As this may be the last entry for my Primer of New Spain, before the Alphabet Soup deadline of the end of November, I thought I would base the character upon my favorite beastie.
To the Maya and to the Aztec dogs were, in addition to a foodstuff (gruesome I know), believed to be excellent guides to their owners in the treacherous Underworld. Apparently they were particularly adept as crossing bodies of water. As the Mesoamerican dog was bred to be hairless I suppose that makes some sense.
My own pup, and model for this image is a modern day chihuahua, quite hairy and slightly chubby ;a delightful and I think quite handsome fellow. His name is Speck and he hates the water. I would however be thrilled beyond belief if Speck was waiting for me in Charon’s barge.
Dogs may have been excellent guides in the Underworld, but in the studio my little fellow was a reluctant model, refusing to hold a pose for very long.
But I fashioned a resemblance of sorts, altering the color of his fur, he is in actuality a beautiful blonde, not this garish yellow.
Here is the superstar, posing on his own terms.
According to tradition, the dog when imagined as a guide to the Underworld , would be depicted wearing a mask. It is a particularly fascinating stylization, well suited to my interest in symbolism and dreamscapes.
The following is a local treasure from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), I am particularly fond of it.
It seemed fitting that if my little Speck was stuck in the Underworld that he could at least have a jolly time playing fetch with all of the bones lying about. For his unearthly companion I once again made use of my handy demon maquette.
I will continue with the Primer, perhaps relaxing the color restriction a bit, perhaps not.
In the final weeks of my printmaking class we have been focusing on relief printing, so far using sheets of linoleum. Of all of the techniques this is the one I have most taken to. I have just finished working on a plate of St. Benedict of Palermo (the Moor); I am eager to run a test print.
Relief printing, contrary to my expectations is well suited to the way I doodle, not the way I draw or paint, but doodling.
I have countless class notebooks filled with my doodling marginalia, I have admired the spontaneity but when I have tried to translate the doodle into another medium the results have been disappointing. The spontainity had been lost and the result was too ironic, too self aware, verging on cartoonish, not at all my intention or desire.
But I have found that when I translate my doodling onto the linoleum block the loose line is retained. The quirkiness is an asset.
The following image of the Grey Eyed goddess was first a loose doodle from my mythology class. I created her as a prayer card for our recent election day, carving the image quickly before class with very little alteration to the original 30 second doodle. There are flaws but I like her. She has an archaic quality that I do not usually explore. She is reminiscent (at least to me) of an early political poster from the first democracy; at least that was my intention.
I’m heading to the frame shop to have two prints prepared as gifts for my two nieces, Grace Sophia and the still to be born Lulu.
Lulu is expected to burst onto the scene December 15th , she is eagerly awaited ; having Athena in her nursery seems a good omen.
I’m seeing a Jungian. In his rather bleak waiting room he has a nice collection of art books. Most of the books are devoted to art of ancient peoples, Egypt and the rest of Africa, the Fertile Crescent, the Americas, typical shrink taste ; I like looking through them.
Today as I was poring over a book devoted to the old gods of the Nile, I stumbled upon images that drove me to distraction in my youth : nubile sky maidens arcing over ithyphallic earth gods.
I felt inspired to make a quick sketch, reversing the roles a bit in keeping with the Greek tradition . I finished the sketch at home, this is the result.
I wonder what the Jungian would say?
Although not the original inspiration, it is in the same spirit. I think it is marvelous.
Well, must dash, the spouse man’s train should arrive shortly, must pick him up at the station; i sound like a Connecticut housewife.
Given the extreme weather we have been experiencing recently :here in southern California, insanely hot summers and back home in NY and NJ, unheard of hurricanes, climate change has been in the thoughts of many. Even folks who I know to be staunch deniers of climate change are rethinking their stance that perhaps we have had an impact on Mother Earth.
My interest in Meso-American culture has me linked to numerous blogs and I recently received this post claiming the great civilization of the Maya collapsed due to man made climate change which resulted in a “long catastrophic drought”. The Maya civilization as many know was massive , a complex web of city states ruled by various lord/kings. As power was brokered, each lord would vie with one another in building massive elaborate temples, palaces and public building, all with the intention of giving expression to their magnificence. The architecture, rubble and stone in construction was given a fine white stucco finish. When Cortez and his men first encountered the Aztec they were dazzled, but this magnificence came with a cost.
According to a NASA Science News article twenty trees were needed to heat the limestone in order to create one square meter of plaster. Given the massive scale of these structures and the tropical climate which demanded incessant maintenance, that’s a hell of a lot of dead trees.
All of this course sounds and feels familiar to our own increasingly desperate situation. Clinging to a fuel that is outmoded and toxic to a planet we claim we love. We treat this planet as a resource, not something to be revered.
The Maya have been idealized by many as having been more attuned to the gods of the natural world, yet by their hubris they ignored the divine pleas for mercy. Ignoring the pleas had serious consequence. I’m hoping against hope we can learn something from the Maya, sadly I fear the worse. Whereas the Maya left behind enchanted ruins I fear we will leave behind the shells of big-box stores, McMansions and endless freeway system going nowhere.
“C” is for Climate Change.
“C” is also for Cinteotl, a manifestation of the maize god. Usually depicted as a young man, golden in coloring and wearing a maize head-dress.
I stumbled upon an image of the young god with a distinct resemblance to Apollo. The statue is described as Huastec, 11th-13th c.A.D.
What is notable is his nudity, there are very few depiction of the human figure in its natural state in Meso-American art. Since I have a fondness for nudity he was a suitable model for my letter “C”.
Symbolism for life cut short played a factor as well, but mainly it was due to the fact that he was a comely young man.
I will be spending the remainder of my holiday catching up on readings and working a linoleum block (this time a Christian saint).
I had been planning on owls for “O” from the beginning, mostly because they re so darn cute.The Mesoamericans however did not necessarily find them as adorable as our contemporary society seems to find them. According to my ever reliable Illustrated Dictionary of the Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya , owls were a mystical yet fearsome creature. Dwelling in dark caves, portals to the Underworld, owls were considered guides to dark mysteries and ominous omens of what lurked in the shadows.
As does western culture, owls were identified with the night, further cementing their connection to the supernatural.
To the Maya the owl represented fertility and death, this dual nature can be seen in the Popol vuh narrative: owls deliver the Hero Twins to the Lords of the Underworld sealing the Heroes doom and also guide the pregnant Xquic out of the darkness of Xibalba. This seems in keeping with the rather consistent duality of Mesoamerican mythic narrative.
The green owl was favored by the artisans of Teotihuacan, appearing in wall paintings, and according to the Dictionary over mirrors (I assume polished obsidian), the mirror itself representing a passage to the unknown. I was happy for the chance to use green as my accent color for this page of the Primer.
I mentioned that “O” was also for Obama, this is because I had intended to work on this painting during the presidential election last Tuesday. I had expect a long anxious evening ; I had hoped working would soothe my nerves.It was a stressful evening, but at some point the dominoes of fate starting falling in Obama’s direction; in no time at all it seemed as if my president would be given a second chance. I began to just feel incredibly giddy, something I have not felt in months. This election has been particularly stressful , full of vitriol and mean spiritedness ; when Obama gave his acceptance speech the little green owl on the branch smiled- and that is how I left him.
Hoorah for Obama, that is the cheer of this chorus of wise little owls.
So “O” is for the Owl and for the president, I can now exhale peacefully.
One of my inspirations for my owls was a funny little Halloween decoration from the 50’s-60’s , very familiar to American baby boomers . I always liked his green and orange coloring and his funny wink, I wanted to squeeze a reference of him into the painting. I hope I captured some of his goofy spirit.
I have been receiving notifications concerning the Alphabet Soup deadline at the end of this month; I thought I would enclose the following for inspiration.
The character of popular Southwestern/Mexican folklore La Llorona is familiar amongst Mexican Americans. When I requested information about the Weeping Woman, as she is popularly known, David’s Aunt Lydia fondly recalled the delicious childhood terror of the northern Arizona winds being described as the “cries of La Llorona”. Aunt Lydia was, as many youngsters were, advised to behave, or La Llorona would snatch her up.
Succinctly her tale is thus:
Although several variations exist, the basic story tells of a beautiful woman by the name of Maria who drowns her children in order to be with the man that she loved. The man would not have her, which devastated her. She would not take no for an answer, so she drowned herself in a lake in Mexico. Challenged at the gates of heaven as to the whereabouts of her children, she is not permitted to enter the afterlife until she has found them. Maria is forced to wander the Earth for all eternity, searching in vain for her drowned offspring, with her constant weeping giving her the name “La Llorona”.
In some versions of this tale and legend, La Llorona will kidnap wandering children who resemble her missing children, or children who disobey their parents. People who claim to have seen her say she appears at night or in the late evenings from rivers or oceans in Mexico. Some believe that those who hear the wails of La Llorona are marked for death, similar to the Gaelic banshee legend. She is said to cry “Ay, mis hijos!” which translates to “Oh, my children!” Source
It has been argued that LaLlorona is an incarnation of the much maligned La Malinche, Hernán Cortés’ guide, translator and romantic companion. La Malinche has been accused of having sacrificed her “children”, the native people to her lover and to the brutal tyranny of the Spanish empire. This is an easy assertion to make, but the historian Luis Leal believes that La Llorona has roots that date before the Conquest- hence her inclusion in this Primer of New Spain. Leal’s belief is that the Weeping Woman is not La Malinche but in fact the ancient goddess Cihuacóatl, the Serpent Woman.
Leal quotes Fray Bernardino de Sahagún‘s Historia de las costs de la Nueva España, describing the Earth /Fertility Goddess as such :
” …she appeared before men, she was covered with chalk, like a court lady. she wore earplugs, obsidian earplugs. she appeared in white, garbed in white, standing white, pure white. Her womanly headdress rose up. By night she walked weeping, wailing; also was she an omen of war.”
My desire was as usual, was to interpret this mysterious goddess through Western eyes, hence the stylization in the manner of the Artemis-Ephesus
I have placed upon her head the helmet of a warrior, for before the time of the conquest the Woman-Snake, Cihuacoatl was called upon by women giving birth. Patroness of mid-wives, the soon to be mother was urged to call upon the goddess for strength. As described in the Illustrated Dictionary of the Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya, she was of “warlike aspect” due to the fact that giving birth was akin to battle, ” Midwives exhorted women to call out to her in childbirth and to be as warriors in the violent expelling of the child from the womb”. I love that description, not a whiff of romantic sentiment to be found, just sound advice. Our goddess goes from benign protectress to demon after the Conquest which is not at all surprising. According to Leal, Sahagún considered her an incarnation of the devil, speaking to the conquered he describes her :
“Behold another confusion of your forefathers. They worshipped a devil in the guise of a woman, named Cihuacóatl…She terrified men…And because of this they celebrated her feast day. They laid offerings before her, they slew victims before her, that her anger, her fury, might not fall upon [them]” (Book I, 69-70).
Later on Sahagún softens her image more in keeping with the pitiful LaLlorona. During the final days of the ill-fated reign of Moctezuma II she seems a demon reformed:
“In the days of this same [ruler] it happened that [the demon] Cihuacóatl went about weeping, at night. everyone heard it wailing and saying:
‘My beloved sons, now I am about to leave you’ “(Book VIII, ch.1,3).
Truer words could not be imagined as Cortés marched into the dazzling city of Tenochtitlan.
With that image in mind, I have tried to paint the pre and post colonial character with the sensitivity and pathos reserved for Medea. I have taken liberty with the violent death, the children are known to be drowned, but my approved accent color is red!