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Flounder with Kitchen Scissors [Wayne Ferrebee, 2021] Ink and watercolor on paper

It is Vincent Van Gogh’s birthday today (he was born on March 30, 1853). To mark the occasion, it occurred to me that I have an appropriate humorous cartoon in the small moleskine sketchbook which I carry around everywhere.

Van Gogh is pictured in the upper left corner wearing his trademark green coat and ear bandage. Presumably he is exhorting the artists of today to work hard at their precious craft. At the center of the composition is a flounder, a ridiculous-looking fish which everyone agrees is ideal for the table. Probably that is why a hand is reaching down from the heavens with scissors to prepare the silly fish as a delicious banquet. Speaking of hands, a white marble statuary hand is pushing up through the floor of the cinereous wasteland where this tableau takes place. Sadly the hand seems to be a bit broken. A crown-of-thorns starfish restlessly roves the dust and stumps.

I wanted to practice lettering with my steel nib, however I did not want to actually write anything, so I just jotted down some nonsense words in moon language. Sorry for the gibberish! But who cares about language anyway? Some people have suggested that artists are wholly unreliable when it comes to writing about their own work, and you should concentrate on the images themselves.

Neapolitan Flounder

It is my birthday this week and, to celebrate, I wanted to share some special posts with you.  Unfortunately my schedule is not obliging to help me finish the larger philosophical piece I have been writing, so instead I am going to share a sculpture which I just finished (I was going to save it for later, but, sigh, life is short so let’s look at it now) .  This is “Neapolitan Flounder” a sculpture made of wood, bone, and plastic toys.  It is one of the extensive flatfish series of artworks which I have been working on, however, unlike the drawings which take a more expansive view of ecology and human history, “Neapolitan Flatfish” examines the prevailing ethos of the time which is to capture people’s money by providing them with exactly what they want (in this case the empty calories of airy frozen confections).  Of course these aren’t actually delicious soft serve ice cream cones, they are really plastic junk from the dollar store.  Yet given my unhappy history with making plastic toys, and given the ever growing burden of plastic detritus building up in the wild places of Planet Earth, perhaps the message becomes even more germane.  The flounder is a predator and a prey animal–the “middle class of the ocean” although serious overfishing is leading to a precipitous decline of populations around the world (which matters little to Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross, who would not be unhappy if everything and everyone died five minutes after he concludes his own earthly existence as a master of crooked insider deals).  Ahem…anyway, sometimes it is a bit unclear who is fishing and who is being fished, but what could be more delightful than the unexpected charm of three different flavors (and different colors) which compliment each other perfectly being placed next to each other in one simple Rothko-like package?  Please ignore the bone hook and the glittering blue predatory eyes and get ready for some birthday fun here at Ferrebeekeeper.

Also, don’t forget to ask the Great Flounder some of your own questions.

An agricultural billhook

An agricultural billhook

A billhook is a sort of agricultural/forestry tool which was used for pruning vines, fruit trees, and shrubs.  It consisted of a heavy blade which twisted into a cruel sharpened steel hook (like a parrot’s bill), all of which was, in turn, attached to a wooden handle—or sometimes to a long staff for pruning hard to reach branches.  At some point in the late middle ages, it was noted that this alarming tool could be used to prune a wider range of targets than just unruly fruit trees: suddenly the billhook evolved into a sinister polearm (admittedly, the Chinese had some similar cavalry hooks, but we are talking about the European/English bill in this article).

A bill as a weapon

A bill as a weapon

The bill was a powerful weapon with the range of a spear and the brute chopping power of an axe. It could be used like a pike to stop a cavalry charge (or hack/stab swordsmen before they reached the wielder) it also had a hook to snatch horsemen from their mounts or take enemy combatants’ legs out from beneath them.

Early Tudor soldiers by Angus McBride; Two Billmen and an archer

Early Tudor soldiers by Angus McBride; Two Billmen and an archer

The bill came to prominence in the 14th and 15th centuries as the Middle Ages waned. Soldiers using bills were called billmen and usually wore chainmail or plate armor.  Often they also wore sallets, the helmets of the day, which could be open faced or have visors. Generally billmen also were attired with colorful tabards over their armor (often with all sorts of heraldic emblems) and bright tights or leggings.  High status soldiers would have big dyed feathered plumes on their helmets.  These were some impressive & flamboyant foot soldiers!

Billmen reenactors

Billmen reenactors

In continental Europe the early 16th centuries saw armies moving towards the pike and the arquebus (a sort of nightmarish early musket), however the English preferred to rely on the rapid fire of their hallowed longbow.  And for infantry, they still favored bills over pikes—a choice which turned out to be a good one.  In the Battle of Flodden, which occurred in 1513, an army of approximately 26,000 English billmen chopped apart a larger army of Scottish pikemen.  The Scottish king, James IV was hacked apart right along with his soldiers and was the last monarch of the British Isles to die in glorious combat (so far).

Battle of Flodden--The Death of James IV (Stephen G. Walsh, watercolor)

Battle of Flodden–The Death of James IV (Stephen G. Walsh, watercolor)

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