Friday, 19 March 2010

Henry Hudson and William Roper-Curzon

I'm writing a short story for the artist Henry Hudson. He's a proponent of the new grotesque, and makes marvellous Hogarthian pictures out of plasticine. They are alive, haptic, roisterous. Here is the biography which appears in a pamphlet for the show, with a short excerpt from the story, which is titled 'Henry Underground'.

I've also been to a show by William Roper-Curzon, who does intricate drawings. One that particularly hooked me was Diana and Actaeon. Titian and Ovid, two of the layers that slide beneath The Liberators. The Actaeon story, in its violence, its poignancy, is always startling and shocking. The hunter stumbles upon the virgin goddess as she bathes; for his impudence, he is turned into a stag, and torn apart by his own dogs. You don't spy on a goddess.

"He flies through grounds where oftentimes he chased had ere tho;
Even from his own folk is he fain, alas, to flee away.
He strained oftentimes to speak, and was about to say,
'I am Actaeon. Know your lord and master, sirs, I pray.'
But use of words and speech did want to utter forth his mind." (Golding)

The Latin is as follows: "clamare libebat,
'Actaeon ego sum, dominum cognoscite vestrum.'
verba anima desunt; resonat latratibus aether.'

Golding misses the terrible, haunting contrast of the lack of words with the 'latratibus' - barkings - 'resonat' - resounding - in the air.

There are many theories as to why Diana exacts such terrible punishment upon the innocent Actaeon. Perhaps the myth stemmed from Actaeon's arrogance in boasting that he was better than the goddess at hunting (always a bad thing to boast in front of a god, I find); perhaps there is at the story's root a veneration for a female cult, where a goddess' statue was washed, and men were not allowed; it was only in later versions that the myth was eroticised. Whichever way, the suddenness of Actaeon's death is a reminder of our own fragility as we hunt through the forests of the world. I think that Roper-Curzon's drawing captures that wildness and that haunting sense of impermanence beautifully. The lines tremble, as we too tremble at the hunter's fate.

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