Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Hello to Deuteronomy

It’s been weeks since my last post. Scary how quickly the time flies, and how easy it is to slide softly, unnoticeably, from a commitment.
But the preparations for Deuteronomy have been an important lesson too—it getting fixated, and letting go.
On the day I finished with Numbers, I walked out to ceremoniously buy myself a new sketchbook for Deuteronomy. Nothing appealed. (Yes, I have a fetish about my sketchbooks. They have to be the right size, the right texture, the right weight in my hands. Bibliophilia run wild). I leave disappointed, to try the second art supply shop, when lo! There on the bench, right outside the Artist House, is a pile of old books.
One is a crumbling copy of an old German translation of the psalms. It’s love at first sight. Old, yellowish paper. Cloth cover with gold. A perfect size.  The irregular shape of the text running down the middle of the page.

That’s it! I think. Deuteronomy—the “second telling”, or in Hebrew, Mishne Torah: the review of the Torah. This is the book of retelling, when Moses gives his own version of the books gone by. What better medium than a requisitioned book? Do an actual second telling, with palimpsests coming through beneath. Obviously, it was meant to be! Here it was, waiting for me just as I searched (amazing how God always falls in with our plans, isn't it?)
Problem solved, I waltzed back to the studio, feeling destiny was on my side. The plan was to begin Deuteronomy that very day, after I typed up my “Goodbye to Numbers”. A little gesso over the text to blur it, and the drawing above. Alas, the problems began right away. The paper was fragile and crumbling. A bit of gesso, and it began to tear. The ancient ink spread, staining the gesso a dirty grey. But by now I was committed. Obviously it  was meant to be. The answer was to stick pages together for durability, and put on another, heavier layer of gesso. Then I had to wait for it to dry, so obviously I couldn’t begin that day. It’s all right, I though. I’ll wait. Preparation is part of the process. The next day, I realized I would need to prepare several pages in advance, or the drawings would get ruined as I glued papers together. Wait again.

Meanwhile, my trip to Limmud was fast approaching, and I had not yet begun Deuteronomy.
I prepared more pages. Some warped, some tore. I left for Limmud, and convinced myself that it was for the best, that there is only so much you can juggle; convinced I would still get it to work.
Now I’m back, post London excitement, and I've fallen behind, thanks to my grand visions of needing to use this book. Time and distance do much. I got back to the studio, and realized that the book was not the magical bit of perfection I thought it, and that maybe this wasn’t actually meant to be. As I removed the cup I had put to separate the pages as the gesso dried, another page tore.

It was a moment of letting go.
I do love the texture of the gesso and the book, and even of the tears and repairs. But if I keep trying to prepare it, Deuteronomy will move further and further away.
At the end of the day, I think continuity is more important than perfection. So I’ll leave my requisitioned book for another day, and use a plain sketch book I picked up in London, that might not be perfection, but is hard cover, and thick enough to survive ware and tare an ink.
I still want to keep the idea of review and retelling. It is,  I believe, the link between Numbers and Deuteronomy.  Numbers revisited the pivotal stories of Exodus,  retelling them from the broader national perspective of the Encampment. Deuteronomy returns yet again, this time from a personal viewpoint: the words of the man who was “not a man of words”—Moses.

Rather than retelling on a requisitioned book, I will revisit all the media that I’ve used so far: the graphite of Genesis; Conte crayon of Exodus; White charcoal of Leviticus, and the ink if Numbers. My second telling will be a mixed media, bringing together the pictorial voices of the first four books. 

Onwards! (finally!) 

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