The original idea for “Via dei Panieri” had been sitting on a mental backburner for several years before I made a full-scale preliminary sketch on 9-15-01. With no pertinent notes in my journal to guide me, I can only assume that it was the right time for me - in the benumbing aftermath of 9-11 - to give more serious attention to this particularly sober, elegiac image, its central motif an old translucent amber laboratory bottle lying on its side in the deep horizontal niche of a low wall, the surface of the wall stained by the drip of the bottle’s contents, as if it were the seepage of tears.
I was already playing with the notion of letting the golden ratio govern the dimensions of what was then the image’s horizontal format, and as a kind of afterthought I added the tips of leafless branches pointing up from behind the barrier of the wall, a hint of a wilderness receding into or advancing out of the surrounding darkness. It was a trope I’d used before, and, I thought, but without paying attention to the thought, perhaps too recently.
Other ideas excited me more at the time, and I shelved the drawing - along with my vague misgivings about it. The misgivings vanished in the summer of “06 when, in a series of thumbnail sketch revisions, the horizontal format of the original idea spun 90 degrees and transformed itself into a vertical golden rectangle, a square of black above, a second horizontal golden rectangle of wall below, the bottle’s drip defining the edge of a third. The leafless branches vanished, displaced by another vertical element, a faceted lead plumb with a circular ring handle - the circle itself neatly halved by the wall’s top edge, phi (the Greek letter symbol of the golden ration) lying on its side, like the bottle below.
In a full-scale preliminary drawing, other changes happened quickly, “effortlessly”, as I wrote in my journal. “ I don’t know why, exactly, I found myself wanting to play this image out within phi’s strict confines - which is something I’ve avoided in the past, but here . . . here it just happened, the wall surface itself suddenly alive w/ marks similar to the graffiti I snapped in Rome - marks I turned into the over-blown start of my written signature, and part of a huge M atilt, cropped, etched - the square, barred hole echoing the square above and anchoring everything: a fulcrum.”
As I continued to work on the as yet untitled image, that 2004 sojourn in Rome - that intensely felt month we lived on the Via dei Panieri in Trastevere - seemed to have everything to do with this new incarnation of an old idea: the wall surface layered with its history, one era glazed over another; the lead plumb, the measurer of depths; the fresh green olive (a ripe crabapple in the original sketch); the secretive square opening, letting something out, keeping something in; the Roman numeral VI above it, my way of dating the work, but also reminiscent of the numbering of the stations of the cross. VI also forms a part of our Roman address, scrawled across the rough stucco: 38 Via dei Panieri. An inevitable title, no? Si, inevitabile.