As I mentioned last time I will be jumping about the alphabet. As I began with “A”, “X” seemed the logical choice. I chose Xquic, the princess of Xibalba. For those who have followed this narrative , and not been daunted by the tongue twisting names, you will remember she is the heroine of the Popol Vuh narrative. Having miraculously given birth to the Hero Twins, I present her enthroned upon an “X” chair.
The following is a detail (as the image is rather small) of Xquic and her sons the Hero Twins, Hunahpu and Xbalanque. As I progress in this series I continue to paint the Twins blue. There isn’t a tradition for this, I just like the effect, an homage to Clive Hicks-Jenkins.
This may be the last post for a bit, trying to tie up loose ends as we are leaving for a brief Independence Day holiday. We are going to Portland Oregon, it seems such a pretty and progressive place; far different temperament and climate from oppressive San Diego. We are both excited to get out of Dodge.
As is consistent with my temperament , when faced with a rather daunting task (in this case an alphabet primer), I start at the beginning and soldier on. Hence, “A” is for the Axis Mundi.
In Mesoamerican culture, the Axis Mundi, essentially the World Tree, is situated at the center of the Earth. It is truly a cosmic being, with its branches kissing Heaven and its roots finding their way to the bowels of Hell. Traditionally the World Tree is thought to be the glorious Ceiba tree, the link provided is well worth a glimpse or two. I remember this beautiful tree from our time living in Ft.Lauderdale. It is a perfect tree for me, close to nude save for ferocious thorns;instead of pedestrian foliage , the Ceiba rewards visitors with fabulous orchid-like flowers, often hot pink. It is quite simply a stunning tree, no wonder it is the national tree of modern Guatemala.
All that said, I did not depict the fantastic Ceiba, I chose instead an odd little tree that we have fallen in love at the Cactus Garden of Balboa Park here in San Diego. I don’t know what this curious specimen is, we haven’t located an identification plate, but I will research further. What is apparent is its great age, probably pushing a century mark, which is curious as it is a very tiny little tree.
This is my interpretation of the odd little charmer.
And this is the tree as we know it.
To give a sense a scale, here is the dear tree with David’s equally dear Aunt Lydia, a wee little woman, 5’2″ or so.
I’m working through the alphabet, I think I will be more random than my initial inclination if for no other reason than aesthetics. Given the scope of the endeavor, there is bound to be stylistic progression as I delve forward. I think the primer will possess a more consistent aesthetic if I jump about. That said, “H” is drawn out, Hun Hunahpu, the Maize God. I will present that when complete.
I think this will be a fun ( and exhausting) project, I have been fantasizing about the frontispiece. My conceit is a primer of New Spain to be presented to Charles V, I want the frontispiece to be full of that overblown false modesty and groveling found in period documents.
Back in March with a batch of “paper dolls” (my mother-in-law’s description of my maquettes) in front of me,I created a composition that I thought might be suitable for a painting. The painting ,to be part of a cycle devoted to the Mayan creation myth, the Popol vuh. Working from the above mentioned composition I set about creating some sketches; discovering I enjoyed certain elements of each, I came up with what is now (for now) a final composition .
The scene depicts the moment in the Underworld Xibalba when the freshly sacrificed Maize God, Hun Hunahpu is placed upon a calabash tree (some interpretations mention the tree as the World Tree-the Axis Mundi). The orthodox depiction of the scene is one in which only his head is placed amongst the branches; as I have a difficult time resisting the full form, I took some liberties. Mayan scholars take heed.
With our hero dangling like strange fruit, the Xibalba princess Xquic searches out this forbidden treasure (sounds familiar?). The Maize God upon encountering the Princess spits into her hand (subtle romantic move on his part) and from this spittle the Hero Twins are miraculously conceived , one more virgin birth in the canon of world mythologies. It is this scene I depict, one where the infant Hero Twins float between their parents; soon the Princess will depart the gloom of the Underworld for the sunshine of the living earth. A new adventure will begin for all of the characters.
The following is a detail of the Maize God,
This is of the Hero Twins, my inspiration was the many early Renaissance depictions of the Annunciation in which the Christ Child is depicted as this wee little babe floating within a nimbus of light.
And at last, the Princess ( with her demonic cousin Ralph).
With that I close, having attempted to depict an epic tale of wrathful demon-gods, a virtuous savior, a virgin birth and heroic infants on a rather limited 20 by 30 inch canvas.
I am now working on a primer, a primer of New Spain. The first letter of course being “A”, will be devoted to the Axis Mundi. So far it looks like it will be handsome.
The other evening, more truthfully morning, I had one of those bone chilling nightmares that if they were not so horrifying ,would be exhilarating . I generally have vivid dreams, and I maintain a lackadaisical dream journal. But this dream,occurring in the wee hours of Monday morning , shook me awake with a scream;shaking, I swiftly found a piece of paper to record the awful experience.
Upon awaking the next morning I was determined to record the wretched scene as a watercolor ( a medium that seems well suited to dreamscapes, just ask Blake).
The note may seem incoherent but it is what guided me through the painting:
A woman has been killing little boys in their sleep, attempts had been made on my own life as well.
It became apparent the old crone ( a recurrent character) was the Mother and she was killing the boys.
I went to bed reciting “Father watch after me” over and over.
She entered nonetheless and I kept repeating over and over but I was silenced.
Vultures had landed all over my bed.
She was some Egyptian goddess of death, God was the father.
My prayers were for naught. My belief that the Lord would watch over me was for naught.
I woke with a scream that scared the dogs.
In my notes the vultures were specifically identified as Egyptian in style, I vividly remember their shadowy forms.
The terror of being unable to speak or prayer was the most horrible aspect of the dream.
It is when I have dreams like this that I wish the beloved was Jungian and not Klienian.
I finished this painting last week. Certain elements of the painting are experimental, most specifically the use of canvas cutouts applied to the canvas. Inspired by Clive Hicks-Jenkins’ use of maquettes, I created figures and attached them to the canvas.
It was frankly a naive understanding of how to use Clive’s technique; I have since come to better understand the actual approach. I confess I would not suggest my version, it was a bit cumbersome, difficult to remedy errors.
But in the end I rather like the finished painting, a little macabre puppet theatre devoted to the Mayan Underworld.
In this admittedly theatric depiction we witness two acts. On the left the Maize God Hun Hunahpu is sacrificied by the treacherous Lords of Xibalba. The Maize God’s head is placed upon the proscenium, in the Popol vuh it is placed upon the upper branches the calabash tree.
On the right, the celestial ball payers, the Hero Twins Hunahpu and Xbalanque redeem their fathers honor.
The following are details of the Sacrifice and the Redemption. In the sacrifice, the snakes pouring out of the torso are a reference to the Mesoamerican tradition of portraying spilt blood as snakes.That really is a very clever idea, I can imagine streams of blood seeming as frightful as venomous snakes.
The following is a detail of the Lords of Xibalba.
For now that is it. I am finishing up another painting from the Popol vuh series, plus one devoted to Perseus and Andromedus, yes a male Andromeda. In what my friend Clive refers to as gay revisionism I am claiming this much loved theme for my gay self.
This painting, Sacrifice and Redemption caused one of my professors concern in that it might offend Chicano machismo sensibilities. She felt I should reconsider the nudity. I cannot, I see almost all of my characters in the buff, through a quasi Classical perspective. I was taken aback by her suggestion, particularly as she holds a Phd in Renaissance art history. But there you go!
Take care, LG
I realized after making the post the head of the Maize God had become clipped, I confess I may very well be the worst photographer ever. I intend to remedy that by taking a class in the Autumn. Until that time, patience please.