Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Video meet Drawing: Final Result

As I noted before, as the next step in my own artistic endeavors, I've decided to marry video to my drawings. In my heart, I am but a storyteller, and thus this marriage, of visual descriptions of all sorts, is a natural one.

And where else to start but with one of my iconic obsessions: Che Guevara. Below is what the drawing originally looked like:

St. Ernesto Che Guevara
Then, after discussing all sorts of possibilities with the video tech wizards at the Washington Glass School, I took the Exacto knife to the drawing and carved a "Heart of Jesus" shape underneath Che's neck. The thorns around the heart delicately cut out. Next was the precise measuring to ensure that the small LCD video screen (guaranteed for 60,000 hours) would align and fit perfectly under the cut out heart.

Next to hunt for old newsreels of Guevara and appropriate one of them that would fit well in the vertical LCD screen and deliver a good image across the thorns. My idea was to try to deliver the dual nature of Guevara. That is the iconic face and hero to millions of people who know little about this psychopath, and also deliver a harsh reminder about the chief executioner of the Cuban Revolution and the man many Cubans know as "El Chacal de La Cabaña."

"El Chacal de La Cabaña" translates to the "Jackal of La Cabaña," although it is usually translated as the "Butcher of La Cabaña."

La Cabaña is an 18th century fortress complex located on the elevated eastern side of the harbor entrance to Havana, and the location for many of the thousands of firing squad executions which took place after January 1, 1959. Shot were former members of Batista's police, army and air force, informants, traitors, and counter-revolutionaries.

The best known story about this period (which I heard related in a Spanish language radio show in Florida) relates to how a Cuban mother went to see Che to beg for her son's life. The son was 17 years old, and was on the firing squad list, to be executed within a week. If Guevara pardoned her son, the mother begged, she would ensure that he never said or did anything against the Revolution.

Che's response was to order the immediate execution of the boy, while the mother was still in his office. His logic: now that the boy was shot, his mother would no longer have to anguish over his fate.

Two newsreel videos were then married: it starts with Che talking and it ends with the firing squad execution of one of his many victims. The gruesome scene plays in his heart. This is what the cut out hart looks like with the video screen aligned behind it.

Che Guevara's heart

Then the delicate art of framing the piece and aligning all the electronics on the back ($1,000 worth of electronics). This happened several times due to the usual hair or other object discovered after one frames a large piece. Once framed it looked terrific.

"It needs to be balanced on the top," offered several critical voices from talented people around me, including my wife. The loudest voice was the one in my head. I had considered doing some Romanesque writing on the top of the drawing at the very beginning, to tie it even more to a iconic, saint-like presence, but discarded the idea.

I wrapped Che and prepared it for it maiden voyage to the Miami art fairs.

The next day the voices were too loud.

I unwrapped Guevara and then with a sigh unframed it and took it all apart so that I could draw on it. This is about halfway through the process, before I took a tortillon to the words to burnish them into the paper.

St Ernest Che Guevara

The words say SANCTUS GUEVARUS CASTRUM CANIS and are the result of hours of thinking about an appropriate title that delivered the real man who was Che Guevara. It is also the result of consulting with a Latin expert who could explain the nuances of Latin language declension and other such recondite subjects. With a bit of modernized translation it means "Saint (or Holy) Guevara, Castro's Dog." But a savvy play on words delivers a second (actually prime) meaning: "Holy Guevara, Fortress Dog."

The word "Castrum" could be modernized Latin for Castro but it also means castle or fortress.

"Fortress Dog" or the "Jackal of La Cabaña Fortress." Here's the video playing in his heart:

Che Guevara heart video
Here is the video - the orientation is sideways so that it can play correctly in the installation within the drawing.

And here is the finished piece:

Sanctus Guevarus Castrum Canis

SANCTUS GUEVARUS CASTRUM CANIS. Charcoal on paper, electronics, video player and video. 27.5 x 27 inches. Circa 2010 by F. Lennox Campello

Now let's see what Miami thinks of it.

Call for Exhibition Proposals

Deadline: January 31, 2011

The Olin Art Gallery on the campus of Washington & Jefferson College, Washington, PA, is now accepting exhibition proposals in any medium for the 2011-12 academic year. Proposals may include solo or group exhibitions. Submissions must include contact information, artist statements for all participating artists, 10-20 digital images (jpg-format, 300dpi) on CD, an image list (including title, media, size, and date completed for each work), and a resume or CV. There is NO entry fee. The application deadline is January 31, 2011. For additional information, contact

Doug McGlumphy
Director, Olin Art Gallery
Washington & Jefferson College
60 S. Lincoln St.
Washington, Pa 15301.


Proposal materials will only be returned if provided with a self-address stamped envelope with sufficient postage. This opportunity is open to all professional artists 18 or over.