Thursday, July 25, 2013

Mira the Matadora

Mira the Matadora  16 x 20, Acrylic on Illustration Board on Plywood, 2013

My latest entry in this continuing series of adventurous modern women is the image of Mira the Matadora.  This is set in an informal bull ring on a ranch where fighting bulls are raised.  Mira is about to participate in a tienta, a testing of the bulls.  She is preparing to enter the ring.  To her left, drapped over the barrier is the bullfighter's cape, with its gold/saffron lining -- the front is a light violet or magenta.  This large, semicircular cape is used by toreros in the early stages of the corrida or bullfight.  Mira is holding the smaller, red matador's cape, or muleta which is used at the conclusion of the corrida when the bull would be killed with a the red-hilted sword she is holding in her right hand.  Mira is dressed informally in the traje de corto in which are garbed novice bullfighters not yet entitled to wear the familiar gold festooned traje de luces.  However, this attractive costume has often been worn by choice by many established female bullfighters, matadoras.  It should be mentioned that lady bullfighters are not as rare as one might imagine.  Women were in the bullfighting ring as early as the 17th Century; a premier matadora of the century was a nun!  Spain has since outlawed women matadors, but not so in other bullfighting countries.  Although she mostly fought in the Portuguese style, from horseback, one of the most noted bullfighters of the mid 20th Century was Conchita Cintron.  She was from Peru, but her father was a Puerto Rican businessman and her mother an American with early New England ancestry (some of which I share, making Conchita a 7th cousin of mine).  In the 1950's two American women burst onto the bullfighting scene, Patricia McCormick from St. Louis and Bette Ford, a fashion and product model who was the subject of an Oscar-nominated short The Beauty and the Bull.  (After an illustrious career in the ring, Bette married John Meston, creator and writer of Gunsmoke and established an enduring career as an actress.)

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Scottie the Scuba Diver

Scottie the Scuba Diver Acrylic on Museum Board on Panel, 16 x 20 inches, 2013

As a part of my series of modern women doing adventurous things I present Scottie the Scuba Diver.  (I know Scottie is not a usual name for a girl, but I kind of like it.  I'm wedded to alliteration and the only other choice was Scarlett, a name that didn't seem appropriate here.)  In the picture, she's on a dive boat just preparing to go below.  The boat, which probably should look a lot smaller, is a rigid inflatable -- the gunwale or side is inflated to make it easy for the diver to do a backwards somersault into the water.  To her left, Scottie has her bag to carry her gear and a diving cylinder, which would contain a breathing mixture called nitrox -- oxygen is actually rarely used.  The tank is still connected to its carrier.  Hey, these things are 30 pounds even when empty, so I think even Mike Nelson (remember Sea Hunt?) would use a carrier.  Scottie holds her spear gun, for use against angry sharks and hostile mermen.  And she is holding in her other hand the regulator, the part of the scuba that you put in your mouth; it steps down the pressure of the air from the tank and has a valve that opens to allow the diver to breath in air and closes after inhalation.  (These things are delicate instruments it took decades to develop, and they cost a fortune.)  The familiar older ones connect to the tank with two hoses, but newer models almost always employ a single hose.  On hand are her swim fins.  Surprisingly, these were not used much till the 1940's.  The Italians in World War II were pioneers in underwater demolition and their divers were the first to use them extensively.  Also, to watch what's going on, is a friendly and curious sea bird, a dovekie.  Incidentally, the scuba (short for self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) was only developed in the late forties,  in part by the legendary Jacques Cousteau.  Before that, rebreathers, using a different technology that recycled air, were used, but mostly for escape from submarines.  Most early divers used cumbersome diving suits with air pumped down from the surface.

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Friday, July 5, 2013


Dragon Rider 12 x 16, acrylic on illustration board on panel, 2013

Friendly Dragon 8 x 10, acrylic on museum board, 2005

Virgin Sacrifice 16 x 31, gouache on hardboard on plywood, 1997 

Saint George and the Dragon 21 x 33, tempera on shade cloth on particle board, 1989

Dragons are an intriguing subject for any artist  who deals at all with the fantastic and the whimsical.  Interesting in that dragons are prominent in the mythology of both western and eastern cultures.  In China the dragon is usually benign and a source of wisdom.  Not so in the west -- the beguiling serpent of Eden, not quite a dragon, to be sure, but of the same reptilian ilk, was also, indirectly, a source of knowledge, specifically, self awareness and a recognition of good and evil.  But in the context of the Biblical creation narrative, it is regarded in a negative light, for it acted in defiance of God. 
Subsequently, the dragon, often winged and fire breathing, became a symbol of evil, a creature to be slain by the goodly knight.

Over the years, I have depicted the dragon (and the requisite maiden) in several contexts in my paintings.  My most recent work  Dragon Rider is pictured here along with some earlier works featuring dragons.

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