There are multiple translations of the Popol vuh, many of them excellent, scholarly works by experts in the field of Mesoamerican art and culture embellished with imagery predictably appropriate to the rich history of the Maya people. I’ve had the good fortune to meet several of the scholars at Mesoamerican conferences, Mesoamerican and post conquest colonial art being a personal passion; these have been enriching, informative and inspiring experiences.
The translation that I have been illustrating the last year or so however is a bird of another (quetzal) feather, my intention is a retelling of a well told story through images- my own kind of images, imagined through the cultural prism and personal perspective of the re-telling bard, in this case, myself. My first experience with the Popol vuh was much like my imagined 17th c. Court artisan , one of ignorance to the actual originating culture, but sheer, spontaneous delight in the symbolic drama of the tale and expressing this delight in the cultural, visual language at hand- in this case a baroque puppet drama.
In the end the Popol vuh is simply one heck of a good yarn, akin to the gods of Olympus and Valhalla. I try to express that delight and the accessibility in the stories told within my narrative images.
Of which, more have been added.
My collaborating poet has added more verses since I had last considered the project complete a few months back :
Initially I admit to being chagrined, for I wanted to move forward with other projects that I have placed on hold. But I love this project deeply and truly, this theme, this inspiration, the Popol vuh has been my companion since 2013 when I first encountered the epic tale in a short animated film in a Mesoamerican class I had been attending. Immediately I was enchanted by this strangely familiar story and I began scribbling furiously in the darkened auditorium, doodling up ideas for fanciful puppet operas and traveling marionette theaters, 17th c. commedia hucksters , not unlike those in Hamlet, entertaining court after ennui weary court.
So to return to this beloved story is an opportunity to at last figure out how best to share my passion for these two heroic ball playing boys, their sainted mother and of course the hellish brood of daemonic pranksters.
The poet and I need to figure out how best to get this monster of book published , I had naively understood there was a publisher in the wings, it seems that isn’t the case. Self publishing, unless a small press can be secured, appears to be our option. A certain degree of apathy seems to have set in with my collaborator, thus far he seems convinced that there will be little interest in our work and perhaps out-and-out hostility to two non-Maya fellows creating this homage and as artists we’d be best off in just getting the book made and to just move on to our next project.
That is a dispiriting perspective and one I do not share. This is , to me, a special project, one close to my heart, an amazing story, one easily appreciated by Maya and non-Maya alike , a human story, one familiar with its brave heroes, powerful maternal figures, sacrifice, trials and redemptions …and of course the buffoonery of the Xibalban underlords. I’ll have to do some researching how best to get this undertaking out there, I’m ill prepared for this quest, I am unfamiliar with the jargon , with contracts, with preserving rights, with fees and commissions . But the road to Xibalba is made one foot step at a time.
I will need to reach out to those more acquainted with publishing, should I self-publish, using a platform such as Blurb? I would at least have more control over the aesthetics of the project as the one publisher my poet did contact insisted upon visual control of the cover, examples of which I have seen haven’t met my expectations. I have friends more familiar with this game, I’ll be reaching out to them, gathering options, opinions, suggestions. I have time, I have taken this long, what matters a few more months . But for now I have more drawings to make, of which, these few are the latest.
I will close with a proposal sketch for a solo exhibition from I think 2014. My proposal was a resounding dud, zero interest, so perhaps my poet is correct. However, all the more reason to put the Xibalba Variety Hour out there!
So I am participating in an upcoming group show which is an homage to DADA and the centennial celebration of its founding. The work thus far submitted looks marvelous , capturing the anarchist aesthetic of the movement.
Each artists self selects a work or artist who they wish to honor by crafting a new work in homage. It looks and sounds like great fun.
My selection is of course theatrical and perhaps a tad neo-medieval (does that even make sense?). My inspiration was Pablo Picasso’s cumbersome cardboard costume designs for the Ballets Russes’ production of “Parade”. His fabulous costumes were so ungainly the dancers were unable to dance, let alone move with any grace. Hence the DADA aspect, art/non-art; a ballet without movement…how is that a ballet?
Yet it was.
So I hoped to fashion my own cardboard contraption, equally cumbersome. A walking Mystery Play, marionette arms gesturing and inviting audiences to a performance of Jean-Paul Sartre’s incredible “No Exit” (if there was ever a more loathsome description of Second Empire interiors, I would be hard pressed to identify it). Sartre’s play is chilling and rip-roaring at the same time and I hoped to imbue my marionette-mask-costume with those attributes.
Its rather large, at least 50 inches in every direction, more when the arms start gesticulating. I haven’t yet been able to both wear it and have measurements taken- I will at the opening. The opening which is November 17th will be at a fantastic gallery space here in LA; thus far every event I have seen there has delighted me. I’m really eager and pleased to participate in this.
The following is Picasso’s incredible work, I’ve always loved his theatre work, encouraging me as a boy to play and experiment with the most pedestrian material: cardboard, tin cans, house paint, duct tape- especially duct tape! If nothing else, my homage is heartfelt.
It would be lovely if local folks could attend the opening and toast the greatness of DADA!
I recently finished a painting Hadesville which I think might be my best painting thus far. I am not being immodest but the act of painting it was a joy and I believe the painting conveys that fact. The fact that friends, fellow artists, that I admire and respect were positive about the painting was very encouraging. I will make a separate post of the painting in the near future, but for now I have thoughts I need to process.
Recently a friend described my work as devilish, which made me chuckle a bit. One can be forgiven thinking that by many of my paintings and much of my work in general. But I see my horned figures as primal beings, not solely associated with darkness and vice. I instead see them as a joyous (if fiery) contrast to the sanctimonious displays of the self-appointed righteousness that has surrounded me for much of my life. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about devils and angels and I’m guessing it is affecting my work.
There seems to be, in this election season , quite a few devils posing as angels. Bill Maher’s recent conversation with Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager, left me questioning who is on the side of darkness and who on the side of light : the potty mouthed liberal or the smug blonde who can’t besmirch her reputation with salty language yet can easily tolerate policies that will decimate civil rights to non-blonde, non-straight, non-Christian Americans.
I couldn’t help to be reminded of the glittering and duplicitous Antichrist, posing as virtuous yet possessing a craven soul as the pretty Ms.Conway flitted and flirted her way through her conversation with Maher. I was left infuriated by how convincing and how appealing she may seem to a great many folks. From my perspective, risking hyperbole, the Antichrist is amongst us.
Much of my work lately has been confronting the oppressive restrictions of the religious right, thus far Fundamentalist Christians but frankly anyway who adheres too closely and too literally to the Abrahamic traditions. In this morning paper, there was an article ( link below) concerning a literalist Christian couple feeling “outnumbered, isolated and unpopular” as our nation moves forward to towards progressive and secular ideals ; my response was boohoo and “welcome to the club”. These feelings of despair that they are now experiencing for the first time, feelings which have personally led me to innumerable dark days and suicidal moments in my youth and which in fact have led many queer kin (many so very young) to take their own life, leaves me with little sympathy for these so called Christians.
Let them have their heaven, I’ll take hell.
This sense of the conflict between the so called diabolical and the celestial has even entered my dreams. I awoke today, in the wee hours of the morning, to record this dream:
“I encountered Lucifer and he ran a sordid, understocked bodega in the vast basement of a 19th c. building. The place was dank, damp and ill lit. There was very little merchandise and what he did offer was meant to appeal to the youngsters of the neighborhood , sugary soft drinks and prepackaged junk food. If the boys, for they were all boys, were lucky, they escaped with a bag of Doritos, but more often than not Lucifer pinched their cheek leaving behind a sharp triangular scar, a Devil’s Mark. Some were so unlucky in their quest for a quick snack that they lost their eternal soul.
I did not interest Lucifer, for I was not some dimwitted boy but in fact an angel. more specifically an Avenging Angel. I didn’t immediately see Lucifer when I descended to his lair; the sordid shop was desolate, the half empty shelves reflecting the dim light of the grimy basement window shafts, all was gray and ambiguous . I found a crackling flickering light emanating from a washroom and there , through the cracked open door, stood Lucifer hunched over a scrub sink. He was a stooped middle aged man, thin and balding as ashen as his bodega but from his ankles, thin as reeds , flames could be seen coursing through the sinew. I was witnessing the sulphur of depravity. His fiery emptiness coursing through his lower limbs. A few young boys descended seeking their salty sweet empty calories, I tried to shoo them away, one heeded my warning but the other, stubbornly intent upon his tawdry treat, barely escaped Lucifer’s pinching embrace. As the terrified boy rushed up the flight of stairs the bloody “v” of the Devil’s Mark was plainly visible. I approached Lucifer, and as if on cue we simultaneously spoke the same lines : “You are (I am) Lucifer, damned for eternity”. I turned to my unidentified companion , pleased and eager to display my pride in predicting what Lucifer would say. Even Avenging Angels suffer from pride.
From that point on it became clear that these were pre-scripted lines and that we were in fact actors in some Mystery Play. We each had our role and we were playing them admirably. With this new understanding Lucifer and the Avenging Angel ascended to street level, to a well lit shop, a typical 1930’s sort of place, all plate glass and checkered linoleum floors, perfect for a barber shop. I grabbed Lucifer by the shoulder, embracing him and declaring “this is what Good feels like , do you like it?” , as he recoiled from my “goodness” , an archetypal flag waving-Scripture quoting-gun loving couple saunters into this empty shop. Devilishly , just to tweak them , I faux-bugger him from behind , this time declaring “this is what Evil is, do you like it?”
He did and we fell onto a pile of Turkish rugs giggling as they skedaddled out of Sodom and Gomorrah as fast as they could.”
I’m working now on a Hellmouth costume, all made of cardboard . A walking marionette/Mystery Play pageant wagon. I think, if I may be immodest, that it is going to be super. I will post the finished work upon completion but for now this image of the work in progress with my decidedly angelic dog Speck.
Speaking of Hell and Hellmouths my mixed media assemblage Daisy’s Reliquary (made for the unexpected death of my beloved pug Daisy several years back) will be part of a Dia de Los Muertos exhibition at Ave. 50 Studio here in LA, I’m very pleased and honored to have been asked to participate . Info concerning the October 8th opening follows, sadly I have two openings in northern California the same weekend and will not be able to attend. The link is : http://avenue50studio.org/upcoming-events-3#honoring-our-ancestors
Until next time .“Shanti! Shanti! you must not let anger possess you like that.””
This is one of two proposals I recently submitted for a solo show… boney fingers crossed. The first, The Thinking Reed is pretty much ready to hang; this one resides mostly within my head and deals primarily with perception and the problems that arise from appropriation and misappropriation.
Tenochtitlan Toyland: Playthings from New Spain
My proposal for “Tenochtitlan Toyland: Playthings from New Spain” is a theatrical concept room, an installation piece that essentially represents a nursery from hell. My concept which employs painted and constructed assemblages, cardboard and papier-mâché figures, marionettes and paintings on paper also incorporate an interactive element in which to engage the gallery viewer.
The nursery in question is that of the Infanta Margaret decorated with imagined booty from New Spain. By utilizing commonly found construction materials, I wish to poke fun at consumerism and the incessant quest for novelty. To achieve this end I plan to make a plywood Selfie Booth, fashion a series of cardboard jumping wall puppets , even introduce a live performer encased in a walking puppet of my making. There is also a faux didactic element to this installation; I’ve painted a series of watercolor illustrations for an alphabet primer of New Spain that completely misses the mark in comprehending these vanquished people. From encouraging the use of hashtags for my proposed Selfie-booth, to passing out crayons in which to color pastiches of Baroque wall hangings, I wish to engage the viewer, reflect the past and hold up a mirror to the foibles and vanities of our current society.
My work is always narrative based and whether expressed through two dimensional or three dimensional works, I seek to tell universal stories and explore universal truths. With this installation I wish to employ every weapon in the arsenal. Paintings, sculpture and interactive engagement are part of my concept; I wish to create a sense of Gesamtkunstwerk, but instead of a Wagnerian Valhalla, I instead wish to create a dark and funny depiction of our seemingly unquenchable thirst for power and privilege.
Much of this work is still in the conceptual stage, so I have provided preparatory drawings to illustrate my intentions. I have also, when available, enclosed images of completed elements such as marionettes, paper dolls and pages from the aforementioned Primer of New Spain. I have also enclosed an itemized page providing details concerning my concepts and anticipated materials for the elements which make up the whole of Tenochtitlan Toyland; they are numbered to correspond with the images. Concerning which gallery I would prefer I have submitted a scaled rendering of the show situated in the W Gallery; of course that decision is up to the gallery. Given that much of the work is site specific I would appreciate, if I were fortunate enough to be selected, a later date in 2017 for the opening. Given my themes of consumerism and toys, a slot close to Christmas would be devilishly delightful!
An Itemized List Concerning Tenochtitlan Toyland: Playthings from New Spain
1- “The Rape of Tenochtitlan”, 2016, colored pencil on paper, 18 by 24”.
The initial impetus behind this concept.
2- Pages from my alphabetic primer The Primer of New Spain ; letters A, B, C and D shown. The entire alphabet will represented .
Materials: watercolor on paper.
3- My marionettes of the Hero Twins. These marionettes are part of a body of work that includes other puppets and doll derived from the Popol vuh, that will be incorporated into the concept as a whole.
Materials: Sculpey modeling medium, armature, paint.
4-Part of a collection of paper dolls that I have been working on over the last few years. Some of the dolls are nearly life-sized, some conventionally sized.
Materials: watercolor, graphite, on paper, brads.
5- The Coatlicue Selfie Booth , given that Aztec goddess Coatlicue (and her war god son Huitzilipochtli) is quite a fearsome presence, she is an amusing choice for a selfie cutout . I would actively encourage the hashtag #teotoyland while visitors snap away; both ridiculing social media and exploiting it.
Anticipated materials: self supporting painted plywood cutout.
6- My proposal includes four “jumping jacks”, childish amusements of the Victorians, the difference being, as is the case with this depiction of the rain god Tlaloc,my offerings would be considered inappropriate for the nursery by most sane people. I imagine including three other Aztec gods including the aforementioned war-god Huitzilipochtli. Each will be placed behind a baroque inspired “tapestry”, that with crayons provided near by, I would hope gallery visitors would color in. I imagine an interactive experience, as with the selfie booth.
Anticipated materials: paint, cardboard, string, brads; tapestries, enlarged renderings with crayons provided.
7-The Templo Major, the heart of Tenochtitlan, home to the primary altars of Tlaloc and Huitzilipochtli , scene of countless human sacrifices and terrible battles , could not be a more inappropriate inspiration for a dollhouse; yet I propose just that concept . The installation would include rag dolls of gods, priests and their unfortunate victims. I anticipate quite a few hearts.
Anticipated materials: Painted wood and or papier-mâché construction, lightbulbs, mixed media as yet undetermined.
8- One of the aforementioned rag dolls, in this case, Huitziliopochtli.
Materials: rags, thread, paint.
9- A Meso-american television complete with vignettes from the creation myth , the Popol vuh. It would include the aforementioned marionettes.
Anticipated materials: painted wood and or papier-mâché , lightbulb , mixed media elements as of yet undetermined.
10-A prototype of #9, the Meso-american television.
Materials: painted wood, mixed media.
11- Mictlantecuhtli (Lord of Xibalba) parade marionette. A walking interactive puppet depicting the major god of the underworld . Once again introducing an absurd interactive element into the nursery concept. I hope the performer to be most fetching.
Anticipated materials: chicken wire armature, papier-mache, dowels, string, wire, paint.
12- Schematic of my proposal within the Wubdemann Gallery; drawn 1/4” scale.
Well, that’s it. I’m not sure which worries me more, being rejected or actually having this proposal accepted and going mad putting it all together! Wish me well please.
David and I are experimenting with my marionettes, I’m looking forward to bringing more focus to the project after I finish with this intensive class (two essay assignments this week alone).
I certainly am learning from experience. The marionettes are essentially quite cute but a bit clumsy-actually their puppeteer is the clumsy one. But they do photograph well, as is befitting fellows “born” in LA I suppose.
The following are some images taken from this afternoon’s “shoot”:
We obviously have a lot to learn concerning production value…
My marionettes are finished, now I find the task at hand of photographing them and hopefully in the near future making brief 13 second clips of their escapades. But thus far I have been hampered by having only two arms; awaiting the husband to act as studio assistant.
The image that follow are those I have managed solo.
Detail of the Axis Mundi against a fiery backdrop of Xibalba, the underworld.
The Axis Mundi with the head of the slain Maize God
The Hero Twins strung, ready to perform.
They are incredibly photogenic, I feel I cannot take credit for them as they seem to have come forth on their own.
The simple-minded God of Death, he also poses in a delightful way; he is quite a funny fellow.
When I manage to score some stage hands I will post some tableaux , until that time ,be well, Lg
It is ironic that I am nursing an annoying head cold on the day one of my favorite saints lost his head; puts things in a bit of perspective.
I have loved John since boyhood, his severed head had been burnt into my consciousness at a very young age. My family had visited Thomas Jefferson’s beautiful Monticello and in one of the bedrooms was a painting of that awful moment when John’s head was being presented on a platter. The image burnt in deeply, I was so confused, had Jefferson executed John ?( I was quite young ), I knew he held slaves, a grave sin, in my wild imagination it could have been true. The head represented tragedy,sacrifice, bondage , perhaps release. It terrified and beguiled all at once. I have never lost that fascination and I have returned to the subject over and over. One of my great pleasures in discovering the Popol vuh has been the intense similarities between the Maya narrative and that of the western Christian narrative. The Maize God loses his head in a similar act of sacrifice, difficult to not see the similarities.
The following images are just some of my interpretations of the Maize God’s severed head.
detail from a larger composition
detail from a watercolor, “Primavera”.
watercolor, “Resurrection of the Father, II “.
its relief print companion, also called “Resurrection of the Father”.
another watercolor called “Resurrection of the Father , I”.
another relief print “Strange Fruit”
I have just finished, or nearly so, my last marionette , that of the head of the Maize God ; rather uncomplicated really, all it has to do is ascend.
marionette of the Maize God.
I will need to take better images of the marionette tableau when I am feeling better, but for now, have a happy feast day of blessed Jokonaan.
Standing at an unlucky 13 inches this little demon god delights me. My fourth marionette and I think my most successful . He actually functions and he came out pretty much as planned.
” Sculpey” medium over wire and foil armature, acrylic paint
13 inches high
My intention had been to play off a painting I had made a few year back, The Alpha and the Omega. I think I got it.
The Alpha and the Omega
acrylic and mixed medium on canvas
another inspiration were those crazy-assed demons that are always tormenting poor St. Anthony of the Desert.
I’m happy with the face in the center of his chest, the gaping Hell Mouth, the cute little snake and the phallic schnozze. I’m also liking his little serpentine booties. The gods of the Underworld were notoriously stupid, but this fellow is pretty snazzy.
I have a deadline to meet so I will be painting a bit, but I will return to PuppetLand pronto.
My Hero Twins, Hunahpu and Xbalanque are now finished and awaiting proper stringing. I don’t anticipate too many problem, my fingers crossed, but in the meantime I thought I would play around with the little mannequins. They are quite flexible and fall into clever and at times quite salacious positions. Good for them.
Hero Twin marionettes
Sculpey and metal and aluminum foil armature, paint, steel wool, string
12.5 inches tall
They both have little necklaces, and bracelets and fancy boots; for naked boys they like to accessorize.
A Tom of Finland pose if there ever was one.
For as long as I have been working with the Hero Twin archetype, their tongue twisting names have befuddled me. Xbalanque, of the jaguar spots is depicted in such a way as to exhibit his animal nature ; poor Hunahpu is spotted as a reminder of his time amidst the Dead.
Living in LA I see gorgeous tattoos on a regular basis, I was inspired by the local color in tagging my fellows; now at last I will be able to identify the Twins quickly and easily.
I’m happy with the boots-yet another salacious shot.
End o’ day.
I will string them and I will record their movement, but for now they are at rest.