Canto 28.58: Study for a portrait of a bejeweled bejailed schismatic with a ram’s skull. I often think about how an artwork may have layers of meaning that no viewer (including the maker) can ever fully apprehend. For example, the base image for this collage has a screaming self-portrait, not unlike the vivid image of the terrified nurse from the movie Battleship Potempkin. (Francis Bacon used the face as the starting point for at least one his screaming popes.) I found the ram’s skull on top of a rocky mountain in western Ireland, placed it on the back bumper of my car, carried it back to England where I was teaching, and then shipped it to the US. I used the skull in a series of small paintings long before including it in my journal portrait. The skull evokes death, the leaves life—but the leaves are brown . . . [This is one in a series in which I play with the idea of ‘divided-self.’ These collages are based on self-portraits I made in my visual journals of 1999, 2001, 2003 & 2005.]
While I was all agog with gazing at him,
He stared at me and, as his two hands pulled
His chest apart, cried, "Look how I rip myself!
[Canto 28, lines 28-30, translated by James Finn Cotter.]