-creating sexuality. Priests of both dedicate their sexuality to the Goddess. And of course, physical proximity. The Blessed Virgin Mary lived a few miles away. I’ve come to see them as a sort of double Goddess, which in no way detracts from the mystic power of either diety, I just find it fascinating. But the overwhelming presence for me on this trip has been St John the Apostle. His huge ruined basilica dominates the town, topped by the Citadel above.

THE CASTLE ON THE HILL

The Citadel and St John’s Longshot ©2012 by Trici Venola.

At the right of the drawing above is Ayasuluk, a  6000-year-old Paleolithic hilltop settlement. 

Subsequent civilizations have left artifacts still being excavated: chapels, baths, tombs. The sixth-century Byzantine castle is built on Hitttite bones. The castle walls and fifteen towers were built from stones taken from buildings in Rome. The Citadel is closed to the public, but there are these aerial photos and old drawings. Here’s a photo of that little central chapel from a sign at St John’s:

There must have been a wooden settlement inside the castle walls since all that’s left is what looks to be a 5th-century Byzantine chapel with an Ottoman minaret next to it, and nearby a mounded ruined hamam. On this hilltop, St John is said to have written his Gospel. Here’s how it looks today, from a stairway at the back of the basilica. A staircase entire, all by itself, with one turn in the stairs, roofless and leading up to nowhere. I spent a few hours in this wedge of deep shadow set in the dead white heat of late summer, sitting on marble steps scalloped by centuries of feet.

The Citadel from St John’s ©2012 Trici Venola.

A guard came upon me, and I showed him my sketchbook. It’s wonderful the way people’s faces crease into smiles, seeing the drawings. Later, he and a colleague invited me to tea. I may dedicate my next book on Turkey to the men and women who guard the ruins here, as they have allowed me perspectives I never would have found on my own. They’ve provided chairs, shade, secret views, restroom privileges, heat, tea, and enthusiasm, while protecting these world treasures so that I can experience them. Here on the right is my nice guard, Arif, and his colleague Ismet posing in front of a passage in St John’s. I did this all from life. Don’t they look fine?

The Guards at St John’s Basilica ©2012 by Trici Venola.

I snapped some shots of them, and as they were cracking up in one, I did another take from the photos, wanting to catch those grins. That’s the Citadel again, this time from their guard station at the back of the Basilica ruin.

Ismet & Arif at St John’s ©2012 by Trici Venola.

THE MAN ON THE MOUNTAIN

The Gospel According to St John seems to some scholars to be the memories of an old man, with the perspective of long life. John outlived all the other Apostles, dying in 98 AD. He must have been about 100 years old.

Christian Bits in Selchuk ©2007 Trici Venola.

He and his brother, future Apostle James, started life as fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. They may have been cousins of Jesus. They came to this part of the world after the Crucifixion, when John was entrusted by Jesus with the care of his mother, Mary.

St John Bull 1 © 2102 Trici Venola.

So John took Mary into his household. And sometime between 37 and 48 AD he and Peter took her with them to Ephesus. She is believed to have settled here, in a hilltop community high in the mountains above the city.

This is Meryemana, generally accepted as Mary’s home and last resting place.

In Mary’s House ©2007 Trici Venola.

Meryemana is a huge attraction, especially now since Sister Mary Emmerlach, the stigmatized German nun who dreamed that Mary lived here, is being canonized this year. Excavations based on her 19th-century dreams revealed the foundation of this house, which corroborated various records including a 4th-century  Ecumenical Council, enough to convince the Pope. Whether you believe Sister Emmerlach or not, the collective faith left by millions of pilgrims of all religions is impressive, as attested by these wishes left by the faithful. In dozens of languages, they fill a whole wall. The wishes are left up until they biodegrade, leaving a palpable energy.

Back in the 1st century, John and Peter set about converting the pagans of Ephesus, with such good results that they were kicked out of the city by the Guild of the Silversmiths, which was taking a loss in the sales of little silver Artemis charms. Mary had not yet been recognized as a goddess by sufficient numbers to warrant charms of her own, although now they abound. Here are mine, in local stone.

Domitian in Ephesus. About ten times life-size.

Emperor Domitian exiled John to the Isle of Patmos, where he wrote Revelation, also known as The Apocalypse. There are pieces of a giant statue of Domitian in the Selchuk Museum, a monstrous baby face remniscent of the horrifying giant Pillsbury Doughboy in Ghostbusters.

After Domitian’s demise John was pardoned and returned to Ephesus, where he lived out the rest of his days. Now the town of Selchuck is modern, built since the late nineteenth century around the aqueduct at the Ephesus railway stop. Its main attractions in old days were the Temple of Artemis and the Citadel. John must have lived there, in house or hut, writing his Gospel up there, howling out the Word in the wind and rain, the searing sun.

He wanted to be buried near the Citadel, and he was. Every other Apostle was martyred, but John was said to have “gone into the cave of his church”  and vanished. Of all the saints, John is the one with no relics anywhere. When Constantine, in the 4th century, opened his Tomb, there was nothing but air.

St John’s Tomb, from behind the site of the altar. The small stone is a sixth-century tombstone. ©2012 Trici Venola.

THE MONUMENT

The original church fell to pieces, and in 536 our old friend Byzantine Emperor Justinian started this new one. He built a magnificent six-domed cruciform church echoing the Church of Holy Apostles, now lost, in Constantinople-now-Istanbul.

The love story of Justinian and his Empress Theodora is legendary. The basilica has Theodora’s name all over it, in monograms of capitals on the columns, in the very walls. I find this poignant, as Theodora died in 548 and was buried in Holy Apostles long before St John’s was finished: in 565, the year Justinian died. It was built by Ephesians under Justinian’s edict. Emperor of the greatest High Byzantine monuments, he was a bloody, tax-levying, hubris-ridden autocrat, but it is not farfetched to imagine him lost in contemplation of a reunion with the most compelling of Empresses.

THE MIRACULOUS SHIFTING SANDS

John was said to be sleeping beneath his tomb, and his breath caused the dust on it to stir. This dust was said to perform miracles, especially every year on May 8, the all-night Feast of St John. The church called the dust Manna, and sold it to the faithful. For a thousand years, pilgrims came, even St Augustine, leaving with flasks of Manna. It is surely dusty there now, dust blowing into the cracks of the few surviving mosaics and around the shiny modern marble of the monument now over the supposed Tomb.

My own personal non-scholarly feeling on this is that St John was actually buried up on the ancient Ayasuluk mound, but who am I to argue with St Augustine?

EARTHQUAKE

St John is credited with an earthquake while imprisoned on Patmos which got him sprung, but the one that demolished St John’s happened in the 1300s. It must have been a lulu. Just look at this!

The earthquake-wrecked temple was further ravaged by Tamerlane’s  Mongol army in 1402. In one of the poetic ironies that keep me living in Turkey, the marble of the ruined Temple of Artemis had been pillaged by Justinian’s builders to create St John’s Basilica in the first place, which was in turn pillaged to create Isa Bey Mosque. This is what’s left.

The only one of these not yet to fall to an earthquake is the mosque, which stands squarely among palm trees on a hillside below the two ruined temples.

MANY FACES OF LOVE

The Sweethearts’ Tomb © 2012 Trici Venola.

Battered but miraculously whole amid the wreckage, this is supposed to be a tomb that was turned into a fountain. I sat on a rock in dwindling black shadow and drew it for about two hours. Had to finish the wall behind it from a photo, as the sun was killing me. This has all the earmarks of a lovers’ landmark for generations of Selchuk teen-agers. The graffiti is all about love, and from the number of postings, I’d say Deniz and Ozon must have had one hell of a romance.

Eros & Priapus in Selchuk Museum © 2012 Trici Venola.

The Selchuk Museum has all kinds of imagery: lions, dolphins, emperors, warriors and saints, and love in all its forms. Right in the middle of the drawing above is this juxtapositon: Augustus with a cross in his forehead and an Early Christian-like Roman, flanked by Dionysius and a headless angel. Now where else are you going to see that?

Eros & Priapus in the Selchuk Museum © 2012 Trici Venola.

It’s all here: Storks, aqueduct, ruined temples, ancient and modern Goddesses, the Tomb with its shifting dust, the memories of vanished romances. The people of Selchuk keep it all alive. In this place of sainthood and miracles amid reverberating female power I drew this lady, Karim Hanim, who lives just around the corner from that longshot of the CItadel and St John’s. I met her through my lovely friend Frances, who has lived here for years and speaks fluent Turkish. Karim Hanim worked her whole life. She posed for me in her home, surrounded by children and grandchildren, on the Bayram, the holy day following Ramazan. Of course I drew the patterns later from photos, to save our precious time for her hands and feet and presence, her face. For some reason, drawing her made me cry.

She Was A Pretty Girl ©2012 by Trici Venola.

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All drawings Plein Air. All drawings from the series Drawing On Istanbul by Trici Venola. All art © Trici Venola except for the two drawings from Google Maps. All drawings created in sketchbook format, using drafting pens on 18 X 52 cm rag paper.

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LYCIAN TOMBS and BURNING CITIES: Kas 2000

LYCIAN TOMBS & BURNING CITIES

A Slant on Perge ©2000 Trici Venola.

Have you ever seen Perge?  A plain, under an endless sky, littered with the broken remnants of a city old when Alexander came.  There’s a big square stone gate, and through it the remains of a huge fountain: chunks of carved stone balanced on either side; and beyond that an expanse of broken columns, some fallen, some standing, marching off in a colonnade into an infinity of arches and turrets and giant stones lying on the cracked streets polished with centuries of feet. In the center two fragmented towers go up into the sky. Oh, yes, a Roman amphitheater too.  This one is all busted up and weedy, next to a stadium with an oval chariot track.

Perge Longshot ©2000 Trici Venola

I saw it with Pierre, a French chef turned wandering watercolorist. “They told me of you,” he introduced himself in the Kas square one morning over breakfast. We’d been drawing together ever since. Most of these drawings are from that summer, exactly 12 years ago, when I made so many of the decisions I live with today. They were done on the run, so to speak, and worked on later during a convalescence from an illness. I love them.

Night Bus ©2000 Trici Venola.

In 2000, I ripped up my marriage and my comfortable life in Los Angeles and moved to Turkey. Numb with the pain of divorce and the loss of much of my family, I was also in a tortuous affair with a Kurdish man. There was a deal of passion, but we could not be easy together. We fought in Side, we fought in Istanbul. During a truce we took a night bus to Kas, (in English Kosh), a little town on the southernmost tip of Turkey. We fought again and he left for Side. Exhausted, I stayed in Kas, where my friend Rayan was managing a hotel.

Tiny Rayan ©2000 Trici Venola.

I rented rooms in an old Turkish stone house covered with Bougainvillea.  My place had a big balcony with  a view of the little boats in the harbor and beyond them the sea. This was Kas before they built the present huge marina.

Kas from Afar ©2000 Trici Venola.

Kas is in the ancient kingdom of Lycia. Here and there in the sunstruck green and gold of the hillsides are the square carved faces of plundered Lycian tombs.  The land has the most amazing color: peach-colored, salmon, saffron, shading down into rose and maroon; the dirt is the color of dried blood.  In places where a landslide  has broken open a hill, the bright rock contrasts with the grayed stone and growth on the surface  like a geode.  Pine and cypress trees march along ridges and cluster in gulleys, and olive trees are everywhere. Below the rocks the sea is sapphire-black, turquoise, jade.  There are black goats and red rock houses and boats and friends.

Olive Tree ©2000 Trici Venola.

I needed all of it.  I had realized I couldn’t have Kazim. I craved that crazy love, you know, that wild nutso glorious reckless stuff, and he’d gotten too dark. Still I burned, and the beauty of the land was painful. I drew incessantly.

Married for Life ©2000 Trici Venola.

Hanife & Her Son ©2000 Trici Venola.

  At sunset these days the people of Kas are waiting to break their Ramazan fast, but back in 2000 they would gather at the ruined Roman amphitheater on the edge of town.

Sisters in the Ruins ©2000 Trici Venola.

In the middle of Kas is a big tomb that has never been moved since it was placed there 2500 years ago. It looked easy to draw, but when I started it took five hours.  At the time it was the longest I’d ever spent on one drawing, and in one sitting, too. The guys in the street brought me sandwiches.

Big Tomb in Kas ©2000 Trici Venola.

I spent a couple hours the next day drawing down the hill in the other direction. The view is still pretty much the same.

View from the Tomb ©2000 Trici Venola.

My drawing buddy Pierre and I rode all over Lycia with a cabdriver with an immaculate taxi, stone face and no English, actually named Ali Baba.  He’d driven me on a sortie to Side when I’d gone to see Kazim. It was a four-hour drive, and for the last two I sang. Ali Baba kept exclaiming, “No Turkish  music!  Chok guzel!”–which means Very Good or Fat City or You’re Pretty—  Anyway he liked my singing.  Since he didn’t speak English I just sang anything regardless of how appropriate it was, from Big Mama Thornton to Rogers and Hart.  What really got Ali Baba off was Gilbert & Sullivan.  So I wailed away on Pirates of Penzance and The Sorcerer, and we went to Phaselis, where Alexander the Great once wintered:

Busted Old Arch in Phaselis ©2000 Trici Venola.

a high pine forest with stone ruins in the pine needles between two sweet shady beaches, and on to Aspandos, where the theater is as big as the ruined one in Side and completely intact; it still has its looming square proscenium wall, startling after so many open theater craters.

Simena ©2007 Trici Venola.

All this history is strung like a pearl necklace along the spectacular Mediterranean coast of Southern Turkey, between Bodrum to the west and Side to the east. We had already been to Myra, where the square-cut Lycian tombs, carved in golden rock, ornament the hill over the ruined Roman arches of the theater built centuries later. The basic drawing below was done in 45 minutes standing bolt-upright in the singing heat, and darkened later.

Roman Stone Mask & Gargoyle ©2000 Trici Venola.

In Myra a chalky Byzantine church rises out of the sunken ground in perpetual restoration, a church built in honor of and once housing the bones of… Santa Claus. There’s a bashed-in stone sarcophagus, vaguely sleigh-shaped, but alas, no reindeer, only a brass plate saying in several languages: Here lay the remains of St. Nicholas. Italians stole his body in AD1007.

Noel Baba One ©2000 Trici Venola.

The Church of St. Nicholas is powdery pale with mosaics in the floor, treble arched windows and very old brickwork like embroidery among the ancient stones.  It was built by Justinian and Theodora in the 6th Century to honor St Nicholas, Bishop of Myra two centuries earlier. A wealthy man who gave all his money to the poor, his original gifts were dowries for two destitute sisters, dropped down the chimney to save their pride —or, on a hot night, put in the open window in their shoes, depending on which story you read. That’s supposed to be what started the tradition of Christmas stockings.

Cliffs at Big Pebble Beach ©2006 Trici Venola.

Ali Baba took me out to the beach the next day and made a serious pass, but he backed right off and I just went on singing at the top of my lungs.  And him a family man. He took me to Letoon, where Leto, one of Zeus’ many conquests, took her infants Artemis and Apollo to bathe in the river. The townspeople threw stones at her, so she turned them into frogs.  Nevertheless they built her a temple. There’s this one to Leto, one to Apollo and one to Artemis, all Hellenic. The Letoon temple, being built by frogs, regularly floods. It looks beautiful in the guidebook but in the dog days of August, when I was drawing it with sweat stinging my eyes, it was sun-baked, crusted mud. My self-appointed guide Mehmet, a lithe 12-year-old, scampered nimbly across the old scored stones, while I stepped carefully between the clumps of brittle dead reeds and broke through right down into sucking sticky swamp. My foot felt like it was being digested. I pulled up hard, swearing at Mehmet, and nothing happened for the longest time.  I was wearing a pair of flip-flop platform sandals from LA.  I was fond of them; I would not let my foot slip out, and finally with a great sucking sound the sandal came free loaded with about five pounds of mud. I limped out of the temple swamp and it took a helpful attendant with a hose and a brush ten minutes to get the mud off, but I got a hell of a drawing.

Letoon ©2000 Trici Venola.

Then Ali Baba took me to Xanthos.  The cab turned down a hill and I saw the toothed ridge of old wall.  We came around a bend and there was the ridged theater crater and some high capstone sarcophagi; then we came all the way around and I saw it, a city entire all ruined on the hill, excavations for fifty years, ringed with walls in disrepair, chunked rock and old rooms and carvings and columns overgrown with bushes and trees.  Much of Xanthos has been spirited away to various museums worldwide but there is plenty of fabulous pitted glory left there in situ: Lycian and Roman with Byzantine overtones.  It was so hot in all the ruins that I’d taken to putting my whole head under the restroom tap just before we left each one.  It was always sweaty-dried by the next stop.

A Lion from Xanthos, British Museum, ©2006 Trici Venola.

Xanthos was a glaring furnace with no scrap of shade.  I wandered around the sandy mosaics pouring sweat and wondering how on earth I could stand still to draw them.  I was too black to burn by then but the sun on my arms and legs was painful.  There was a gang of workmen, nice guys I could ask for a chair and some kind of rigged shelter but they were away across the mountain. Before they left, I did some sketches and took a photo. Later I did a drawing from it–my personal favorite from this era– and digitally incorporated it with some Plein Air bits.

Working Stiffs In Situ ©2000 Trici Venola.

That day in Xanthos I had a sarong and a big hat, so I broke off some dead reeds and jammed them into the steps going down to ancient baths overlooking the olive groves and the power lines in the distance.  There were cicadas buzzing in a gasping chorus in the heat.  I draped the sarong over my hat and the sticks and thought of Lawrence of Arabia. It gave just enough shade to endure drawing for about twenty minutes.  Sweat ran down my face and dripped on the page.  I  looked at the drawing.  It was enough to go on.

Xanthos ©2000 Trici Venola.

This is the fabled city where the Xanthians, finding themselves c540 BCE overwhelmed by Persian hordes, slaughtered all their loved ones: wives and concubines, parents, children and slaves– by ringing the walled city with fire and burning everyone alive.  Then the warriors put on their armor, charged fighting into the Persian waves and were killed to the last man.  Yet the city rose again, and again was besieged, this time in 42 BCE by Brutus, as in Et tu Brute.  The Romans would not go away and the Xanthians would not give up and finally the horrified Romans saw a woman with her dead baby slung around her neck torching her roof as she hanged herself.  “Enough!” called Brutus and offered a substantial reward for any Roman to save a live Lycian.

Rock Tombs in Myra ©2000 Trici Venola.

Nevertheless they are all gone now.  Only the cities and tombs remain, square rock faces shining gold and bronze and red in the gray sides of mountains, all tumbled with emerald and jade bushes.  Gray-green leaves mist around the black sticks of olive trees parading down the bright meadows, gold in the afternoon sun.  Gothic-arch-topped barrels of sarcophagi rise up like great stone mushrooms in forests, on mountaintops, on the edges of towns and amphitheaters and in that main street of Kas, each with its looted black hole.  If I were a Lycian I would never ever want to leave, either.  I would tell them to put me on the hill over the sea, and I would arrange an earthquake to hide my tomb to keep them from coming later and stealing my skull and my jewelry.  Squint at any hill here and there’s a tomb.  Surely some must be hidden, and the Lycians sleeping inside, undisturbed bones clothed in the splendor they deserve for keeping this kingdom so long and so well.

A Tomb With A View ©2007 Trici Venola.

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A Slant on Perge, Perge Longshot, and Working Stiffs In Situ were partially drawn from  the author’s photographs. All other drawings Plein Air. All drawings done with drafting pens on rag paper in sketchbooks. All save Tiny Rayan measure 18 cm X 26 cm / 7″ X 20.”

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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.

A BREATH OF AIR: Drawing In Sirkeci

DRAWING MYSELF OUT OF THE DARK

Grizabella in Sirkeci.Cat Detail©2011 Trici Venola

2010 was a year of peril and hassle. Relentless hotelization forced me to move, a hideous enterprise involving months of searching and expense. A good deal turned sour. A good friend left town. Then to top it off I got hacked, lost 400 addresses, 7 years of networking, entire short stories. I tried to reach everyone, but failed, and an old friend sent the hackers an amount which, had I won it as a grant, could have paid an assistant, put all 2500 drawings on a database, bought a new Mac and put this project in the black. Google never did respond. So long, Cloud. I bootstrapped out of the subsequent depression by drawing. In the teeth of complete financial desolation, rent due, no prospects, I took the sketchbook out into the icy winter days and began to draw this:

Very quickly, I felt good. Here’s an email to a newly jobless Stateside friend from January 2011:

Ha ha ha, welcome to the wonderful world of Freelancing. You’ll get used to the footless feeling, like a good hunter. You’re an artist. Make art. 

For Anxious Dread, try fish oil. The super-Omega kind, a natural antidepressant. My dread goes right to my feet and I get horrible vertigo, and this rug-ripped-out-from-under feeling. I suspect it is really Fear of Mortality… Skint this month and last, but for some reason I’m sanguine. I had a real epiphany last month, realizing how many precious days I’ve lost to Worrying About the Landlord. And here I still am, and I’d like those days back.

In the middle of all this Winter Angst, ferocious bouts of creativity… Now, I’m happy to say, my mania for drawing in the sketchbook has returned after ONE SOLID YEAR of halfhearted portraiture and false starts. I’m drawing out in the crystalline cold days, office buildings in our old seaside Finance District of Sirkeci.

THE WAKE OF MONEY

On Legacy Ottoman Street ©2011 Trici Venola

In English, Sirkeci rhymes with Stage E. A departure from my usual hoary old Byzantine haunts, Sirkeci is all brisk business. A generation ago, this was the Financial Center of all Istanbul, as its many banks attest. Now they are hotels, offices, notary publics. Brisk breezes whoosh down alleys, calls to prayer interlace with the blast of horns from boats in the harbor nearby, blue or copper or silver sea glimpsed down the narrow streets, everyone rushing along the sidewalks overhung with architectural grandeur from the swan song of the Ottoman Empire. Everywhere are exciting vertical compositions just begging to be drawn. Here’s the one we call The Bat Building:

The Bat Building ©2011 Trici Venola

This beloved landmark, which could have served as a model for Gringott’s Goblin Bank in Harry Potter, is one block from the Spice Bazaar.  Its name is actually Deutsche Orientbank, and it dates from 1890. I’m told it burned, and closed, around 1911. I’ve been all through it, clear up to the adorable round tower office, full of pigeonshit and feathers and possibility. Its main doorway served as the entrance to the Bond film Skyfall, although it does not lead to a tunnel but up to fantastic round rooms full of feathers and pigeonshit. Word is it will be a hotel.

OUR FABULOUS POST OFFICE

This ornate architecture is murder to draw. Rows of the same elaborate shape with different perspective and lighting, and there are so many of them. Ancient masonry has some give: if you’re off by a bit, you can round a corner and stay true to the spirit of the piece. But this fancy stuff isn’t even two centuries old, the corners are still sharp, the shapes really clear. Get one thing a fraction off and it’s ruined. I use the mental grid and unit method described in the Drawing the Boukoleon posts on this blog. It’s imperative to draw what I see, not what I think I see. I may know it’s a square window, but if perspective makes it look like a slanted slot, I have to draw a slanted slot. The rest of the drawing has to help us know it’s a window: placement on the page, some rendering of bricks so we know it’s a wall, and so forth.  Figuring out how to do this causes a trancelike state that makes it impossible to think about anything else. I go right into the paper.

Designed by architect Vedat Tek under Sultan Abdul Hamit II in 1909, the Art Nouveau facade of our magnificent Main Post Office runs across three New York blocks, a testimony to the extravagant finale of the Ottoman Empire. Hotel sharks are circling, but this is still a functioning post office; this is where your prints come from. It’s too huge; for a first take, I drew this glimpse from a little side street, and it took more time than you’d believe, on several frigid white days.

A Glimpse of the Post Office ©2011 Trici Venola

Everyone from the shops on the street came and watched awhile. I left it unfinished, looking as it did lost in the deadening white. Inside, several wooden Agatha Christie-era group writing desks under glowing state-of-the-art computer screens, a lot of people waiting to pay bills, and the walls go up forever, dominated by a giant painting of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, father of the Turkish Republic.

Waiting at the PO ©2011 Trici Venola

Behind the Post Office, Hobyar Camii looks old, but it too was designed by Vedat Tek and built in 1909, replacing the 15th-century original. Those ant-like shapes in the background are Istanbul Porters, professional schleppers who move unbelievably huge and heavy items which are balanced on saddles. There are now kitsch faux-bronze statues in Sirkeci of Ottoman porters; I find the modern genuine article much more interesting. These guys are fourth-and fifth-generation porters; in old jeans and wash shirts they carry the whole city on their shoulders.

The Fanciful Mosque ©2011 Trici Venola

GRIZABELLA

Another jocular drawing experience, with many free teas from this cafe. People in Sirkeci were flabbergasted to see an artist there. It’s not a huge tourist spot, but the amount of buildings turning into hotels indicate that it will be. We’re all rooting for another beloved old landmark, across the street from the Post Office. This grizzled survivor, covered with age-blackened trendy splendor of yesteryear, has loomed here for over 140 years. The Art Nouveau window trim and roses were added for modernization around 1900. Notice the two cat faces at the top. The Art Deco musical notes look to have been added in the 1930s. The wooden awnings are there to keep loose old stone roses from falling on your head on your way to the notary public.

Grizabella in Sirkeci ©2011 Trici Venola

Yahya came upon me while I was drawing this. He danced all around me yelling in amazement, so I drew him to shut him up. I told him the usual “Hold still for ten minutes,” while I got the stuff you can’t fake, then I went home and rendered his shoes and coat and blackened his hat. Next day I was out there putting in the background when he came back, saw the portrait, and began to dance and bellow again– louder.

UNUTULMUS SARNICI And what do you know, a little chunk of hoary haunted Byzantium after all:  a forgotten cistern behind an ancient wall, where I got to clamber up on a pile of cartons and draw by one bulb strung on a bamboo pole in the cold clammy dark. Here’s the first shot.

The Hidden Cistern Straight Up ©2011 Trici Venola

Nice and straightforward, eh? They tell me it’s got 5 huge columns, more marching off into the dark behind a storage depot. I can wade in and draw, but they also tell me that there are dangerous vapors in there, and it’s too darned cold now anyway. Nice guys working  there, and here’s the youngest, perched on a stool under the whitewashed Byzantine bricks. Which are herringbone pattern–you can just see that at the top, making me suspect this is older than Hagia Sophia. Two streets above the Post Office in Eminönü-Sirkeci, the water-storage facility is shut now, but you can still peer in through the windows in the crumbling wall and see the columns. I really hope that it survives all this change.

Umut At Work ©2011 Trici Venola

Oh, the mystery of this place! In Los Angeles, a storage depot has a closet in its back room: warped linoleum and a couple of cockroaches. In Istanbul, there’s a Byzantine cistern full of 1600-year-old carved marble. I wondered if I’d fully captured that quality of unconscious magnificence here in our workaday world, so I went back next day and did this:

The Forgotten Cistern ©2011 Trici Venola

And so to the end of that email: …Out drawing, faces light up when they see me drawing, people buy books and send over hot tea and stop and chat. Many, many new Facebook Friends. Frozen out there, double socks, wool coat over sweaters, perched on my little campstool, but do I care? I am SO HAPPY… it attracts all good things to me. And to you.

Trici Drawing Grizabella, taken by an admirer whose name I’ve lost. If this is you, please send me your name and I’ll credit you!

THE OBJECT OF THE EXCERCISE One good feeling led to another and I had a great year, continuing to now. No matter what the dilemma, drawing makes it right. The object of this Turkish adventure is not to live in Istanbul, the object is to draw Istanbul. I’d forgotten that. How I live and where, what I have, who I know and am I cool– that’s all fine, but it’s window dressing. It’s personality. The drawing is the principle. Art is what I’m about. If I get that right, everything else falls into place. All my life, I’ve been trying to remember to put principles before personalities.

Porters ©2011 Trici Venola

All drawings pen and ink on paper, Plein Air.

All art ©2011, 2012 by Trici Venola.