"UNDER THE BLACK FLAG"
oil on linen. 30"x 48"
This painting depicts actual artifacts recovered from the shipwreck believed to be Blackbeard's flagship the "Queen Anne's Revenge"
(click on image for detail)
This is a post about one of the most unique still life paintings ever created and no I'm not too modest to say it. Not that one doesn't exist, but I have never heard of a still life painting of artifacts, much less shipwreck artifacts and pirates at that! But not just any pirate, we're talking Blackbeard. Not the Disney version, no yo ho ho or Hollywood fantasy....this is the real deal.
In 1718 a ship grounded on a bar just off the inlet leading into the port town of Beaufort, NC where I live and work. It was the large French Slave Ship once known as La Concorde but renamed after her capture the Queen Anne's Revenge by her captor, the pirate now known as Blackbeard. This was Blackbeard's flagship and the story goes that he had the ship grounded purposely (while he and his closest mates were in another sloop) in order to break up the large pirate company that he had assembled and thus making for larger shares of future prizes for the crew members that remained. In November of 1996, the wreckage of the ship "Queen Anne's Revenge" was found at the spot where she originally grounded in 1718. It soon became apparent that a treasure trove of artifacts went down with the ship and an all out recovery effort began which continues today.
A few years ago my wife and I owned a house here in Beaufort which was right around the corner from a house said to have been frequented by Blackbeard, and some claim that he even built it, not true. One day I was working at the easel and had an idea like a lightning bolt strike me right out of the blue. I wasn't even thinking anything close to this at the time...just WHAMMO! What if I could get access to the artifacts from the "Queen Anne's Revenge" and do a still life painting of them. I immediately saw the painting, flag and all. I could hardly contain myself. Being fairly familiar with some of the artifacts since the local newspaper gave almost weekly updates, I sketched out right then the basis for the painting I wanted to do:
It was crude and there actually wasn't a candle (I later told one of the divers on the wreck to find me one!) but this was the genesis. Since the State of North Carolina owned this site and was overseeing the recovery, I knew that I would have to work in concert with them. I put together a proposal, sent it to them and soon thereafter I got the call I had hoped for, they loved the idea of the painting. They allowed me access to all of the artifacts, not only the ones that had been conserved but the ones that were currently in the conservation process. I first went to all of the places that housed the artifacts to see what was available and to make notes, etc. so that I could arrive at the final composition. Deciding what the painting would consist of, how I would arrange the elements and most importantly, what did I want to say with this thing was very very stressful. I mean, how often am I going to get the chance to paint Blackbeard's stuff?!!! I also knew that more than likely this painting was going to receive a lot of attention, plus there were scores of archeologists, scientist, curators and thousands of Blackbeard fanatics that would call me out if I didn't do something pretty spectacular, again this IS Blackbeard. So I decided to put more than just the artifacts in the work, I was going to put Blackbeard himself in it.
As far as we know,Blackbeard was a man of significant cunning and intelligence, and based upon his penchant for impersonating the devil no doubt had a toe in the dark side. So below is the composition that I based the painting on and as you can see one of the main structural features is a pentagram which was associated with the "Pythagorean Society".
This is the structure of the composition and all of the elements in the painting are positioned in reference to this diagram (see composite image below). The letters refer to "The Keys" to the painting (see also below).
This is the outline for the composition based on the artifacts after I had researched them and selected the ones I wanted to use. The numbers are reference numbers for the legend that appears further below.
And here is the composite image of the structure and composition.
In case you care to know what all the numbers and letters refer to, then below are the "legends" that reference a lot of what is in this painting....though there are still a few "secrets" that I'll probably just keep quiet on.
click on pages to enlarge
And here is the legend for the numbers on the composition:
And now, here are a few pictures of some of the artifacts as I photographed them for the painting:
A "concreted "pewter plate was brought out of the desalinization tank for this shot, (my antique wine bottles standing in)
Large pewter charger with styrofoam cannonballs and an earthenware jug stands in for the bell
THE BELL! and a small brass device called a sector
one of the cannonballs (I photographed each individual cannonball and painted them as accurately as possible)
ballast stones, had hundreds to choose from!
this black glass wine bottle was too fragile to handle (this is the stuff that makes curators nervous)
When I had all of the photographs and other information I needed to execute the work, I set about creating a preliminary study to see how the composition would work and to get the okay from the State of NC and the archeologists, conservators and curators:
pencil study for the painting
A note about the flag used in this painting...my wife,a gifted seamstress, hand sewed the flag and its elements. When she was stitching it, my instructions to her was "sew like a pirate!" Little did I know at the time how well she could sew like a pirate (more on that later). The flag was taken to Ocracoke Island, a known haven for the pirate, and was photographed at night in an old house located at Teaches Hole, the place where Blackbeard was killed.
The study received approvals all the way around and I began work on the painting. I initiated work on the painting in my Beaufort studio and after a month we moved up to our other house at the time in historic Edenton, North Carolina's second oldest town and hauntingly beautiful, and I completed the painting at midnight in my Edenton studio. If Beaufort was the perfect place to begin this piece, Edenton was the perfect place to do the majority of the work and ultimately finish it. I have no doubt that Blackbeard as well as many other pirates dropped anchor in Edenton Bay.
It is widely known that Governor Eden was, shall we say not too hard on Blackbeard, in fact he was probably in cahoots with the pirate. Can't say I blame him based on the circumstances of the day. Governor Eden is buried in St. Paul's Cemetery in Edenton and during the time I was working on the painting I would on my afternoon walks sometimes just go pay the Governor a visit and remind myself that I was painting this piece in about as appropriate place as could be painted. The muse was bursting at the seams!
St. Paul's Cemetery in Edenton (this is not Gov. Eden's headstone)
The painting took close to 4 months to complete and after it was finished, the NC Dept. of Cultural Resources held an official unveiling with the media and State officials. The painting was purchased by a major benefactor of the NC Maritime Museum and given to the museum where it is now part of their permanent collection and will be exhibited in the new "Blackbeard's Queen Anne's Revenge 1718" exhibition opening this summer 2011, at the NC Maritime Museum. It was a once in a lifetime painting for me just like this very long post will probably be once in a lifetime too....at least I hope.
here's an encore
"UNDER THE BLACK FLAG"