More from an Old Friend
I had so much fun looking at Rockwell Kent's engravings for the last post that you'll have to indulge me with a few more. Above is Night Watch. When you think of it it is remarkable how the artist can draw a nude sailor leaning against his ship's mast looking completely at home and at peace. If you question this, I recommend you strip off all your clothes and go sailing and see how you feel. Kent I think is trying to say we humans can feel at least for a few special moments at one with the universe. And his considerable talents as a composer help us to feel some measure of exactly that looking at this marvelous print.
Notice how Kent's sailor does a unique sort of dance with the sails and the rigging. His lower leg is a long gentle arc that mimics the curve of the shadow on the mainsail at the left and the edge of the jib sail at the right. The man leans back, parallel with the diagonal lean of the mast, implying he and the ship are moving together on the voyage. But at the same time the sailor is a little separate from the ship- Kent makes one of the figure's upper arms a vertical line that runs parallel to the sides of the print's frame. Similarly, the closer thigh moves in a straight horizontal across the composition, parallel to the top and bottom edges of the prints. I think artists do well to echo the edges of the frame within their work. When they do their other choices to stress curves and diagonal movements feel more deliberate. Deliberate is a feeling that well describes so many of Kent's moves. He's a powerful draughtsman.
This is Drifter. Like the first print, a brilliant moonlight rakes down on the figure at perfect angle to simplify and reveal the solid volumes of the sailor's body. I don't know about you, but I've never seen such a brilliant moonlight outside of Kent's engravings. But having seen it, it lives on in my imagination, lighting things up more than a bit. Thank you for that, Rockwell.
This is Fair Wind. Kent places the sailors feet in the water as he perches on the bowsprit. Notice the way the jib sail and the sailors body mirror each other and share a common axis. Also both are the only highlighted forms in the print, with the sky and waves held down to a darker set of tones.
And this is Flame. Undoubtedly my favorite print ever. I remember coming across it my freshman year in the Art Library at Oberlin College and feeling my jaw drop. Is there any other piece of art that celebrates being alive as well as this amazing image? I think I'm especially partial to it as it reminds me ever so much of the huge bonfires we enjoyed as kids down on the rocky shore of Lake Ontario where I grew up. All sorts of driftwood was regularly deposited by the frequent storms, so building fires was easy. Being kids, we loved overdoing things, so we would compete to see how high we could get the flames to climb. Kent no doubt had similar memories of watching the sparks rise up into the night sky and disappear.
One final touch I just love in this print- the man's lower leg submerges his foot in the water. Carl Jung the psychologist would have loved this image of a man whose personality was fully in touch with all the major elements- water, land, fire, sky. It is a perfect portrait of psychological wholeness. And it's a damned fine print.