James Joyce wrote to a friend that there were enough puzzles and enigmas in Ulysses to keep the professors busy for centuries. I was looking for a long-term project, and this brag had stuck in my mind. With fifty years of painting to buoy me up, I set about my Puzzles and Enigmas project, seeking visual correspondences to Joyce’s great novel and to Homer’s Odyssey. While painting, I undertook a second reading of Ulysses, a diligent reading of Ulysses Annotated, and a third or fourth reading of
the Odyssey. I also read Richard Ellmann’s biography of Joyce and Brenda Maddox’s of Nora Barnacle, Joyce’s partner and wife, mother of their children, brilliant raconteuse, inspiration for luscious Molly Bloom, and finally his welcoming Penelope. The project kept me busy for nearly two years.
Comprehending Ulysses was a challenge in its unsurpassed portrayal of a human being, Leopold Bloom, in all his aspects, from quotidian bodily functions to poetic contemplation of the universe. In establishing my own correspondences with Ulysses and the Odyssey, I felt barely afloat in turbulent waters, grasping at surfaces while aware of the depths of Bloom’s fulsome, knockabout day in Dublin and Odysseus’s fated return to Ithaca.
I was rescued by my version of cryptographs – objects and scenes from both Ulysses and the Odyssey worked into puzzling arrangements bound by color and form, movement and feeling. Along with these objects and scenes, each painting includes a partial map of Dublin, where Bloom wanders in that particular episode, as well as shapes expressing Homer’s propulsive epic meter. I’ve finished eighteen watercolor paintings, 22” x 30”. Each painting responds to an episode in Ulysses and the engendering event in the Odyssey.
My intent has been to create intriguing works that viewers, whether or not intimately familiar with the two epics, will deepen their sense of kinship with the luminous worlds of Joyce and Homer.
January 20, 2020