The Marchioness returns to the Canebrakes (Part Three)

Alongside the highway between Eutaw and Demopolis there’s a large field dotted with strange sculptures. They’re made of hay bales, or welded together from junk metal. Any passer-by is welcome to stop and explore. I first visited the place at least twenty years ago. It was an afternoon in August and the heat silenced us all as we waded through the wet air. I was glad to see the display was not only still there, but that it had grown.Read more

The Marchioness returns to the Canebrakes (Part Two)

During my scouting visit to Demopolis, I purchased a large new history of the Vine and Olive Colony by French historian, Eric Saugera. My knowledge of Madame Raoul, the Marchioness de Sinibaldi, had been gleaned from a few lines in Winston Smith’s history, “Days of Exile’. Now I learned more. To begin with, she had arrived in the canebrakes not as General Raoul’s wife, but as his mistress. Teresa Alvora Giannini was born in 1783, in Genoa, Italy. The twoRead more

The Marchioness returns to Demopolis (Part One)

In Ross King’s ‘The Judgement of Paris’, there’s an entertaining comparison between the working methods of Manet and Meissonier. In his rush to wow the Salon of 1868, Manet repeatedly bungled his ambitious canvas of the execution of Mexico’s Emperor Maximilan. The event was fresh and shocking, but Manet was not one for research. He was competing with the likes of Goya and Gericault- timing was everything, details be damned. As a result, as technicalities about uniforms and an absenceRead more

The Gift of Sight

Until recently, I could never have been an artist. My chronic short sight would have been beyond correction. Without glasses, my focal point lies, with my left eye firmly shut to let my right one see, at the tip of my nose. I would have been, as was recently pointed out to me, fully dependent on others, a beggar if I had been poor. But I was born in a century where my sight could be treated, and I’ve beenRead more

The Exile

In the early summer of 1817, a group of French settlers arrived in the wilderness of what would become southwest Alabama. They were Bonapartist exiles- among them Napoloeon’s foremost generals and aristocrats, forced to leave France after his final defeat. Where the Black Warrior and Tombigbee rivers meet, they founded the town of Demopolis, but their efforts to cultivate a ‘vine and olive colony’ there were doomed from the start. I read this story (for it feels like a folktale)Read more

Misogyny

Even by the standards of the genre, ‘Pretty Polly’ is a menacing murder ballad. It’s the tone of the young man’s voice. “You guessed about right,’ he replies to Polly’s concerns about his manner, “I dug on your grave the best part of last night.” Her submissive replies only make the song more chilling. They act out parts written long before them. Even though he murders her in an act of control, Willy’s crime seems the only choice left toRead more

Silver Dagger

A faded red barn in Madison County, its sides hung with raccoon skins. The nailed pelts remind me of the sinister French fairy story ‘Bluebeard’- a Breton folk tale that, like many of the ballads, has its source in an actual crime. The young, new wife disobeys Bluebeard’s warning to never enter one locked room in his castle. When curiosity overcomes her, she finds a room scarlet with blood and the hanging corpses of her husband’s past wives. But theRead more

Mary

I interviewed a number of women at a shelter in Asheville. The idea was to create a series of paintings that would symbolize their experiences, while maintaining their anonymity. One story took me some distance from Asheville. I found the place she had left behind. Her story, like some others, involved evangelical judgement on the part of the abuser. A church nearby had some overturned statues in the graveyard. This was the starting point for the painting, ‘I have ledRead more

A kindred spirit

The four paintings that came together as ‘Young Hunting‘ included an interpretation of an abandoned house I had passed many times on the road between Asheville and Scaly Mountain. In painting there’s some rule about not placing your subject directly in the middle of the canvas, but  doing so sometimes works to advantage. The photographer William Christenberry has recorded the vanishing architecture of Alabama’s Black Belt in just this way- each building carefully centered, emphasizing every symmetry, neatly framed byRead more