This drawing has a lot of significance for me, in that the subject of the sculpture really spoke to me as I rendered the drawing. I was pretty depressed at this point of my life, because I felt like I had no connection to the past. All I wanted was to have a dialogue with these great artists whom I had admired for so long. I had crossed the ocean with my wife, Margaret, hoping to finally make a connection with the great masters of the past, who I had long emulated. Foolishly, I had enrolled in a school in Florence which touted itself as being “the center for Italian Renaissance studies. Just steps away from the studios of Michelangelo and Da Vinci, this school is situated in the very cradle of the Renaissance.” I invested years of hope and longing into this school, La Scuola de Lorenzo de Medici.
From the street, the de Medici school was beautiful, with stone pillars and Medieval sculpture set into the walls. I entered the doors of the beautiful school with trepidation. And then, there they were- dozens of students crammed into a big room, slinging paint at the canvas, Jackson Pollock style. They were covered in paint, as all modern painters love to be, and were applying the paint with their bare hands. Their work was awful, just awful. They were all bratty little American and British kids, and they were doing Abstract Expressive art. If it is possible, they were doing that type of art poorly. I was just devastated.
I dropped as many classes as I could (had to keep a few to retain my student visa), and dragged myself back to my apartment a few blocks away. I threw myself onto the couch, and just stared. Margaret came home, and tried to console me. I suppose I whined a lot, because Margaret changed her strategy- she began to make fun of me. “Oh, so you try out one school, having crossed the ocean, and finding that that ONE school is terrible, you’re done searching? You’re done? Throw in the towel?” I understood what she was doing. She was getting me off of that couch, with all metaphors implied.
That same day, I set up an easel at the foot of my favorite statue in the city, and began to draw. This is that drawing.
The statue is a battle between Hercules and the Centaur Nesso- the specifics of the story aside, this is a sculpture which addresses the triumph of order over chaos, of reason beating back savagery into submission, of the intellect governing emotions. Although it is a work of art that includes two figures, to me it speaks of the inward battles within ourselves. And, I found that in a letter that Paul the apostle had written to the church at Corinth, Paul had addressed this theme millenia before: “… Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave…”
It was perfect for me at the time, as my every impulse was to despair. Instead, I spent weeks drawing this slowly, contemplating the theme.
When I finished this drawing, I took it around with me as I looked for other schools. It was actually the drawing that won me acceptance into the Cecil Studios of Florence, the most fulfilling artistic experience of my life.