The Lady Oil

Oil may be contemplated with the prestige of history, a dowager princess not aged but saged in her proven endurance and power to speak through time. Her palimpsests are magnificent, and in their riddles and enigmatic mazes trace pathways unimaginable to those who would follow. Pathways of thoughts unfinished, thoughts denied, some leading to dead ends, others precipitous, all of which may be continued by the intrepid traveler if he or she is willing to risk the plunge into the abyss or collision into apparently solid walls of stone… thought-forms all, all of which will gladly reform, if the bravery of the traveler is sufficient. This resembles the path of the Fool, one with no known beginning, no known end, and no known course. Much courage is needed to follow a route of such blatant foolishness. Quixotic methods are often the best, as that hero well knew that there is no true road save that built by the traveler himself. For oil slips and slides, conceals and reveals at whim, or so it seems, dries to another color, with the passage of time and flirtation with light, cold and heat, changes the path constantly, and pities none, Fool or otherwise. She demands that her colors travel from the ends of the earth to be conjoined between the sumptuous curtains of her binding vegetable medium, no less than powdered lapis for her deepest blues, no less than poison for her whites, no less than charred and powdered bone for her blacks, crushed mummies for her browns, and the wings and ghosts of beetles for reds of lips and passions…how else can undying love be proffered, if not with a blood sacrifice? There are no compromises for this lady, and though her generosity is magnificent, it is therein that her cliffs begin. For careless error or changes of choice are permitted, but also recorded, hidden but indelible, and each of these is another layer in the stratified path of the Fool.

Yet for all of this danger, for all of these shifting paths, drawn, it seems, by chance, would it have been better to roll dice or consult the oracles? What difference would it make, where the rock face would have arisen, where the wall fallen? All may be overcome by he who fears not. It was never intended to be easy, and if only our jesting hero has the temerity to build new paths in the void, then so be it, there is the gift of immortality, or at the very least, for marble seems to have an objection, and rightly so, the gift of longevity. For in truth the Fool, in building bridges on air, will surely reach a new stage, although the timeline cannot be set, as each has his own road, but sure as not, he will no longer be a Fool at the end of the bridge which he began, no knowing, or not caring that it was, it was? impossible.

Truly though, revered marble, oil may recreate or at the very least, record, that which in you is forgotten, destroyed by wars, famines, or volcanic effluvium, recreate your former glory, give Nike back her head and the Sphinx back her nose… oil does not seek to usurp that which is not hers or of her… but such is the quality of stone, such must it be, stern and unforgiving, necessity commands it.

The secret of oil was comprehended by many masters, willingly sacrificing their sanity and humanity to her in the drawing of her spirals. Gracious, unlike many, she was generous to them also, for even as she demanded from those that would enter her labyrinths, longevity was theirs. From Venice to Monmartre, the Sistine Chapel to schoolroom, where the greatest danger, greatest sloth and greatest hopes are to be found side by side on a rough wooden bench, the names of those who became buffoons in the name of oil echo and shall echo yet… and we would do well to trace their paths, that we may be spared unnecessary toil. The canon is known, through repetition perhaps given immortality, eternity and immortality are separated by yet another gulf… its bridging remains to be seen… yet another thought-form, but not for the faint of heart… ******

 

The velvet joy of oil is in her multitude of textures, smooth and transparent as a maiden’s skin, iridescent shades self-lighting and captivating, beware this captivity, for it may draw you in as surely as a whirlpool, thickly textured and passionate in spatula, finger strokes, undulating as waves, bursting out of its wall-flat frame. The greatest deception is that of the two-dimensional nature of figurative art, yet few seem to have perceived it. It is the secret upon which the Fool stumbles with nonchalance and not a little joy, it is the hope of the artist in thrall to his work and recompense for his sleepless nights, sleepless knights, it is the unseen answer to the prayers of those who seek the bridges and pathways not yet manifest, but it is there only for those who will follow the path of the Fool, no prayers will suffice if one does not raise the eyes to see: it is the secret of the tessaract, the manifestation of the four dimensions intertwined. Physicists strain and struggle over endless numbers, metaphysicians over obscure symbols no less… the poets seem to be closer, those erstwhile bridge-builders who must lay the first flagstones, yet in time will follow also… In the oil, the endless coil, in the hand of the artist, form is returned to its three dimensional glory, in unity with time… into time and through time. Moment upon moment knit into wrinkled time within the labyrinths of oil. A skilled hand, surrendered body, sleep now clay, be at peace, soon it shall be forever…and open mind are necessary. Let it be noted then, by those that would seek to forge a new model of that which is known but does not satisfy, that the paths of oil may yet show a way, may constitute yet another bridge to that end, for surely oil, in all her glory, cannot reach the final destination, but may provide the wrinkle in time necessary to make the leap across the confounding void.

And so it is, that blushing cheek and lip of love forgotten may be ever kept in memory. So it is that battles lost and won, wars waged and hilltops gained in futile yet vital conflict, blood spilled, is not kept secret only in the stone, but in the color also, in the flesh and in the light for oil is the lover of light also, though to wood she may be wed, this is no adultery, it is a joining blessed by those who first taught the use of color and art to the hands that would be the willing recompense for the art of knowledge… or is it knowledge of art? And it has yet to be seen whether their ultimate sacrifice was in vain. Their avengement is in the feet of the Fool and of those who would follow him. Yet again the maze captivates, as we are reminded of the sequence of knowledge and the ultimate power that oil, in her capacity as agent of art may offer: in transpiring to be the minister of nature, that daughter of time. The mesh is never-ending, the spiral perpetual, the irony of it all unlost on the dowager princess, ignored entirely by the Fool, whistling merrily as he spans the cords of the web… and the tragedy seen only by the artist, cog in the wheel of destiny it seems, he feels, he snarls… For it is not enough for the name to be uttered throughout eternity, for even as the Duchess’ tapestry is woven, intertwining the fates of many, so the artist is doomed to be mortal, and of clay you are created, seek not to overstep your nature, creature of fate, you have been warned many times. Doomed to be the sacrifice to time, even as he may hold its secrets with bare and grimy hand. Unworthy. Unworthy? But an ingredient in an infernally celestial recipe? As flesh and blood and bones decay then, are lost then, the fingers that fashioned the countenance of the Lady of Oil as softly as those of a lover, through so many sleepless nights, doomed still to the embrace of Lethe, though the spirit may hope to redemption, the name yearn to be echoed in marble halls and dusty schoolrooms to the echoes of yawns, is this to be the highest calling of those whom you have marked before even they know it? This disrupts the harmony. Is it then to be that all should follow the path of the Fool to break this cycle? Is it?

Let us then humor our good Lady, follow awhile the Fool, no joker, to observe how he may weave through her warp and weft with lightest of tripping steps, for it must also be remembered that the most elusive of truths is to be found hidden in broad sight…

the first step is taken. The cord quivers, but does not break. Athene knew this when she enclosed Arachne in such repellent form… beauty and strength would ever spring from her fingertips. As it vibrates, the message is already sent to the core, to the surrounding spires and spirals of the mesh, all are notified, the game begins. Ariadne, wine-drenched maiden is with her passionate lover now, Minotaurs and harpies must be negotiated alone. Yet the stakes are higher than the fates of seven maidens and seven youths…were that it was but they… The second step is taken, then the third, the door closes now, there is to be no faintness of heart … that much grace was permitted, but the Fool, as is his nature, would not have considered it. The Artist as Fool has consciously selected it… yet it is here that consciousness too must be left at the gate, for this is not a world of sense, nor of chance either, this cord he treads is the knife-edge between the two, and razor-sharp it is. This is the shadowland of color, altogether more dangerous than that of the milky charcoal blackness, for that at least has few twists and changes, here there is the shadow of color to contend with, each tone and each shade has its own, and each of those its own voice. Did you think the tessaract would reveal its secret so willingly?

And so the journeyman moves on, and so the mesh and labyrinth enclose and enfold. There will be many encounters on this journey, many fantastical beasts, once met in fairy tales, now in the flesh, alas, were it but fantasy. There, at the end of the first bridge stands a three-headed bird, magnificent in its monstrosity. Heads of black, red and white, wings clipped and feathers few. Yet he does not falter in his step, he courses merrily along – and note, dear reader, that beneath the cord-bridge descends an abyss uncountenanced, its depth lost in clouds. Yet the Fool continues. He reaches into his haversack, barely missing a stride. He reaches, pulls out a bone. He tosses it away, below, yet even as it enters the clouds, a ringed arm, white as death, grasps, caresses, and retreats into the nebula – glowing bluer now. He continues and approaches. The bird moves not, only the necks, with piteous, hideous heads, wearily squawk and groan. Be reminded, gentle reader, of the form of the Fool as commonly rendered. Be reminded, as he reaches behind to the serpent that has dogged his steps since the beginning of his journey – and that is a longer tale – bringing it to face, bestows the kiss of death upon it… drips the blood into each of the waiting beaks, as gently as a mother bird in the first stirrings of spring…

And so continues on his path, with a hop and a skip and a hi-di-ho…

A conundrum worth exploring. In this way may the secret waterways be rediscovered, and the treasures submerged in the lagoon and guarded by the water sprites also, the echoes of the bones of those that died for the love of La Serenissima and Casanova’s recipe for chocolate cake… the echoes of his lovers’ sighs also… and now she sinks…yet lives always in oil…

Beyond this cord there lie others many, and the bird shall not so easily be dispensed with, nor be permitted to live in such a form. It is not for so little that our children have been terrorized and our psychoanalysts plagued with questions, our women burned throughout the ages. Further Green Knights, Green Lions, Red Dragons and Kings await, and the mystery of the white nebulous arm has yet to be answered.

But for that we must await the turning of the page, the twanging of the cord, as the Fool rests awhile under a leafy bough, seated, as always, on the cord of Arachne and the Lady of Oil…