Tales of Brave Ulysses

Tales of Brave Ulysses, a painting by Jacinto Rivera

Tales of Brave Ulysses Oil on canvas 38″ X 64″

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The Blue Line Arts Gallery had a competition for artwork inspired by a favorite song or music. The competition came and went and two years later I picked one of my many favorite songs: The Tales of Brave Ulysses, by the 1960s rock and roll group “Cream”. Listening to the music and lyrics I came up with an image that showed “…how his naked ears were tortured by the Sirens sweetly singing”. The lyrics led me to images that were full of fantasy and yet very real. During the course of working on the painting my mind wandered to when I first learned about this story; it was in high school where we read “The Odyssey” by Homer. The teacher related to us that it was a story of a king, Odysseus, going home after ten years of fighting in the Trojan War while his wife was at home waiting faithfully. He angers a powerful god who in turn places obstacles on his path for his safe return home. That is life. One of the incidents on his journey home was to sail close by the land of the Sirens who sang an enchanting song that would bring forth the sailors desires and compel them to steer their ships into the rocky shore. This scene has been depicted in art throughout history showing the Sirens as beautiful erotic women enticing the men to their death. Odysseus, desiring to experience the uncontrollable lust the song would entice, had his men tie him to the mast of the ship and plug their ears with bees wax. He gave them orders to sail close to the shore and no matter what he did, stay the course and leave him restrained. I can remember sitting in class and thinking that this action was, in a way, counterproductive to his desire to return to his devoted wife. At the time it seemed to me this way because this was a story of a couple motivated by a profound sense of virtue.

I worked on the painting for almost a year and then decided it wasn’t saying what was developing in my perception about the story, the history of relationships of men and women, and our current culture today. I turned the painting towards the wall and ignored it for several months. I removed the painting from the frame, re-stretched new canvas and started the painting over again. The original composition remained, leaving out the imagery inspired by the lyrics of the song: the image of a man restrained, being enticed by three naked women. The painting infers that the nature of men is to be attracted to young beautiful partners. Because a man has committed himself to a woman or a wife doesn’t remove his nature. Throughout history art has expressed the idea of the erotic desires of men, some of which is called the pornography of its day. Human nature seems to remain constant, so unless we end up in a world that is governed by a totalitarian state it is safe to say these expressions of erotic desires will continue to be part of the culture. An individual man can follow his unbridled desires, only to ruin the relationship he has with a woman he later regrets losing. We all are free to choose any road, hoping to find happiness, but often we find ourselves in places of regret. Life is precious and a life filled with happiness is richer and fuller than a life filled with regret; and so it is good to conduct one’s life with a semblance of order and discipline. This painting for me begs the question: “Are you really and truly free if you have to restrain your desires?” Restraint is not freedom if your goal is to have a happy life; making right and good choices…is a happy life.

In the painting I first began, the face of Ulysses came from my imagination. At one point I arbitrarily replaced it with an image of my face; that is when my feelings about the picture changed.