The Phrenology Series
From Venice, A Reality of
a Different Order
Venice, like Taos, is a complex place. As Sheila Hale wrote in The Myth of Venice, “Venice is the most bewitching of cities, but the spell it casts is not simple, nor is it altogether benign. It is impossible to feel indifferent about the place. Indeed, many reasonable people loathe it at first sight. They go away grumbling, echoing Gibbon’s complaint about ‘stinking ditches dignified with the pompous denomination of Canals.’ But other people fall unexpectedly, obsessively in love with Venice. It challenges the imagination. It insists upon itself, commanding total attention – yet it seems ultimately unknowable. Its dense labyrinthine topography baffles the sense of direction. Buildings and bridges are dissolved and reassembled by the light, their proportions altered by the ebb and flow of tides. And even after years of intimate acquaintance, you may delight in some undiscovered detail in the course of an aimless walk, a relief carving, an archway or a wellhead.”
As an artist, I have been twice privileged to be a resident in Venice with the Emily Harvey Foundation. I lived in the floating city for six weeks in 2009 and four weeks in 2013. I walked the city from end to end, ducking into narrow alleys and tiny squares and ancient churches, taking photographs, writing my journal, gathering materials for printmaking.
While having pizza in Campo Santo Stefano one afternoon, I spied a waiter who had soccer designs carved into his hair. When asked to pose with his face against a wall, he cheerfully complied. The mysterious photograph that resulted led to my series of monoprints called “Phrenology.” This pseudoscience based on measurements of the human skull as the location of character, thought, and emotion may be an apt metaphor for the surrealism that is Venice.
Peter Ackroyd in Venice, Pure City, mused that Venice is a reality of a different order. It seems that Kafka would have understood Venice.
This work is dedicated to my friend and mentor, Steve Parks, who passed away while I was in Venice. Se la forma scompare, la sua radice e eternal. If the form disappears, its root is forever.
Robbie Steinbach 2015