The Artifacts of Jacob Rysdale
The works of the elder Rysdale are few and far between. We have sketches of what appear to be vanishing points only, less sketches even than a long thick line drawn across a page. We have the few drawings of the bird and fish life of TD-4 and the small paintings of their environments, foremost among these the oceans he rendered in wax. There are also a handful of small crude icons that Rysdale made in imitation of the intelligence of that era. In TD-5 he changed out his left hand for the claw of a hawk. Then we have nothing. Why this lapse in work? Was the rest of his life truly so vapid or did his metamorphosis create for him an immovable block? Did Rysdale continue his work and this, somehow, was lost? Well, as the one who has assembled this meager exhibit, I prefer the latter. If it were up to me he’d have created his works and buried them or given them away on the slightest whim.
It is from his paintings of the ocean rendered in wax that we receive our greatest impression of Rysdale as an artist. It is no wonder that Rysdale was considerd solely as a landscape artist in his pre-Due Return times. In these works we find a depth and richness that none of his drawings of icon convey. The difference between his output, the landscapes on the one hand and his drawings and icons on the other, being the difference between fine art and a “craft” or “trade”. His skies, though characteristic and all of a single type, seems to live and pulsate and change, as clouds do, from serpents into horses into merely clouds. His oceans surfaces are in a perpetual break and shadows from overhead are seen on their surface. There can be no doubt, and it seems to me that the records of him would confirm, that Rysdale sought perfection in nature alone and would contend but a casual acceptance of so-called civilization.
The icons represent a different kind of genius in Rysdale. Crude though they are they capture an essance barrowed by Rysdale from the religious iconography of his own time. Since there is no record of Rysdale either making Icons before this period and none of him doing so after it is safe to assume that Rysdale underwent these works simply as simple amusements to captivate his new friends. The birds’ keen interest in the icons brought Rysdale to expand his base and create new icons. However, all of second tier icons are a little less satisfying than the first. The skeletal bird Icon, taking form of course from a simple cross is the most numerous and was, in TD-4 among the birds, the most popular. Some of these Icons also contain a moon or sun posing as a halo for the bird’s skeletons.