(above) Charles Ritchie, Night with Orion (work in progress, 27 March 2008), 11 1/4 x 15″, graphite and pen and ink on Fabriano paper
My passion for the constellations of the night sky began as a young child. I learned names and tried to orient myself by their locations very early. Orion was one of the first constellations I grasped and it remains an annual benchmark for me; Orion rising again: it must be winter. Orion setting again; it must be spring.
I remember a very cold, starry night in high school walking over to my friend’s house and thinking to myself, I’ll be looking at that same constellation as an old man. Funny, how I think of that almost every time I spy Orion again. It reminds me of the poem Anecdote of the Jar by Wallace Stevens. I buried a symbolic jar walking down the road that night, and from that moment on Orion takes dominion everywhere:
I’ve always wanted to engage Orion as a subject in my art, but have had a hard time finding the right context. One evening several years ago, about this time of year when the trees are just about to fill with leaves; I stepped out on my deck and looked up to see Orion hanging in tree branches. I moved from study in my journal to a graphite drawing of the subject whose composition expanded to include the familiar panorama of houses on my street (see Night with Orion, first state, 12 December 2007). The subject is the same as my drawing Blue Twilight, but seen in late winter rather than summer. I’ve been working three years now, building up layers of graphite on my Night with Orion drawing. Just this winter I added another layer to the image; a full winter’s dreams inscribed in tight horizontal bands across the image with pen and ink (see images above and below). This layer of writing added depth and value on several levels of the work. However, the drawing has a long way to go. I am patient.
The stars of Orion are located in the same part the galaxy as our solar system, the local arm. While one likes to think of constellations as permanent, they are not. As the locations of stars are always changing incrementally, Orion, like all constellations, is transient. Wikipedia says: “Orion will remain visible in the night sky for the next 1 to 2 million years, making it one of the longest observable constellations, parallel to the rise of human civilization” (Orion: History). I bury a jar in the field of stars that is Orion, but the constellation itself is really just another passing illusion.
(below) Charles Ritchie, Night with Orion (detail)