The Restoration of Bettie Page – 01-04-20
In November 2018 I started this project after a prestudy in graphite ‘An archeological memory of Bettie Page – 13-11-18’. Since the canvas size of this painting is bigger than the original drawing the balance between main theme (camel, statue and stele) and the negative space around it should show more coherence. It just felt not right to leave a lot of space while main theme was to be portrayed so lavisly.
I always have been an admirer or Jan van Eyck’s ‘The Madonna of Chancellor Rolin’ and that is the main reason to add an abundancy of details in this one as well. See if I can match the quality of old master’s work.
In general I could state that in this painting i tried to employ all my knowledge and techniques on a level of creating art. Jan van Eyck could have stated: “Als Ich Can”.
For some time I hesitated to put down explanatory remarks as there is nothing worse than explaining a good joke. However I put in so many details making sense only to me as an artist as the story grew inside my mind, that a necessary explanation prevails over the risk of not being understood by anyone.
In the original drawing ‘An archeological memory of Bettie Page – 13-11-18’ I drew Bettie after Salvador Dali’s painting ‘Archeological reminiscence of Millet’s Angelus’ I already knew for a very long time. It appealed to me because of the idea of a comtemporary situation set back as a remnant of eras gone by.
Actually at the beginning of 2019 I did not have a clue yet what the story around the statue and stele might be. However through the process of association working like a chain reaction I saw in Bettie Page a symbol of the U.S. in the 1950s: Everybody had her naughty pictures but denied it and therefor Bettie in all her pin-up glory could be considered to be an early emancipated and sexually freed woman.
Together with the Dali concept the idea grew in me that the U.S. recently rediscovered the Bettie statue in the Middle East and now are restorating it, opening up all kinds of possibilities to portray America’s role in this geopolitical sensitive hot spot. This American them also fitted seamlessly with the main theme (sexuality and the U.S.) as depicted in my previous Bettie painting: ‘The Revelation of Bettie Page (2018)’.
The abovementioned association brought me visions of U.S. troops, archeologists, private military contractors from companies like Blackwater, army vehicles, franchised caterers and explosions. In my case one idea quickly leads to another, easily causing a rubble pile of thoughts, so I had to structure them in clusters around the statue, sphinx and stele, each as a side story contributing to the main theme and overall story.
The arrangement of the sphinx and stele were pretty much horizontal whereas the statue puts the stress on verticality. It worked just fine in the drawing, resembling the way egyptian art has been executed in the first place. I decided to arrange all side stories connected to eachother across diagonal lines of attention.
I put myself on the stele and put a vanishing point between my eyes, placing the spectator in my shoes. All themes like the army camp, falled off arm, signature stele and bomb squad car, scissor lift and scaffolding are aligned with that vanishing point, creating necessary diagonals balancing out all things horizontal and vertical.
This diagonality is even enforced by the bracing in the scaffolding, beams in the scissor lift and last but not least the division caused by the caesura in the middle of the painting by means of the hand that lets go the polka dot scarf (referring to the 1950s) and the attention the helicopters and camel in the right upper corner. The colour red (scarf, mum’s sweater, my red jacket and
red beam in the helicopter enforces this focus on diagonality even more.
This having said about the color red, I used only a small amount of saturated colours like inside the tomb in the front, in the Bettie Burger bill board, the power generator and the plasterer’s t-shirt, in order to
balance out many unsaturated ones. I stronly believe saturated colours should be used far less than unsaturated ones. Thus a nice quantitative contrast is gained and and a hefty chroma that would wear out quickly the attention of the spectator, is avoided.
Paul Signac’s painting ‘Comblat and the valley of the Cere’ and many similar impressionistic paintings inspired me to use yellows and purples in order to suggest light, althought the chroma is not too hefty for reasons as I described hereabove. I strongly believe the use of colours to suggest light and a nice tonal value range is conducive to the acceptance of this rather surrealist landscape to be
In the background burning oil fields are visible, a sight only too familiar and associated with conflicts in the Middle East in the recent past (first Gulf war, ISIL).
On the tarmac behind the Bettie Burger a Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II (Warthog) is visible, iconic in many U.S. campains in the Middle East.
At the left side the ruins of Persepolis in modern Iran lay deserted.
In the past everybody wanted to have a piece of Bettie and perhaps this made her end her modelling carreer. Every military base needs its burger place and therefor after all these years, Bettie can be eaten out as a snack again. By the way a tilted MacDonald’s ‘M’ makes a nice ‘B’ for Bettie.
The bill board confirms this: What’s your pick? You can call +963 11235813, Syria’s land code is 963 and 11235813 is the Fibonacci sequence. According to Nikola Tesla the 3.6.9. sequence was the key to the universe.
To the right of the bill board the three wise are riding camelback.
The two desert cars at the left are modelled after Australian desert troops.
On the Sphinx in the front I put some archeologists, staring at the scenery.
The entrance of the tomb
Late in the game of this painting I was checking some Egyptian archeological dig sites and came across pictures of the valley of the dead. I saw these entries to tombs and came to the idea of Bettie buried inside or underneath the Sphinx and/or statue. This one recently has been discovered and now archeologists are preparing for her excavation.
There is always something to do in the Middle East, among others tracking IED’s (Improvised Exposive Devices) in Iraq. I placed a small bomb package underneath a mini stele with my signature on it. A soldier warns a group of solders for the IED. This group was modelled after the group of soldiers at Iwo jima, planting a flag in 1945.
The idea was to have a large group of archeologists excavating Bettie’s leg. At the left there is a cameraman and a sound technician recording a quarrel between an archeologist and a soldier about the demarcation tape attached to Bettie’s toes. In the front a skeleton is exhumed. To the right the entrance of a second tomb is visible. This second one also came late in the game and enhanced the feeling of depth in the painting even more.
I placed my parents in the scissor lift, coming to visit me. The bag with wine and a baguette is an ode to them and takes me back to my student days when I got loads of food on my way home. With this painting I thank them for all what they have done for me.
My dad holds a hammer, pointing it to Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones) on the thigh of the statue. Both were carpenters once.
Behind the lift there is a portocabin underneath the scaffolding. The map of the Middle East is at the back and in the front a man behind a desk watches General Soleimani on his screen.
I liked the idea of having an object showing artificial light and causing light reflections in the purple cast shadow of the Sphinx.
The military camp
I took the idea for this one directly from Jan van Eyck’s ‘The Madonna of Chancellor Rolin’. I teach my students that it is okay to show details as long as they do not demand the attention too much. From Van Eyck I learned that spectators who want to see more, you can offer them a ‘painting 2.0’: a whole new world opening up for those who want to look futher.
In the front, hardly visible there is a news van with the letter ‘FIX’ hardly visible on it. The presidential beast is behind it in the middle.
I wanted to create the maximum amount of activity, suggesting lots of depth and activity. Therefor I put in: humvees, MRAP’s, tents, SUV’s, 2 F16’s, a transport air plane, an Abrams tank, a drone, a couple of Black Hawks and Apaches, an AWACS air plane, a bomb explosion (at the back) and (hardly visible) the Abraj al-Bait tower at Mecca. Behind the city I put in a mountain range creating the illusion of small (city) and mountaints (big) so the overall depth is increased tremendously.
In the front there is this statue that serves as a signpost straight out of the Mash movie. One name is visible: Nashville: Bettie’s hometown.
I almost broke my mind about this one. I corrected it a couple of times and I still am not sure whether it is the correct depiction according to linear perspectives or not. Anyway, this is the best I can come up with and the scaffolding creates an illusion of 3 dimensionality around the sphinx, whereas the absence could induce the risk of the appearance of a 2D cardboard plane.
On the 2 upper floors I put PMC’s guarding the scene and at the floor below them I put Trump and Lewis Paul Bremmer III. Of course there is a necessary waiter catering to the needs of these officials by serving them Dom Perignon. Secret service is about to discover the plot against these officials executed by a sniper below their floor (one killed PMC) but PMC’s at the the SUV’s see something happening at this floor and perhaps everyone is saved eventually. An open end to the story?
The three archeologists
These ones came early in the painting and it seemed only logical to put some famous archeologists in the painting: Zahir Hawass (Egypt), Indiana Jones (!) and Howard Carter (Tutankhamun). They also show a great contrast in the scale of the statue. Estimating the length of an adult male one quickly has an idea about its immense size.
Click here to read about the principle of ambiguous images as explained in my post ‘Gaia – 16-03-16’.
Click here to see the the painting in its frame, made by my father and great carpenter Henk Akkers.
Click here to see the original drawing ‘An archeological memory of Bettie Page – 13-11-17’ that served as a prestudy for this painting.
Oil on wood panel (85 x 120 x 0.9 cm)
Artist: Corné Akkers
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