Monday, January 10, 2011

The Locusts: The Evolution of a Collage ( 1/8/11)

A true and verifiable Story told and illustrated by the artist,
Mary Boxley Bullington

The Locusts, a mixed media collage of papers painted and scribbled with acrylic, gesso, charcoal, and oil pastel on rag board, 26 1/4" x 29 1/4." Created between July 1-Oct. 1, 2010.

July 1, 2010:
Midsummer, traditionally a time of relative leisure and gaiety,I started on a new collage in my studio.
The Locusts were to be a fun piece in a "bug" series," designed to be shown in a gallery window in mid-July.

The Locusts, ca. July 4, 2010.

The first phase (above) was finished in a few days. I just needed to paint in a more cheerful background color, and the collage would be done.

But I didn't like the bug eyes.

After all, summer 2010 was a dismaying time. In April, soon after the Haitian earthquake and the eruption of the volcano in Iceland, the Gulf of Mexico exploded with a massive oil spill that threatened to inundate even the Atlantic Ocean. We were told in May--pretty accurately, as it turned out--it would take until August to contain the spill, which is still in the process of being cleaned up and investigated. Thousands of people's livelihoods in Louisiana and Mississippi looked to be wiped out.

Anyway, I didn't like the bugs' eyes, so I started experimenting. I went through a cigar box of human eyes and foreheads I cut from paintings on paper and  save from time to time, and tried several of these. No dice. They were almost all too small. So began ferreting through the dry cleaner's crate of human heads (and other body parts) I keep under a table in my smaller studio.

The Locusts, second phase, mid-July.

I'd had this particular face at least 2-3 years, one of several I had from a sheet of faces I'd painted from memory roughly based on medieval Bible illuminations. As I gave the creatures human faces, they came to life, especially the larger one on the bottom. Then I gave the king human hands.  The entire tenor of the work changed..

I had on my drafting table not the cricket and the beetle I had started with, but two medieval hybrids.

The image was now literally Apocalyptic. The wedding of disparate parts and mismatches had produced a monstrous bride and groom, two composite creatures related directly to the 9th chapter of the Book of Revelation (Douay)--and to the Maius Beatus illuminations  I had begun pondering when I was writing my dissertation on the biblical poems of the Gawain-poet, and had revisited off and on ever since. (I had titled one of chapter subheadings in my dissertation "And the Shapes of the Locusts Were like unto Horses," a discussion of the possible meaning of images hybrids in medieval sacred books.)

Shown above, from the blessed Wikipedia: "Angel of the Abyss and Locusts - from the Silos Beatus, by Beatus of Liebana, 1109. Commentary on the Apocalypse (Commentaria In Apocalypsin) was originally an eighth century work by the Spanish monk and theologian Beatus of LiƩbana. Today, it refers to any of the extant manuscript copies of this work, especially any of the 26 illuminated copies that have survived. It is often referred to simply as the Beatus. The historical significance: contained a map."

Third phase: I fitted Queen Locust with a sad, pretty face--
I loved this face, but it wasn't menacing enough to be the countenance of an Apocalyptic Locust. Anything but--

The Locusts, approaching end of phase 2: Queen Locust acquires a jester's face. This didn't seem right, either.

So I went into my other studio where I was working on a different collage--

From my larger studio July 2010: an early, unglued stage of the small work soon to become "Centrifugal Family"--

The face center left was pointed in exactly the right direction to be cut out and transposed to the queen locust.
But she was pretty friendly. Some acrylic mixed with gesso would change that!

The Locusts, phase 3: The queen locust with the new face I'd harvested from a group of ladies I'd been set to collage.

But of course, if I removed the lady on the left, it would mean I had to rework the smaller collage--
and so I did--

This collage became "Centrifugal Family." The semicircles under the red paint are all that remain of the lady is the blue hat. That's the beauty of collage.

Meanwhile, I was still tweaking the locusts' bodies--especially the legs, bellies, and wings.

Apocalypse Now.

Pretty soon, I thought I was set--the queen had a new face, and I'd painted the background a soft shade of yellow.
I was finished!

But when I took it out of my studio and set it up so I could look at it for a day, I grew dissatisfied--again.

I realized I had to change the face--and enlarge the piece as a whole.  It was too smallto hold these hybrids.
What to do?
Well, first, I painted a whole newline-up of male heads. And if I didn't want them to look like Osama bin Locust, I would need a more conscious reference. Classical? Jupiter!
I painted a series of Zeuses and threw in a couple of Dionyses for good measure, then cut them up and masked and re-masked until I had one

I thought might do.
At the same time, I started experimenting with larger backgrounds.

The Locusts, 8/7/10.

But pretty soon
Zeus Locust began to bother me.
He looked a bit diffident--kind of like Colin Firth before
he conquers his stammer in "The King's Speech."

OK. I gave him some sharp teeth--and made his eyebrows madder.
You get the idea.)

My neighbor Molly came over: "That's scary," she said.
The teeth

had to go.

I went rooting around again through old stuff until I found

a male head with enormous charcoal eyes.

He was much too yellow
(took no picture, so you'll have to imagine the skin here to be a fine pale yellow ochre)
and much too big. But the eyes were just right.

So I chopped the head into 2 or 3 sections, trimming brow and cheeks, and cut chin
almost completely off. Then I reassembled the pieces: The distortion was good. It made the face look

rather determined.I glued it down and painted it red.

Finally, I cut the locusts off their background sheet so I could give them the scorpion tails with their not quite deadly stings.

--the Queen's tail--

-- and the King's Tail.

The hybrids were almost done.
I greened the King's eyebrows and gave him blue sideburns, horns, and a small blue goatee .

But fair is fair.
I gave the queen

a new coiffure.

Then I glued them into the center of a red-brick patio.
Finally, nearly 3 months after I started them, The Locusts were done.

The Locusts.
Mixed media collage of painted papers on painted rag board, 29 1/8 x 26 1/16."


  1. I like the sort of tiling-on-plaster (or whatever) effect in the frame and background...

    Wonderful how your thinking changed. I think you should also go back to the black-and-white king and do something more with him. Strong face.

    Wish I could see them in person. So after all these layerings and foolings-around, does the whole thing have a pronounced texture?

    Those stingers look like fuschia blossoms!

    And what did you show in the gallery window that July?

  2. Thanks, Marly--yes, there's lots of texture and depth (like bas relief), but am still tinkering with the damn framing of same. Right now, it's under glass with a wide white mat, but I think I'm going to buy a piece of birch plywood, gesso it, and nail the things to it, and then reframe it with a bare-wood frame. Will have to spray it with a ton of acrylic varnish.

    Answer to question 1: Sorry, but the blck and white king is in the collage, largely, but not entirely submerged under the other masks--his bear still shows.

    Answer to question 2: I cancelled the damn window--

  3. Oops for the window.

    Well, I know he was buried, but he's interesting. He could be reborn, you know!

    I shall see all that texture for myself some day.

  4. well, someone who sorta resembles him could be painted afresh--


  6. This made me laugh out loud. Osama Bin Locust! You are too much. Very interesting process here...well done.

  7. Thank you for coming in and speaking to our class about your work. Seeing how the development process can change as you rework your piece was interesting for it reminds one that art can be developing and growing as the artist develops and grows as well.
    Hollins MALS

  8. So fun to see how it evolved!!! I still plan to buy some cards from you. Sorry it's taking so long. Quite literally ran out of money but I'm working to rectify the situation. :)

  9. Hey Mary, it's still time to post! XD

    You post all the time of fb, but never here. But the whole world is out here. Come out and play...

  10. OK, OK--am over the hump and gettin' to it, Marly! (Thanks for your impatience and your nudges.)

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