About Picturae Cassae

Augustus had commissioned Virgil to write the story of Rome as a literary monument celebrating a republic based on peace and the arts. But Virgil’s work of art is a fragile monument, a fresco of triumph painted on a cracked wall, its colors are soothing only if one remains blind to the darkness behind it. Virgil ends his epic about the legendary beginnings of the Roman empire not with the triumphant entry of Aeneis into Rome, but with his bloody battle for supremacy, a civilization that fled the old ruins of Troy only to create in turn its beginnings on the ruins of old Rome.

When I read the Aeneid for the first time, in 1980, I was startled by its modernity, its intense awareness of the fleeting and fragile nature of our strongholds. Virgil’s melancholy, his insight that all our values are manmade, that our narratives are tentative interpretations, that our gods are only frail images that attempt to speak of an inner fire – this is the sad knowledge reserved for cultures in transition. Virgil’s epic provides that privileged but shocking look behind the scenes before the curtain of religion falls once more.

In my visual interpretation of the Aeneid, I felt drawn to passages that underscored the fragility of our building efforts, the friction between the structures of the mind and those of nature, to Virgil’s depiction of the pain and desolation inflicted in the name of peace and human values. Looking back at work I did so many years ago, I admire most in Virgil his balance, how he can render simultaneously both the luminous fresco ánd the cracked wall, a binocular kind of vision that does not mock the credibility of either way of looking.

A lithographic stone may seems to be a stable and reliable ground for artwork, but it is fragile, breaks like glass and demands the utmost attention and respect if you want to pull a consistent edition of prints. I created this series of lithographs between 1982 and 1984, while enrolled as a graduate student in Comparative Literature at the University of California at Berkeley. The struggle with a new medium, the manual labor of grinding the stone and printing, the sensuous nature of drawing on limestone, the creation of a visual, silent world, all this gave me something tangible and concrete in a field that tended to become dizzy with abstractions.

The lithographs in Picturae Cassae were my first endeavors in printmaking. The experience led me away from academia, into a world in which thought would always have the smell of solvents, the bite of acids, a world of ideas stained with the soot of printer’s ink, a world open to silence like a freshly grained limestone.

I printed the suite of twelve stone lithographs from stone in an edition of 25 both at the ASUC Studio at UCBerkeley and at the International Center for the Graphic Arts in Kasterlee, Belgium.

The images are printed on Arches 88 paper measuring 22” X 30." Lithographs numbered 21 through 25 are available in a portfolio containing all twelve prints.

Available at the Annex Galleries