Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Ballad of James Harris

In a previous post, I included an image of a work in progress, The Ballad of James Harris. Here's how the finished piece looks:

The back of the piece has three panels. The beaded panel has a crystal teardrop pendant centered inside a 19th century "Always Thinking of You" mount card. The card originally framed a tintype.

Robin builds all of my frames, and he made my dreams come true with this shadow box. An inkjet print of a 19th century photograph is adhered to the top inner frame. Here's what the original photograph looked like:

And here is how the image looks inside the finished piece:

The sides and the bottom of the inner frame have mirrors adhered to them. Here are some images of the reflections:

The title and the imagery of the piece are drawn from a ballad, James Harris, (The Daemon Lover). Here is a version of the ballad that I like:

243F.1 ‘O WHERE have you been, my long, long love,
This long seven years and mair?’
‘O I’m come to seek my former vows
Ye granted me before.’
243F.2 ‘O hold your tongue of your former vows,
For they will breed sad strife;
O hold your tongue of your former vows,
For I am become a wife.’
243F.3 He turned him right and round about,
And the tear blinded his ee:
‘I wad never hae trodden on Irish ground,
If it had not been for thee.
243F.4 ‘I might hae had a king’s daughter,
Far, far beyond the sea;
I might have had a king’s daughter,
Had it not been for love o thee.’
243F.5 ‘If ye might have had a king’s daughter,
Yer sel ye had to blame;
Ye might have taken the king’s daughter,
For ye kend that I was nane.
243F.6 ‘If I was to leave my husband dear,
And my two babes also,
O what have you to take me to,
If with you I should go?’
243F.7 ‘I hae seven ships upon the sea-+--+-
The eighth brought me to land-+--+-
With four-and-twenty bold mariners,
And music on every hand.’
243F.8 She has taken up her two little babes,
Kissd them baith cheek and chin:
‘O fair ye weel, my ain two babes,
For I’ll never see you again.’
243F.9 She set her foot upon the ship,
No mariners could she behold;
But the sails were o the taffetie,
And the masts o the beaten gold.
243F.10 She had not sailed a league, a league,
A league but barely three,
When dismal grew his countenance,
And drumlie grew his ee.
243F.11 They had not saild a league, a league,
A league but barely three,
Until she espied his cloven foot,
And she wept right bitterlie.
243F.12 ‘O hold your tongue of your weeping,’ says he,
‘Of your weeping now let me be;
I will shew you how the lilies grow
On the banks of Italy.’
243F.13 ‘O what hills are yon, yon pleasant hills,
That the sun shines sweetly on?’
‘O you are the hills of heaven,’ he said,
‘Where you will never win.’
243F.14 ‘O whaten a mountain is yon,’ she said,
‘All so dreary wi frost and snow?’
‘O yon is the mountain of hell,’ he cried,
‘Where you and I will go.’
243F.15 He strack the tap-mast wi his hand,
The fore-mast wi his knee,
And he brake that gallant ship in twain,
And sank her in the sea.

Source: - James Harris, (The Daemon Lover) from The Child Ballads, collected by Francis James Child

So my idea for the piece is that it looks one way as an object viewed from a distance - dark, contained, quiet, and brooding. Then, as the viewer comes closer, there's something unexpected with the reflections from the mirror. The text from the "Always Thinking of You" card suggests repetition, obsession, yearning, love, memory and remembrance. The reflections from the mirror reinforce these ideas. The shape of the card is meant to suggest a gravestone. That, along with the teardrop crystal, the beadwork, and the varied shades of black refer to Victorian mourning art. I chose that particular photograph because it both relates to the imagery of the ballad and it's an ambiguous image. Has the photograph simply captured a moment from the past of a happy, affectionate couple on a boat, or is the man a threatening figure, intending to strangle the woman? And on that note, I leave you with this...

The Jam - The Bitterest Pill

Neil Young - Down by the River

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