Writing a blog is so gratifying and narcissistic. I can choose the subjects, I decide what I write, I don’t have a deadline and I can choose when to publish. I can even re-write it after it has been published. And best of all: I can let new artists speak for themselves.
This is the work of Daria Souvorova, who graduated from Pratt Institute and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and currently is the Artist-in-Residence at PrattMWP and instructs at Munson-Williams-Proctor Art Institute. Actually, Daria’s most insightful work so far: The Seven Deadly Sins. Check it out! She not only sketches and paints but also writes eloquently about her art. So I am going to take a break, and allow her words to describe Judith and Holofernes.
I began the fall semester with a large scale drawing and painting on the theme of Judith beheading Holofernes. This composition, and the transition thereof, reflects my thinking process over the summer, and the evolution between the roles of heroes and villains in my life.
Instead of choosing the traditional moment depicting Holofernes struggling for his life, I chose to show him in the moment before he is beheaded. I drew him fluid and slumping onto the Fury’s grip. He is delirious and in denial. Smiling, in fact. He is incapable of taking responsibility for his actions and does not even understand his punishment.
The fluid movement between the figures in this work became important. The lighting also played a big role: Holofernes is almost completely in silhouette, which separates him from Judith who is brilliantly lit against the darkness of the wall behind her. Fury wields the sword that pierces the space. It points toward the bed and alludes to the nature of the punishment. A sliver of light follows the edge of the sword and is mirrored by the silhouette of the woman on the bed, that Holofernes was just dragged off of.
The slashing of the blade became a very important movement in the composition. I wanted to emphasize it. I originally composed a three-figure grouping – the bulk of the right panel. I added a second panel to the left to allow room for the blade. This was the first instance in which I began to reconsider the symmetrical rhythm of my compositions. The figure’s silhouette is the only light on the bulk of the left panel, and as the figure disintegrates almost entirely save for the sliver of light that mirrors the sword, the figure proves unimportant outside of its role of identifying the secondary villain.
Returning to the Judith and Holofernes painting: I became interested in segregating the hero and villain through taking advantage of pushing some figures towards Idealization, and others towards Characterization. I created more specificity in the gestures and features of the figures, and began to find interest in the spaces that surrounded them. The angle of the doorway and the groupings of figures that melted away into the light began to be considered as narrative devices, as much as representations of the main characters. I was thrilled to paint the chair and the fabric that envelops it – the violet folds of a yellow pillow became characters of their own right. I repainted the composition in halves and was delighted at the improvement of each section yet continuously dismayed as previously successful areas appeared inferior in comparison. This painting took over three months to complete and became a representation of the progress of my narratives.
Looking at the completed Judith and Holofernes in conjunction with my drawings and the portraits I have been working on, I was surprised at the stark difference between the drawings and the painting.
Judith and Holofernes was a very black and white composition for me, created at a time when I was focused on morality and a strict intended narrative in my works. Seeing it set against the relative subtlety of the portraits made me realize the level of theatricality in the image. At this point, I began searching for more earnestness and connection between the viewer and my images.
I am very appreciative of Daria’s own words because they address several questions (and gave me some time off). However, I must confess: my first interpretation of this composition was a time-lapse version of the story. I saw Judith-before, Judith-during and Judith-after. How interesting that perspective seems in comparison to the artist’s explanation – but still not a bad way to look at the movement across the canvas, in my humble opinion.
Just one thing that remains unexplained: in the center of the execution, as background to the action is a painting on the wall. It looks a lot like … curious Psyche and sleeping Cupid. At least Cupid escapes the dagger and only had to endure the wax from Psyche’s lamp – and doesn’t end up like Holofernes.
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With delight, I received an email from Daria with an article about one of her students, “Seven Deadly Sins” and her upcoming “Lost and Gained.” I think I will be able to relate to Lost and Gained. Mostly Gained.