Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Paula Slater - Sculptor, Iconoplast

Last week, the "Shakespeare" By Another Name Blog featured an interview with Ben August, the Houston entrepreneur who a week ago unveiled one of the most ambitious art projects in the history of the Shakespeare authorship controversy -- a life-sized bronze bust of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford.

Below we'll be featuring an extended interview with the bust's sculptor, Paula Slater

The de Vere bronze August says, will soon be for sale in a limited edition casting as well as in marble resin and Hydro-Stone. More information on this, as well as August's painted duplicates of the "Wellbeck portrait" of Edward de Vere (on which the bust is based) can be found on his website: VerilyShakespeare.com

August said in his interview that once he had the idea in 2008 of replacing his old Shakespeare bust with that of the true Bard, he began looking online and at art exhibitions for the right sculptor to take the project on. Last year, after interviewing and rejecting several other artists, August said he'd finally found his ideal. He commissioned Hidden Valley Lake, Calif.-based artist Paula Slater

Slater, pictured here with a rough of the de Vere bust before its layers of patinas had been applied, had sculpted many monuments but in 2009 earned international acclaim as the sculptor of a memorial bust of Iranian revolutionary martyr Neda Agha-Soltan, a 26-year-old protestor whose shooting death by Iranian government forces was captured on a widely distributed video on the Internet. Within days she'd  become memorialized around the world as the "Angel of Iran."

I spoke with Slater by phone in early March, as she was putting the finishing touches on her de Vere bust. 

SBAN BLOG: When did Ben August first approach you with his possible commission for the Edward de Vere bust, and what was your first response?

PAULA SLATER: Ben came to me in July [2010]. He sent me an email saying he was interested in commissioning a portrait. We talked about how I do portrait bronzes. Then he emailed that picture [i.e. the Wellbeck portrait of de Vere], and I about flipped over the moon!

SBAN: Why?

SLATER: I sculpt congressmen and senators and leaders of industry. And this was so different. I love doing anything that has period clothing. Anytime there's period clothing, it's a challenge and a stretch.

Then when he emailed me more about the Oxfordian theory and who this actually was, I was totally captivated. I started reading more.

SBAN: How would you describe your own style -- and how would you be applying that for this commission?

SLATER: I like to sculpt in high detail and with museum-quality finishing -- in the style of [Gian Lorenzo] Bernini and Jean-Antoine Houdon.

The Wellbeck is a very flat painting. I really felt that I was going to need to bring it to life. I wanted that knowing look -- yet also knowing there's something hidden behind those eyes. That's what I wanted to capture. 

First I became enthralled with sculpting this portrait, and then I became enthralled with this story. And then I purchased those ["Shakespeare" By Another Name] CDs. You just can't listen to those CDs and believe that anyone else was the author of the works.

I think in hearing about Edward de Vere, I felt there was an intensity and a lust for knowledge, certainly. And a bravado. At that age too, there is an invincibility. I think he displayed all of that. Some of that came across in the Wellbeck, and some of that was my feeling.

He was an aristocrat, and he had that flair with the clothing. He was an extravagant personality. But there's this mystery. He was really a deep thinker. I felt I needed to have this mystery behind the eyes and have this depth of thought.

SBAN: Could you describe the process of making the de Vere bust?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What Hitch Said - An Important Counterpoint

It is a basic premise of "Shakespeare" By Another Name -- and this blog -- that a very often unappreciated (or under-appreciated) autobiographical layer of the "Shakespeare" canon exists. For actors, directors, scholars and just plain fans of the Bard, tapping into this new level of meaning only enhances the experience of the greatest works of literature in the English language

But of course all those other layers of meaning -- poetic, linguistic, philosophical, dramatic, tragical, historical, tragical-historical-pastoral, etc. -- still remain in an Oxfordian reading of the canon, too. And they're just as rich as if we knew nothing about the author's life story and its relationship to the works. (The latter is, essentially, the Stratfordian position. Pace the valiant effort of books like Will in the World, there is no substantive connection between Will Shakspere of Stratford and the canon.) 

Here, with that setup in mind, is a wonderfully concise exposition of the universal qualities of Shakespeare -- whoever wrote the works -- within the context of an appeal to skepticism about religious certainty. It's from recent remarks made by the author Christopher Hitchens:

The key quote from Hitchens here concerns the question of heaven. "Why don't you accept this wonderful offer?" he asks

"Why wouldn't you want to meet Shakespeare, for example? ... The only reason I'd want to meet Shakespeare or might even want to is because I can meet him any time. Because he is immortal in the works he's left behind. If you've read those, meeting the author would almost certainly be a disappointment."

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Bard Gains A Dimension: The New Bust of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford

In November, I received an over-the-transom email from a businessman based in Texas who had a vision: He was a lifelong Shakespeare fan who had kept his bust of the Bard in a prominent place in his home. But he'd lately come to realize that "Shakespeare" was the mask that concealed another author -- Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.

So, in so many words, Ben August set out to fill a void. The stunning and lifelike bust that August ultimately commissioned last year and is pictured here was unveiled yesterday at his new website Verily Shakespeare (www.VerilyShakespeare.com). (August also regularly updates his gallery's Facebook page.)

Verily Shakespeare today sells a "giclée" print of the 1575 "Wellbeck portrait" when de Vere, then visiting Paris, was 25. It also shows photographs of the bronze bust he's commissioned from Hidden Valley Lake, Calif.-based sculptor Paula Slater

August says the life-size bronze bust of de Vere (with colored patinas) will soon be available for sale at VerilyShakespeare.com. He says he will also ultimately offer for sale a marble resin casting of the same bust as well as a "Hydro-Stone" plastic with a bronze finish. Moreover, August plans to offer a half-sized bust in all three media.

There will be a limited edition of both full-sized and half-sized bronze busts made, August says. On the other hand, he says, he will not be limiting the production run of busts made in marble resin or Hydro-Stone.

Over the past four months, I've corresponded and consulted with August as he quietly developed this ambitious art project. And today the "Shakespeare" By Another Name Blog features an interview with August -- an impresario who has carved out a unique role in creating a powerful new representation of Edward de Vere, a.k.a. "Shakespeare."

Later in the week, the "Shakespeare" By Another Name blog will feature an interview with the bust's creator, the renowned sculptor Paula Slater -- who in 2009 launched to international acclaim with her memorial bust of Iranian revolutionary martyr Neda Agha-Soltan ("The Angel of Iran").

(Full disclosure: I have provided feedback on the de Vere bust as it was being developed but am not financially affiliated with the project. August has, however, bought copies of "Shakespeare" By Another Name for his web store.)

SBAN BLOG: How did you discover the Shakespeare authorship question and the story of Edward de Vere?

BEN AUGUST: When I was in college [in the late 1970s], I started reading Shakespeare and fell in love with it. I was so taken by the power and the conciseness of The Sonnets that I started memorizing them. I've probably got up to 40 sonnets memorized. I just immersed myself in Shakespeare.

It wasn't until 1995 that I came across the authorship issue in Michael Hart's book [The 100: A ranking of the most influential persons in history]. I read that and was shocked. So I started digging around. And I'd run across an article here and there. And then I read your book in 2005. That created an avalanche of interest. After that I started picking up everything I could.

SBAN: How does the bust come in?

AUGUST: It was after reading your book that I took my bust of Shakespeare down. I always had one in my house. I had it for, gosh, 25 years. It had been on my mantle. I said, 'There's no sense in looking at this guy!'

I also love Goethe. Johann Goethe and Shakespeare are my two heroes. I've got several images of Goethe around my house. And a pretty good library of his works as well. So [in 2008] I was missing my Shakespeare, when one day it occurred me, 'Why don't I just create my own?'

SBAN: What did you do to put this plan in motion?

AUGUST: Every now and then, I'd look at sculptures. I'd start searching for sculptors. And I'd talk to them and get a feel for them. Four or five months later, I'd talk to another one.

I was not in any rush. I wanted to wait until I was absolutely taken by the work of a sculptor -- and also their personality. I had to feel like I could work with this person and feel like they could pick up on my passion and inspiration for this project. It needed to be somebody I felt I could have a good rapport with.

SBAN: Without mentioning names, could you give an example of one of the artists you decided not to choose -- and why you made that choice?

AUGUST: To me the key was capturing the character of the individual in the face. Really, that's what it came down to.

I've loved fine art for years. My mother was a collector of fine art. I'd go to art museums. I'm very familiar with the old masters. I would just look at everything I could find from these sculptors and what they'd send me. And what [the others sent] just didn't move me to act on this.

SBAN: So when did you come across Paula Slater's work?

AUGUST: I came across Paula in 2010. We talked back and forth for a couple months. I looked at her work closely. And I decided to share with her what the project was. I commissioned her in June 2010.

I believe Paula has a remarkable ability to capture the essence of a person in her work. I've seen several of her pieces -- pictures of them as well as in person. She does it remarkably well. Her attention to detail is exceptional, too. But you can be a technician and get that. It's a much greater art to capture the character of somebody's persona.

[n.b. Ben August and Paula Slater are pictured here in a recent photo with a rough of the bronze Edward de Vere bust.]

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Edward de Vere & "Shakespeare's Company" - What We Know

One frequent question I find when giving talks on the Shakespeare authorship mystery is "What was Edward de Vere's relationship with Will Shakspere?" It's a good question for which "I don't know" is not a very satisfactory reply.

One way at this question is to point, for instance, to the revealing scene between the clown Touchstone, Audrey and the country lad Will in As You Like It (5.1). As Alex McNeil has argued in an article for Shakespeare Matters, it suggests an antagonistic relationship between author and front-man.

To me, though, the best answer would incorporate evidence and perspectives from outside the "Shakespeare" canon. And to this end the best alternative I've come up with -- I'm open to other suggestions -- is an answer to a slightly larger question on which we do have some guidance.

My standard response to the question above is: There's some very suggestive evidence that de Vere was working with at least one member of the Lord Chamberlain's Men (a.k.a. "Shakespeare's Company") around the time of the first public performance of As You Like It.

The story begins with a book written by Lord Chamberlain's Men player Robert Armin. It's called Quips Upon Questions (1600) and is, essentially, a book of jokes. Alas, they're not terribly funny ones. But the introductory dedication is where the action's at.

Armin's book dedication talks about the comic actor's heading out to serve "the right Honorable good Lord my Master ... [in] Hackney." And in 1599, when these words were written, there was only one person who fit this description (i.e. both a resident of Hackney and a nobleman befitting the "Right Honorable good Lord" honorific) -- Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford.

Also in 1599, the final draft of As You Like It was being prepared for a public performance by the Lord Chamberlain's Men. (The date derives from contemporary references in the play to current events, such as the 1599 "Bishop's Ban" on satires.) Robert Armin is believed, for good reason I think, to have been the first actor who played the role of Touchstone on the public stage.

Summarizing, then, The actor who, it appears, first played the character Touchstone during the year he was preparing the role was spending time in Hackney working in the service of Edward de Vere. This, I think, is phenomenal evidence for at least one actor in As You Like It workshopping his role with de Vere.

It suggests a model of adapting these courtly entertainments that, according to Oxfordians, de Vere wrote for private audiences in the 1570s and '80s. And in the 1590s and early 1600s, de Vere then transformed these texts for the public theaters. It stands to reason de Vere was consulting with the players who were bringing these works to the world at large. And the Armin example is, so far at least, the closest we have to a gold standard for de Vere's relationship to the public staging of plays we today know as "Shakespeare."