28 October 2021

Tauromachie and the art of graceful death











Here is a curious set of photos of a painting that I (unusually) decided to document with three photos. In front of such a sky, I often used to attack the canvas board fast and hard. It is partly from impatience, but mostly from anxiety. After all, I am painting a portrait of the sea at dusk. Though my methods have changed a little over the past two years I still thrust myself upon the poor canvas, sometimes with force.

I came across these photos while searching through the phone for something else. The modern smart phone seems to be a collective coffin where thousands of digital moments are joyfully captured but then banished to die in one cyber folder or another, unlikely to be ever seen again. 

But looking at these, I was suddenly reminded me of La Tauromachie, the art of bull fighting. The ideal death for the bull in this 'sport' is  the quick one. When performed perfectly, it is considered a great art for aficionados of the ring. The matador must get it right in the first go-round or he will lose the crowd, then his reputation. 

He must insert his sword (espada) into a narrow space between the shoulders of the charging bull directly into the racing heart of the beast. The bull must die within an instant, but if he misses, it's a mess and he has failed. The crowd will hate him before he hates himself.

Years ago, a friend took me to two bullfights, one in Nimes and the other in Arles. Like many tourists, I was both horrified and fascinated. My friend Michael had been to many fights and he explained what was supposed to happen. In Nimes, I saw the first one, and I stayed for the afternoon watching several fights, my discomfort was overwhelmed by my fasciation. 

It sounds incorrect to call this a fight (certainly not a sport) because it is neither. It felt to me, a ceremony, a violent and bloody one centred around the bull's death for the benefit of the people attending. 

But a year later I went again with my same friend. We went to Arles, and when the first bull came charging out to the roar of the crowd, I said to my Michael;

"I'll see you in the bar in a few hours"

and I left. Watching the first bull come rushing out into the noisy arena I suddenly realised that I didn't want to see this all over again. I didn't need to, I was curious the first time, but the second one brought nothing more. My own decision to leave was as quick and intuitive as the killing of the bull.
 
It seems to me now that this picture was painted with the same assertive aggression as that of the bullfighter who gets one chance only to kill the bull in the glory of an afternoon.

The painter also attempts to capture the death of an afternoon. And this too, is also a quest for glory, a small bloodless one, solitary and anonymous.  
 

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