A character study.
(Editor’s note: Besides quit-lit, and the saga of “man-eating” Great Whites, bashing/defending Miki Dora’s legacy has become a favorite sub-sub-genre of surf writing. Dora, to his credit, is a compelling study and while I thought I had my mind made up about how history should remember the man, the following piece changed it. Or at least made me very conflicted.)
Michelangelo Caravaggio, without hyperbole, the most impressive painter of his time, or all time; he painted his monumental canvases alla prima, no preliminary sketches or underpainting. Conceiving of an idea, he searched his mind for the faces and figures he knew the best: the bums, the larcenous, the gamblers crooks and slouches he hung with, and he brought them to life as the saints and Gods and heroines who knew them to also be.
When he painted The Death of The Virgin, the depiction of the most holy woman “of the people”, he used the best model for Mary that he could, a prostitute, whom he knew. She had drowned, and he painted her as such.
The monumental canvas, commissioned and contracted for the Church would of course be rejected by the Cardinal in charge. It was so full of honest emotion, of love and sorrow and rage at this woman’s premature death. It was, and is, the painting that would certainly speak to the world.
An outrageous affront, cried the Cardinal! Crude beyond belief! and unacceptable. Why? Because she had bare feet! (the official reason), and of course the painting would not be paid for, instead it was hidden away for years. However the open secret of the time was that everyone, including the self-righteous Cardinal knew that this woman was indeed a prostitute and therefore an improper stand-in for The Virgin.
Caravaggio constantly flaunted his skill and ideas against a church that at times supported him, or even apologized for him, and then at times punished his very existence. The history of his work shows us that the only constant was his dedication to his art.
Caravaggio was at best a rude and arrogant loudmouth and a petty criminal, but at worst a rage-a-holic, guilty of murder. He rejected his own brother who tried to help him, and he burned every bridge he had, and used up every chance he was offered. He painted himself as the villain Goliath, head hewn off. More than once! And he did so because he knew he personified that monster, but also because he knew he was the best artist to do it.
What an ego!
He doesn’t have a tombstone that I know of. He died alone on swampy beach, sick and desperate.
Dora once claimed that he declined to share his thoughts on how surfing made him feel, because “those thoughts were his own and he didn’t wish to share them.”
One certainly wouldn’t want to do things the way Dora did. And I for one, would certainly never want to emulate the tragic self destruction of Caravaggio either, but it seems as if each character lived their life for themselves and not for anyone else.