Metamorphosis Project

Metamorphosis I: Gregor Samsa's Wares

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M1GregorsWaresCS

A couple of weeks ago I completed the first in a series of four of five paintings that will constitute The Metamorphosis Project.  In total, this painting took about four-and-a-half weeks to complete.  The pencil drawing was relatively simple (mainly the fabric pattern was a beast).  I transferred the drawing using my opaque projector and toned my canvas (40 x 35 inches) a very light neutral gray (about 7 or 8 on a scale of 9).  While the tone was drying, I did the following color study:  (As you can see, I didn't quite finish it.)  After the tone was dry on the main canvas, I did an ebauche or very turpy first pass.  Here are two pictures:

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IMG_3902
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IMG_3905

The ebauche helps me to work out the form a little bit better.  I also paint relatively thinly so I like what my paintings look like when I have done two or more passes. 

After I completed the ebauche, I basically started wherever I was interested (in this case the brown leather suitcase), and went steadily along completing the second pass.  In no place did I find the work tedious because there was such a variety of things I was painting: silk lining, leather, jacquard, the brass fittings on the luggage.  I got to make up my dung beetle (I married a dung beetle body with rainbow scarab colors because I didn't want the Ungeziefer to look unlovable).  

However, I was stumped for the background for a couple of days. I wanted to do a background that wasn't completely realistic looking, that would capture some of the weirdness of Kafka's text.  I decided to paint a layer of cadmium yellow and let it dry, and use it as a base for a darker second pass and let some of the cad yellow show through and vibrate.  The darkness over the light was intended also to suggest the figurative metamorphosis that happened to Gregor over the years of his life, but that was completed in his sleep.  Here is the final painting:

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MetamorphosisI72dpi2

Thanks to Lexie Pitney for providing the beautiful vintage suitcases as well as some of the fabric!

The Metamorphosis Project

The Metamorphosis Project is a conceptual illustration of the 1915 novel The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka.  The Project consists of four or five large-ish paintings to be completed in the next few months and inspired by the novel’s story of a young man who awakens one morning to find himself turned into a bug (German: Ungeziefer).  Overworked, poor and in debt, Gregor Samsa is a traveling fabric salesman and the sole breadwinner of his family.  His life of ceaseless travel and unremitting work has caused him alienation from those for whom he provides as well as from his own humanity.  As a result, he finds himself changed into a “hideous vermin.”  In fact, Gregor is so far from recognizing his true state that his immediate thoughts after awakening are focused not on his physical state, but on the fact that he has missed his train and may be fired.  Although these paintings will probably be included under the “Objects” or Still Lifes portion of my website when they are completed, I consider these paintings to be fundamentally figurative-- just without the figure, just as Kafka’s novel was the story about a man who is no longer quite a man.  The absence of a figure in a painting that intends to be really figurative echoes the idea that Gregor's real metamorphosis, his internal and spiritual one, has already occurred even before its physical manifestation.  This is partly why I call the Project a conceptual illustration.  My purpose is not to illustrate specific scenes from the novel, but rather to take Kafka’s text as a starting point and illustrate truths about humanity and alienation that can be illuminated and enriched through visual means.