Sublime Restlessness

A response to the refurbished Recasting Canova (i)

Exhibit in the Crawford Art Gallery, Cork by Paul Connell

Over Christmas of 2009, I was gifted a set of Winsor & Newton promarkers and oh, I remember the power it felt like to wield them. They bled through paper like molten colour, and stained my little plywood box easel in unapologetic collateral damage. One colour in particular still spills out of my memory, a colour that I ran out of a dozen times since and continue to crave; Aegean blue.


I have never seen the Aegean Sea where Theseus’s father drowned, but I refuse to accept that it is anything less than this rich, and suffocating shade of blue. It is a swallowing blue, as the founder king of Athens and later Icarus would discover, but it is perfectly opaque and smooth; like taut satin sheets, and like polished tar.

Neither falling man would so much as disturb the waters’ surface on their impact, but would simply vanish into its overwhelmingly tranquil depths and traceless oblivion.

This is the colour that now washes the Crawford Art Gallery’s sculpture saloon, and soaks the historic collection of Canova casts and other sculptures in their company.

Canova blue is as refreshing as a cool sea breeze, befitting of the former customs house of the port of Cork. The sculpture gallery is transformed. The martian red and cream always spoke to me of prestige and history and was more luxurious than particularly warm, but Canova blue and its supporting brilliant white are serratedly sharp, blithe and assertive of their bright and immersive novel vitality. The red was yawning while the blue is very much awake.

It is more than the sea, it is also the sky, and the sculptures adrift in the floorspace, like the bewitchingly modest Venus, are the foam, and the reliefs on the walls, darting in and out from behind her, are the clouds. Finally there remains the rock, weathered but unbudging. In the centre of the space, around which all other things ebb and orbit in its inescapable gravity, sits and ponders the Belvedere Torso, and my pride of the collection.

The perching Titan swells in the space, dwarfing even the likes of Apollo and Laocoon, who stand helpless in its periphery. There is an endearing old adage that says sculpture exists somewhere between flesh and stone, as if it can be so easily plotted on an x & y graph. The Torso is not so humanly delicate, I do not believe it could bleed; it is closer to stone, or perhaps even further beyond that polar extreme, existing somewhere between flesh and the mountain from which it is hewn.

Laden with latent energy, the hulk cranes its arched back and aching spine as if rising from slumber, dozens of muscles along its sides and chest buckle under its weight. This interruption or punctuation in the motion as the torso tenses infects the viewer with the same asphyxiated and claustrophobic shortness of breath that the torso endures devoid of climax or release, never completing its stretch, frozen in strain. The strain of Ajax contemplating his suicide, or of Hercules crippled with guilt, the Belvedere Torso depicts tormented stillness in a form that would have me trembling, not unlike the shudder or shiver of a paused sit up exercise. If anything can neutralise or preserve this strain and tremble, like an insect in amber, it is the all encompassing Canova blue.

For me, drawing from the Torso was an exercise in conflict; restless; sublime.


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