Tuesday, 28 August 2007

A Sheep Caught in the Brambles

Another painting I find frightening is A Sheep Caught in the Brambles by Rosa Bonheur, undated. Something about the head and forelegs...I will think about it.

A few days later... I happened to be reading Rilke and I found this passage:

"The woman sat up, frightened, she pulled out of herself, too quickly, too violently, so that her face was left in her two hands. I could see it lying there: its hollow form. It cost me an indescribable effort to stay with those two hands, not to look at what had been torn out of them. I shuddered to see a face from the inside, but I was much more afraid of that bare flayed head waiting there, faceless." (From The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, trans. Stephen Mitchell (New York, 1983)

Something about this sheep is faceless. Clearly it has a face, eyes, nostrils, mouth that might even be making alarm noises. But it is also, already, something skinned alive, it's too smooth, the eye is not in it. The mouth is like the mouth of a ceramic vessel, the wool like talus at the base of a granite outcropping. Some part has been left off, or left out. It is a face unsheathed.

Balzac thought that in the process of taking a photograph, some outer layer or film was removed from the Being of the sitter and taken by the image -- a primitive fear. But something of this primitive fear attends here, in this thing stripped of its Being, but stripped of a Being which is not like an essence. It feels meat-like. Something material is lacking.

The front legs are horrifying. They are brittle and hollow like sticks, chalks, osteoporosic and insect-like. They could snap off at any moment leaving that bald blind head braying and immotile at the base of the brambles.

Yet at the same time there is something mawkishly sweet about the image that makes it nursery-like. At other moments a joyous ecstasy appears in that face as it turns heliotropically towards the light.

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