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Bloodlust Writing Frenzy: The Bosch Chapter

When I worked for John Walker at Autodesk in late 80s and early 90s, John would occasionally get into a creative state where he’d single-handedly turn out a very large and well-designed bunch of computer code in an incredibly short time—for instance our Cellab program (which can find on Walker’s huge web site or on mine , in slightly different versions), or a “fractal forgeries” landscape generator for our Chaos program, complete with a graphical user interface. He referred to this state of extreme focus and obsession as a “bloodlust hacking frenzy.”

I’ve been in that mode on my novel Hylozoic the last couple of weeks, writing my chapter “Hieronymus Bosch’s Apprentice.” I finished the first draft of the chapter today. I’ll post a couple of tastes here for today’s blog entry.

By the way, it really helped that I visited Bosch’s home town this spring.

Today’s illos include a couple of scans from this nice new book I got, edited by Larry Silver, Hieronymus Bosch — although the image immediately below shows the shoes of the owner of chihuahua depicted further below, spotted where else but the Los Gatos Sunday market.

Jayjay and Thuy followed Azaroth up a staircase to a sunny studio in the front of the house. As it happened, the windows gave directly onto the great triangular marketplace and its articulated hubbub. The room sounded with a hundred conversations, with vendor’s cries, the scuff of shoes and the clack of hooves—all this overlaid by the vile drone of an incompetently played bagpipe.

A cluttered work table sat in the middle of the studio, and beyond that was Jeroen Bosch, standing before the window, brush in hand, the light falling over his shoulder onto a large, square oak panel.

“Aha!” he exclaimed. “Azaroth brings fresh wonders.” His face was lined and quizzical; his mouth and eyebrows were alive with the shadows of his fleeting moods. He looked to be in his mid forties.

Jayjay looked around the studio, fascinated. The work table held seashells and eggshells, drawings of cripples, a bowl of gooseberries, a peacock feather in a cloudy glass jar, and a variety of dried gourds. Upon the wall were a cow skull and a lute, also a stuffed heron and owl perched upon shelves. Two nearly completed paintings leaned against the wall, panels half the width of the big square one that Bosch was working on. The panels were easily four times Jayjay’s height, each of them a mottled microcosm, brimming with incident and life.

“I’m nearly done decorating the harp,” said Jeroen. “But she’s locked up in the attic. She’s too valuable to uncover with so many people about.” He made a gesture towards the bustling marketplace.

“I can’t see her?” said Azaroth, incredulous.

The painter set down his brush and walked over to them, keeping an eye on Jayjay and Thuy. He accepted the dogfish from Azaroth, set it on his work table and propped its mouth open with a porcupine quill. “Hello,” he said to the dogfish, making his voice thin. “Do you bring a message from the King of Hell?”

Bosch was playing—seeking inspiration by enacting a little scene that he might paint. To ingratiate himself, Jayjay responded as if speaking for the fish, flopping his tongue to make his words soft and slimy. “The pitchfork wants to strum the harp,” he said, nothing better popping into his head. “The pitchfork is God.” He reached out with is hand and waggled the fish’s gelatinous brown tail.

Bosch nodded, appreciating the mummery, if not taking the words seriously. He was studying the singular objects on his table, nudging them this way and that with the tip of his delicate, ochre-stained finger—as if composing a scene. “Would it be heresy to say all things have souls?” he said, suddenly fixing his eyes on Jayjay.

… “The Antonite brothers nurse the victims of St. Anthony’s Fire,” said Jayjay. “Do you know that condition is caused by a fungus in brown bread? I had an experience of it last night. I spent part of the night hallucinating in the Antonites’ courtyard.”

“And drinking wine,” said Bosch, with a telling sniff. “Gluttony. The Holy Fire is caused, like any physical affliction, by sin. God abandons the sinner and the devil attacks like the wolf bringing down a wayfarer. Brown bread is the Lord’s wholesome gift to the lower classes. The bread’s essence is pure in and of itself.”

“I want to know if you’ve been inspired by hallucinations from brown bread.”

“Were your drinking companions painting triptychs?”

This was leading nowhere. Studying the picture in progress, Jayjay admired Bosch’s facility at turning realistically rendered objects into bizarre beasts. Here was a jug that was a horse, a tree that was a man, a ship that was a headless duck. “Everything’s alive,” he said, returning to their common ground.

“Yes,” said Jeroen busy with his brush again. “Few understand this. I’m glad we share the knowing.”

5 Responses to “Bloodlust Writing Frenzy: The Bosch Chapter”

  1. Mac Tonnies Says:

    Hey! I’ve got one of those green bugs. It’s actually the nymph stage for a massive walking stick.

  2. Rudy Says:

    Maybe it’s a PITCHFORK in nymph stage! Hmmm….

  3. Madeleine Shepherd Says:

    Hi Rudy,

    “The room sounded with a hundred conversations, with vendor’s cries, the scuff of shoes and the clack of hooves—all this overlaid by the vile drone of an incompetently played bagpipe.”
    is a perfect description of many a public bar during the Edinburgh Festival!

    Were you here in August after all? 😉


  4. Calmon Says:

    Your paintings give me a impression of a psychedelic style. Is that right? Psychedelic style used to have many interesting things in that days of mushrooms rituals in weekend parties on country side. I have studied that behavior.

  5. Rudy Says:

    Calmon, I wouldn’t really say that I paint in a psychedelic style, although certainly I have an interest in depicting layers of reality that are normally unseen. I might call my style pop-impressionist, maybe, or California postrealist. Picnics in the country are definitely fun, whatever the treats.

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