“T” is for Tohil; False Idols and the Death Wish

Like a perverse Prometheus, Tohil gave man the gift of fire, but the price was steep. In an attempt to appease the ancient god and to repay the debt, early man offered up gifts of precious metals. The haughty god refused such paltry offerings, only  flesh and blood would satisfy this god’s insatiable hunger:

“It remains for you to give thanks, since you have yet to take  care of bleeding your ears and passing a cord through your elbows. you must worship. This is your way of giving thanks before your god…” An Illustrated Dictionary of the Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya (144).

Auto sacrifice wasn’t all Tohil demanded, according to the same source, Tohil ”  insists upon the right to drink not milk from the breast, but blood: to be suckled by Tohil is to have one’s heart ripped out” (170).

This insatiable god would prove a false god, setting into place the sacrifice tradition ; which would cause much enmity between the ruling Aztecs and their tributary neighbors. Ultimately causing the collapse of this great empire.

“T” is for Tohil:


“T” is for Tohil


watercolor on paper

11 by 18 inches

In my studio,and in my life I face many false and demanding gods , as ruthless as Tohil. These gods, the ideals I hold myself to may in fact be a death wish.
What I strive for, what I value and cherish may be my undoing.  What inspires me may  in fact hinder my progress in life and in authentic expression. What seems so rich  often leaves me feeling impoverished when I am unable to  reach  such lofty goals :physical beauty in the face of my own crumbling shell; envy triggered by the  seemingly golden charmed life of others; the greatness achieved by past masters that  make a mockery of my own weak daubs.
My own country seems  intent upon adhering to an  Ideal that is no longer suitable (or possible) ; formerly represented by the  ruling WASP class, certain angry factions now bristle at an “uppity” black president ,  an”ungrateful , greedy” immigrant class,  “unholy” gays demanding full inclusion ,  fair social programs for the “takers” and woman seeking full autonomy.   Isn’t this archaic ideal a false idol ?, won’t clinging to it surely be the death knell of this nation?  This  stubborn resistance to progress seems a death wish.
I understand this resistance I just experience it  in different ways.
What drove the Aztecs to cling to their false gods, gods that were in the end, their  downfall. It is easy to blame the Spaniards but history is revealing a more complex narrative, how  disgruntled neighbors of the Aztecs, notably the Tlaxcalans, facilitated the destruction  of this great empire (that and smallpox) . Neighboring Indians, weary of offering human tribute to the insatiable gods of the Aztecs, realized the wisdom of aligning themselves to the enemy of their enemy. What would have happened if the Aztecs had looked beyond the shiny facade of their gods with their impossible demands . Was there no point when the  divine demands became too much to bear, too bloody, too insane.  Did anyone think there must be another solution or were they at that time  just too entrenched .
I for one do not want to become too entrenched in my own damaging practices, I hope to break free and reject my false gods and push against  my own death wish .
With that, good night, take care and be well,

Saint Antony of the Desert

Today is the feast day of  Saint Antony of the Desert (251-356); according to my Dictionary of Saints, “Antony” is the proper, if not archaic name for the abbot. I am not channeling my latent  New Jersey “guido” tendencies.

He has been a favorite saint of mine since boyhood and I have played upon the theme  of his wilderness exile numerous times, with varying degrees of success. But since leaving L.A. and moving quite literally to the desert I feel a keen kinship to the saint . San Diego, particularly East County where I now live, is a wasteland. It lacks interest in culture, intellectualism or beauty, San Diego of surfing fame is pretty in a vapid sort of way, but for something to sink your creative teeth into it is best to look abroad; or within your own reserves.  

Like the famed abbot, I retreat to  my cell and work, time and again I am stunned at how this”exile’ has been a boon. when I was in L.A. I would dawdle with vanities, little actual painting aside from what I was being paid to do was attempted. This hermitage has become a treasure.

I mentioned earlier I was reading a brief biography of Max Beckman by Reinhard Spieler, Max Beckman, 1884-1950, The Path to Myth (Taschen). I have long admired his beautiful 1936/37 triptych Temptation of Saint Anthony; what I didn’t know was his thoughts behind the subject. According to Spieler, Beckman felt:

“Ultimately Temptation deals with the inner conditions necessary for the creation of art.  Beckman depicts the artist as a modern St. Anthony, exposed to a myriad of temptations; at the same time these temptations are the foundations and mainspring of his art.” (121).

This had me thinking,  for Beckman’s thoughts made clear my own nebulous pondering ; so often I too am tempted by many wonderful inspirations, some “sacred” and some decidedly profane.   How do I go about synthesizing them into work that is authentic to my own desires and not slavish to the source. What I do not want is a mock Baroque or Renaissance pastiche.  I made a list of what has haunted and inspired : classicism, academic realism, Renaissance/Baroque art, porn, saints, narratives and myth making, on and on.  What I hope to do in my next painting is confront these tempters/inspirations head on, in my own version of Anthony in the Desert.

The following are a few sketches that I have been putting together, many more will follow.


detail of tormenting fauns


Preliminary sketch, I am most likely going to replace the conventional depiction of the abbot with a self-portrait .


An earlier sketch, I like elements of this and may very well include them in the final painting …or not.

I was also, just to clear my mind playing upon an image of a  seductress from one of my sketches, translated as a relief print.

It is a very poor initial print, I will play with it some more, make a final print in my upcoming class when I have access to a proper press. But I thought I would include it with this post nonetheless.


My introduction to the saint was not though religious fervor but through art. Numerous, far gifted artists have played upon this theme. I have in the past made note of it, this link is for a particular  personal favorite; not only because there are numerous pieces of wonderful art but because there is a really wonderful clip by the incredible George Mélliès, his La Tentation de Saint Antoine, 1898. It is not to be missed.

Until next time,

take care, be well,


A Reliquary for Daisy (and a few others)

Last evening, without exaggeration I went without a wink of sleep; in my 50 years I have never had an entire evening of insomnia.  I couldn’t bear tossing, listening to the pugs and  the husband snore (out of harmony) ; so instead I finished a biography of my hero Max Beckman and worked on a charcoal self-portrait (not at all flattering, Beckman haunts the soul ). Initially I attributed my insomnia to the stubborn flu I have been fighting, my throbbing ankle from a recent jog,  and my mortality ( as I mentioned Beckman haunts); but when dawn broke I realized that two years ago this day my very beloved pug Daisy died.

Her death though mercifully swift was unexpected, sudden, bloody and violent; one morning she awoke, that evening she was hemorrhaging violently , ultimately dying of a heart attack.

Her heart wasn’t the only one broken.

It may seem maudlin but my attachment to this dear beast remains strong, tears well up readily when I think of her, which is often. I believe , and this may be mystical voodoo  rubbish speaking, but I believe on some level  that I was unconsciously keeping vigil for her. The hours I was a awake were the same hours as her struggle with death; death won and I believe my body remembered .

After her death I set about dealing with my/our grief. Daisy was truth be told “my” dog, we both loved her deeply but I work from home and pugs love nothing more than snuggling at your feet while you paint. Daisy was the supreme studio sentinel. One way I dealt with the loss was to build a reliquary, I built two. The first was glazed ceramic, I cannot find it, frankly the glaze was a disappointment and I was never happy with it. So next I fashioned a proper mini mausoleum for the dear girl. I was far happier with that, and it is now her final home, sitting atop the studio library.

This is what it looks like:


Daisy’s Reliquary


painted wood, paint, oven dried clay, mixed media including mortuary ashes


figures no larger than 6″tall

As can be seen, Daisy’s ashes are housed on the “ground ” floor. Sadly the Christmas before, our odd little cat Moses had also died, as had David’s father; small urns of their ashes also reside within. 

0 “Chinois” Daisy as studio sentinel.

This is how I remember Daisy best, always watching me. Frankly she wasn’t the prettiest pug-as if there is such a thing!- my current pugs Rose and Viola are quite beautiful; but Daisy with a ridiculously long tongue and outsized personality charmed almost everyone she encountered. She was quite a force.

I so loved this image of her I painted a portriat from it a few months before she died. I feel very fortunate I was able to do that, to be able to examine her funny little feet and crooked face for distinctive characteristics;  I would have missed that opportunity after she died. To see the painting and more very funny pictures of Daisy follow this memorial link I made shortly after her death.

The following are details of Daisy’s reliquary.


side panel decoration, one of two, both inspired by the Danse Macabre.


This is a detail of the upper floor. I was in denial about Daisy’s health. She was a  frequent visitor of many veterinarians since we  had adopted her as leggy pup. She was epileptic , which wasn’t a very big deal, but she seemed to be chronically afflicted with other ailments. This upper floor is crammed with just a small sampling of her medications. The 19th c. figurines seemed a proper mourner. The Hell Mouth a suitable architectural style.

000detail of Daisy’s medicine cabinet.

I crafted funny little dark figurines, for no particular reason aside to keep Daisy company. They seem archetypal although from my imagination, they are as follows:

2Grumpy pauper king with skull.


Mischievous Demonette


Gilded Slug of Wisdom.

To be fair, I must include a photo of Daisy’s eternal room-mate, the quite handsome if not quite grumpy Moses. He was very beautiful , very tormented, unwell most of his life, but a peculiar delight, We still hear his odd little squeak .

R.I.P. Moses.


Moses disturbed from his nap by annoying admirers.

I appreciate the indulgence, I hope this post wasn’t too maudlin. I will work this evening, then retire early to a new day.

Until then, take care and be well,


From today’s sketchbook :Fallen Patroclus

Actually yesterday’s, but I was too groggy to post. Working on other drawings today. This Patroclus is just a result of my continuing fascination with the heroic (and doomed ) archetype.

Once again my handy-dandy maquette came in handy-thank you Clive!

IMG_3640Fallen Patroclus

charcoal on colored paper

18 by 24 inches

Take care and be well,


From today’s notebook: The Shades of Achilles and Patroclus

I recently finished Madeline Miller’s very excellent The Song of Achilles, Clive Hicks-Jenkins had suggested I read it, so I was quick to order a copy for myself.  I had heard of the novel, I had read a scathing review of it in the New York Times and foolishly I held back from reading it.  The reviewer, Daniel Mendelsohn , was ruthless (from my persective) in his criticism of the novel.  Most of his harsh judgment seemed aimed at the unabashedly romantic depiction of Achilles and Patroclus, comparing it to Dawson’s Creek – about as a cruel a comparison I can think of.

Mendelsohn takes Miller to task  for stating the obvious (to him at least) – the romantic nature of their relationship .

The truth is their relationship while implied,  is not a given fact to the population at large as Mendelsohn asserts. There is a sacredness to their narrative,  a romance held dear by a great many gay folks through time, that was secret and coded.  It is no small matter that Alexander and Hephaestion made a pilgrimage to their tomb. If Miller’s prose  was too purple for Mendelsohn then frankly that  is too bad; I for one relished the evocative images she created.  It is high time for some frank, direct depictions of gay love, culturally  we have settled for the implied. Miller gave us a sweeping romance, I thank Miller for that, florid or not.  In response I created an equally purple image of the two re-united for eternity in the Underworld.

Mendelsohn and his ilk will just hate it.


The Shades of Achilles and Patroclus

graphite, watercolor,pastel on paper

Take care, be well,