The history bit..
Baalbek was originally an important pilgrimage site in the ancient world for the worship of Phoenician sky-god Baal and the Queen of Heaven, Astarte. Under the Roman empire huge building projects gave life to the temple of Bacchus, Jupiter, Venus and Mercury which even now loom up from the dry earth of the Bekaa valley. Enormous, epic and stretching back from 9000BC to the 30th May 2017 when Stacey and I find ourselves dwarfed by these towering roman columns, surrounded by scattered mouldings and being fed fresh cherries by security guards.
One usually vital rule of travel painting is the early start, but these become harder and harder to achieve. Today was not an early or organised start but we knew where to get the bus and we hoped in would take us all the way to Baalbek. Luck was with us and we arrived to extraordinary views of these ruins looming up from the valley. And the dilemma strikes; to plunge into painting or to absorb the place first. We couldn’t pass over these ruins without learning more about them so we joined a guide and explored. An hour and a half before closing time, we got decisive, set up our easels and started enthusiastically throwing paint around!
There’s nothing like a deadline for energetic painting! Less time to think; short paintings are about instinct, simplification, freshness of application and energy! They’re scary but invigorating. Occasionally they lead to disastrous results but I’ve almost always had fun doing them. We had the rare privilege of painting with few distractions save for the surrounding magnificence of where we were…until we attracted the attention of the security guards who in fact provided excellent support in the form of encouragement (I think), jokes (at our expense), and freshly picked cherries. It was only half an hour after the site was officially closed to tourists that they hurried us out carrying our belongings. My painting was unprecious; impasto in places where I was emphasising something and sketchy in others where I hadn’t had time to go into it.. I think this is how you get a natural and immediate response to a scene, without conscious thought or intention. For that reason I love these paintings.
And guess who had voyaged here more than 100 years ago to paint in the same place that we were standing. Only one of the greats! He had cleverly brought his watercolours though. Amazing to see how clean and straight his lines are, which re all that really define his painting..
The spirit of Bacchus
It seemed Bacchus was with us, escorting us from his temple and whisking us away on his chariot of hedonism and high spirits to winery Chateau Ksara, where we revelled in an evening of delicious food, bountiful wine and generous hospitality! Thank you Kamil from Chateau Ksara, thank you Sargent for your inspiration, and thank you Baalbek for a fascinating walk into the ancient world!