[by Fred Lynch, outside Boston]
When a gladiator failed at the Colosseum, I doubt is was easy to face the challenge again. I, on the other hand, can just turn the page after failing at a drawing. But not without feeling defeated.
It wasn't until my eighth year of teaching in Central Italy, that I faced the Colosseum—attempting to draw it. It was intimidating. I'm a student of art history and understand full well that foreign artists have faced Roman antiquities for hundreds of years—painting, drawing and learning from them. I’ll bet no building in Rome has been painted more than the Colosseum has; there are hundreds of works from some of the world's greatest artists. It's humbling.
Looking back, I notice that it's mostly in paintings, as opposed to drawing or sketches, that the entire structure is depicted. Perhaps that's an issue of amount of time the artists had to spend. Paintings are often works of much longer engagement, while drawings and sketches can be done more quickly. And the Colosseum is pretty complicated. It is curvilinear, and has lots of windows. The perspective is challenging. Also, these paintings were created as portraits of the building—on commission, or for sale—so showing the whole thing might have been a better for a client’s taste or desire. Either way, it is these images that we most often hold in our head.
Other paintings are broad views of the remarkable interior. They show us the elaborate remnants of the inner structure. Unlike today, the artists could gain access to the inside of the building; choosing any spot, for any amount of time, simply by walking in. Today, the building is a museum and secured as such.
The drawings and sketches of the Colosseum, on the other hand, generally show partial views. That could be due, again, to the time available to the artist. Or, it could be that these were created as research or as studies for paintings. Either way, it's interesting to see how many sketches deal with less, rather than more of the structure. There certainly is a lot of detail, however. No doubt, my work has much in common with this era—lots of convincing description.
When I faced the Colosseum, all this information was in the back of my head, but I tried very hard to make my own drawing—a contemporary drawing. I tried to be attentive to my own observations, feelings, and concerns. It turns out that it was easy to forget what came before me, because everything around the building is different, and difficult. It was July, and very hot, with little shade in sight. Swarms of tourists circled about. Finding a decent view was limited by the conditions. Going inside could only happen with a tour and for a very limited time.
Nonetheless, I grabbed a spot within the masses, huddled under a tree, and started to work. After thirty minutes, I stopped. I found that trying to capture the whole building wasn't going to work with the time I had. Too complicated.
So, I tried again from the same spot and after a while, I surrendered again. This time, I was both interested and annoyed by all the tourists in my face. I wanted modernity in the picture, and thought adding people would help, but in the end, I was completely bothered by my surroundings. I could draw an angry picture, which would be truthful to experience, or move on. I moved on. That is very rare for me. I hate giving up. And now I'd done that twice! Twice defeated at the Colosseum.
In a last ditch effort, to save the day, I walked around the Colosseum and found, to my surprise, that the other side is like the dark side of the moon—cooler and unexamined. It held everything I wanted—quiet, shaded, uncrowded interest. And I had learned from my previous mistakes, too: Rather than drawing everything, I drew a nice part, which could represent the whole. I had modernity before me, as well, in the form of fencing. Simplicity and directness was the best approach. Like they say, the third time's a charm.