The blog of Richard Thompson, caricaturist, creator of "Cul de Sac," and winner of the 2011 Reuben Award for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Two Centuries and One Year of Rigid Vogner*

Richard  Wagner was the first composer whose work I had a real infatuation with. I was in 11th grade and the history teacher, Mr. Honey, was introducing us to early 20th century European history. He dimmed the lights and turned on the record player in the back of the classroom and picked out some mood music, as he often did, and- Wait, you know what's coming next, right?

Well, suffice it to say that the details of the early stirrings of national feeling in post-World War I Germany were for me lost in the Prelude to Act III of Lohengrin. Immediately after the class I hit the school library and checked out an LP called something like "Best of Wagner", with excerpts from his operas. Including both of the Lohengrin preludes, Die Meistersinger Prelude, and the Overture to Tannhauser, which became my particular favorite and was the first thing I ever picked out and memorized on my brother's piano. Well, the first page, anyway; right afterward it gets too hard.

The opening theme is then repeated with a galloping accompaniment that made my hair walk around on my head. It's a tune that gets heavy play in the Chuck Jones classic "What's Opera,  Doc?" Pompous, vain and dictatorial, Wagner was a peach to draw, with a wardrobe straight out of a upholsterer's nightmare. Then there're his opinions, expressed loudly and at length, on politics, art, race, everything, each more hateful than the last. And yet, when the Ring begins in the E-flat darkness of a riverbed, when Wotan says farewell to his favorite daughter forever, when Eva launches the great quintet on Johannestag in medieval Nurnberg, all is forgiven, at least for the moment.  

So you know I'm going to try drawing this guy, for my own amusement if no one else's. His face is quite distinctive and caricatures easily, especially when topped off by one of the theatrical hats he affected.      

I had an ingenious technical idea: I'd paint the final in oils, but I'd use two colors that would fight each other. I'd use lead white and bitumen; lead white because it's fast- drying, permanent and thick, and bitumen because it was popular in the 19th Century, never fully dries, and therefore almost destroyed the 19th Century art it was used in.  Over time, the painting would slowly fall apart, becoming dramatically uglier as the layers of paint, of equal permanence, shifted and cracked.

However, I got bored with the whole project. The painting was dull and didn't, as I secretly hoped, explode, but the sketches of Wagner were good. Here are a few.        

Besides, I get fed up with Wagner and his shenanigans, easily. I prefer Brahms. They had a good deal of mutual dislike, tempered by mutual respect. I'll bet Brahms would win if they ever had a rasslin' match though.


Dale said...

:-) How wonderful! And now, finally, realio trulio, I'm off to listen to Brahms.

j davis said...

Just noticed that one of the animators of "what's Opera Doc?" listed in the opening credits is Richard Thompson.

mike flugennock said...

Damn, dude. I am so jealous.

I've never been very good at broad caricature; that's why most of my stuff is based on concepts and universally-recognized symbolic imagery instead of caricatures of individual politicians.