Out of Slavery and into David
By Al Bliss
New Delhi with love, April 2005. I squandered untold hours in the nations public libraries reading about the lives of the
artists and scrutinizing pictorials of their work. When the urge hit me, I would close the book, leave the library and ride
the freights to the neighboring slum. After I secured a dormitory bed and pocketed the shelter’s rules, I screwed about
my new town. Learning the street grid, then the homeless hangouts, I found my way into the local library, whereupon I picked
up where I had left off.
there are no free libraries in India at least not the way we know them, I’ve got to steal my books or do without. I’m
not above lifting reading material. In fact I’ve already boosted several paperbacks. But the larger pictorial books,
the ones that illustrate the work of the visual artists, are quite cumbersome and preclude theft. Doing without the photograph
in front and the lengthy caption beneath to instruct, I’m forced to imaginatively recreate the piece and come to my
own judgment. In this case, I’ll write a brief letter to you disclosing my thoughts about Michelangelo’s “Slaves”
method, hewing figures out of formless blocks of stone, was undoubtedly time consuming. I can see him day after day, in my
mind’s eye, chipping off superfluous pieces of rock and carving delicate incisions into the stone, until the posing
figure and the chiseled sculpture were identical. The striking feature about Michelangelo’s four “Slaves”
is that they are semi-finished. Like the men with whom I ate and slept during my formative vagrant years, Michelangelo’s
slave sculptures reveal but half the man at various stages of development, while the other half lays imprisoned within the
don’t remember the names the artist assigned to them so I’ll call them Slave 1, 2, 3 and 4. All of the Slaves
are bent forward as they struggle to get free of the rock.
1’s face is barely visible but what you can see of it illustrates excruciating pain as he attempts to twist and pull
himself from the stone slab.
2 isn’t much better off than Slave 1 but the viewer can make out more facial details, the beginnings of his upper torso
and thigh muscles.
3 has well defined frontal proportions but the back half is still encased within the rock.
4 is nearly unfettered.
a work like “Slaves” the artist undoubtedly used vagrant models. Vasari, the chief contemporaneous biographer
of Michelangelo, never admitted it. Perhaps he felt such a confirmation might graffiti the figures and belittle the artist.
How foolish. Every time I look at Michelangelo’s Slaves, in print or in imagination, I know the artist used posing vagrants.
I can tell by the disquieting anguish carved into their bearing and the stubborn resolve to overcome. Such powerful emotions
are vagrant proper and could never be affected by non-vagrant models or feigned by accomplished actors.
carousel of Slaves circling my imagination suddenly stopped when I recalled the struggles that I had been through; rejecting
materialism and beating conformity on the one hand and overcoming alcohol, Crack and cigarette addictions on the other. I
then remembered the vagrant brothers that shared my woebegone addictions and my headstrong spirit.
what was the connection between Michelangelo’s Slaves, my struggles to become autonomous and sober and my brothers’
struggles to surmount their difficulties?
statues like “Pieta” and “Moses” represent fully formed figures. The Slaves, however, are partial
and incomplete. The artist deliberately left these four works unfinished. It appears that Michelangelo intended them to forever
struggle after their full form. It seems as if by hewing the figures but half
way out of the stone, leaving the other half enclosed, he were subtly commanding them to incessantly twist and pull themselves
free from their captive -- addictions, obsessions, melancholies and apathies -- stone.
“David” represents a fully formed figure. Beneath David’s idyllic appearance, however, I see woebegone addiction
and headstrong spirit – that tells me that he who had posed for David was once a vagrant slave. The claim is justified.
like David’s reflected in his tranquil yet evident muscles and revealed in his unaffected yet commanding pose occurs
only after years of struggle and resolve. A divine form such as his, attained through effort and realized on the dais, comes
only after excruciating pain and willful determination.
I flip through frontal shots and blow-ups of this uplifting sculpture I’m inspired to become the Homeless David, posing
before vagrant posterity with unflinching eternal eyes. Such an evocative mental figure -- carrying backpack and bedroll,
bent forward as I struggle against the wind, my long chestnut brown hair blown back and my ragtag threads windswept, too –
compels me to hew my personality as if it were made of marble, striking my stone with ever harder blows, enduring pain like
I have never endured pain before, so that my superlative vagrant self will go on.
was Michelangelo’s genius. For he correctly anticipated vagrants freeing themselves from their respective prisons by
willing themselves into stunning works of live art. Herein lies the secret of Michelangelo’s unfinished Slaves.
of their lifelong struggle to release themselves from bondage vagrants shall embody beauty sublime.
of their strenuous efforts to overcome the slavery of addiction and conformity they shall become – David.
was born and raised in Newark, New Jersey. Was a construction worker and now currently homeless writing is articles from his
own experiences over the many years sending them to Street News and other homeless
papers. He had excerpts of his 2001, 3rd edition short story published in Harper’s
Magazine, Fall 2001.
is in India giving us the real deal! He has juust finished his journals and looking for a publisher.
Her can be contacted
firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com