Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Inspired by serendipity!

"Three Princes (African Elephant)"

Oil on 1/2" prepared maple
36 x 48

The painting, “Three Princes (African Elephant),” is the first painting that I actually searched for in the field. The idea and inspiration for this piece came from what I believed at the time to be the loss of the opportunity to travel to Tanzania, Africa, for the first time in 2012 -- a loss that was soon corrected by what I perceived as serendipity.

In order to get to Tanzania, I was attempting to presell paintings and/or drawings to my collectors, which when you think about it, you are asking someone to purchase something sight unseen. The deadline was fast approaching for me to put down the deposit for my trip and I hadn’t received any bites on my advance purchase promotions. I had come to the decision in my head that my trip would not happen. At the time that I was making this choice and getting ready to end the promotion, I was working on a drawing of an African elephant from references that my friend and amazing sculptor Paul Rhymer had supplied me with in order to start stirring my enthusiasm for my upcoming adventure.

Nearly finished with the drawing and starting to put my thoughts toward what I would title it, I went out for my weekly check of my post office box. In among the standard junk mail was a simple #10 envelope with a return address that I recognized, a collector who had added several pieces of mine in their collection in the past. In that short moment of tearing the envelope open, unfolding the letter and seeing one of my advance purchase agreements filled out, everything changed. In one simple letter from one collector my dream of going to Africa was a reality! I perceived this as serendipity and I so named the drawing that I was finishing up that afternoon.

As is a habit of mine, I researched the word “serendipity” and learned of its origin and the story of “The Three Princes of Serendip.” Apparently, the word serendipity was coined by Horace Walpole (1717-97) in a letter to Horace Mann acknowledging the safe arrival of a portrait of Bianca Cappello, a 16th-century beauty and Duchess of Tuscany. In this letter, Walpole uses the word serendipity for the first time and tells Mann how he came about creating it.

“This discovery indeed is almost of that kind which I call serendipity, a very expressive word, which as I have nothing better to tell you, I shall endeavour to explain to you: you will understand it better by the derivation than by the definition. I once read a silly fairy tale called The Three Princes of Serendip: as their highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accident and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of: for instance, one of them discovered that a mule blind of the right eye had travelled the same road lately, because the grass was eaten only on the left side, where it was worse than on the right – now do you understand serendipity?”
                                    ~The Three Princes of Serendip, by Richard Boyle

From this brief introduction to the tale of “The Three Princes,” I soon found myself reading the tale in its entirety and started to illustrate the story in my mind’s eye. Apparently, the mule in the story is actually a camel that has gone missing. When the camel driver questions the three princes about the missing camel, they describe attributes of the missing camel -- the camel was lame, blind in one eye and was missing a tooth -- without ever seeing it. I envisioned them putting their heads together and conversing, looking at the clues and discussing the evidence of the missing camel. It was at this moment that I thought of three elephants coming together, with their heads in conference.

I went to Tanzania in November 2012 on a mission to find the needed reference for the painting that I had seen in my head, which was inspired by researching a word, a word that I believe stepped in and made my trip to Africa happen. I was in Tarangire National Park, Tanzania, Africa, for eight days constantly searching for the vision that I had seen when reading “The Three Princes.” On day eight, overwhelmed by all that I had seen but feeling disappointed by not seeing what I was looking for, we made our way to the park entrance where I was to be picked up and taken back to Arusha for departure to the U.S. About 500 yards from the gate, serendipity once again stepped in! A small herd of bachelor elephants were grazing on the limbs of some Acacia trees and they were grouped in a manner that their heads were together as if they were in a great discussion. That was it -- there was my painting!

Back in the studio, I took the 50-plus images that I had captured from that encounter and found the needed references and worked on my composition. The painting, “Three Princes (African Elephant),” was the first piece I composed when I returned to the U.S. and is the largest painting I have created to date.


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