The Xibalba Codex

The Xibalba Codex

 

A year ago yesterday (30th January 2021) I read for the first time a new  translation of the Quiche Maya Popol vuh by a talented poet Jemshed Khan. The manuscript appeared unexpectedly in my email inbox one morning, as I am a devoted admirer of this great creation myth  (of which  I’ve read multiple translations) I was eager to see how it compared- I confess I hadn’t high hopes.  I soon found this manuscript to be a sensitive translation, that it  would arrive so magically, so mysteriously, to me, I found enchanting – the old gods seemed at play.  

From the first reading it was obvious to me that Khan shared my passion for this great work, weaving his own poetic voice within the tapestry of ancient ancestors.

 Gratitude to old gods.

 

The Popol vuh is clearly a Mesoamerican treasure, steeped in the rich traditions and archetypes of a particular region; however equally true, I find within its twisting liminal wordplay, universal themes that I believe many can (and do) identify with: betrayal, wonder, fear, bravery, parental concern, tragic loss, sorrow, redemption, ultimately rebirth…and concerning the impish daemons of Xibalba, prankish, school-boy  humor.

Though this epic work found its expression in the pre-Conquest consciousness of the Maya people, the shape shifting artistry of this great culture  undeniably awakened in the Quiche-fluent Spanish friar Francisco Ximenez (the original Popol vuh translator) familiar associations (much within the text  resonates with Christian archetypes: virgin births, ritual sacrifice, resurrection and redemption) . As the Mesoamerican scholars Mary Miller and Karl Taub attest in their indispensable An Illustrated Dictionary of the Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya :

In the Classic Maya area, the complexity of the hieroglyphic inscriptions is entirely matched by the attendant iconography, the texts and the pictorial images conveying different qualities of information. Unlike the specificity of writing , the power of Mesoamerican iconography lies in its subtle ambiguity and ability to express different levels of meaning. In a single scene , a richly costumed king can be regarded as a diety impersonator , an actual god, or both. In terms of metaphoric expression , the iconography comes alive. Lightening can appear as a burning serpent, blood as writhing snakes or gouts sprouting sweet flowers, and a mature maize ear as a human head awaiting decapitation from the stalk. (pg.32)

My desire, once I committed to a collaboration, in designing the following plates,  was to convey this “subtle ambiguity”, desiring as well that my iconography equally “comes alive” with curious meaning .

In approaching a work so rooted in the Maya people’s culture and identity I naturally tread cautiously and hopefully I convey the respect I have for this masterpiece. I did not resort to Mesomaerican archetypes ,  such indigenous  iconography, while clearly inspirational, didn’t feel appropriate for my use.  As one of mixed European  heritage I felt haven’t the natural right to directly appropriate such rich material;I  instead  wanted to express my desire to create a mythical, timeless space of my own imaginings  (as much of this epic is set in the underworld kingdom of Xibalba, this was done with relative ease). 

This self imposed stylistic restraint is not an original concept , that titan of Mexican mural painting, the great José Clemente Orozco placed upon his own work similar restrictions (though I would argue he had more liberty to “loot” than I do). In Neil Baldwin’s Legends of the Plumed Serpent: Biography of a Mexican God” Orozco is quoted as expressing similar intentions:

Deliberately, unlike Diego Rivera at the Palacio Nacional three years early, Orozco will not draw so directly upon “aboriginal traditions”. It is time , rather for a “new cycle”, he says, and to forego “looting indigenous remains…however picturesque and interesting they may be”.

My desire in addition to creating a dream space is to explore perception, the images that float before our mind’s eye when told an unfamiliar story. I turn immediately, instinctively to Durer’s rhinoceros, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dürer%27s_Rhinoceros

a fascinating example of perception misaligned with reality; Dürer,  an artistic genius able to convey with great sensitivity and seeming ease  the world about him, however clearly had never stumbled upon an actual rhino. He instead seems to cobble together a bull with an armored tank, sketching I imagine what had been described to him. It is this disconnect of perception with “reality”  that I had hoped to convey, my stratagem was in pretending that I had no knowledge of the Maya people and their incredible artistic accomplishments, instead, listening as if for the first time to this grand epic we call the Popol vuh. Populating this fascinating narrative with ambiguous, mythical, vaguely familiar  figures; my conceit was imagining a 16th century European court sitting entranced by this exotic tale from a far-off land  and in their imagination the Hero Twins possess  the brawn of Herakles, the Xibalban princess is sister to a tower bound damsel and the Maize God so obviously the brother to Christ (or at least the Baptist).

That is the intention of this collection of illuminations , an outward expression of my appreciation for the Popol vuh, for we hear in these unfamiliar stories, from unfamiliar lands, the familiar. The Popol vuh, like the creation stories of the Classical world and of our Northern kin, speak of universal truths, naturally  touching the hearts of all who stumble upon them, providing inspiration to so many.

The fruit of that inspiration follows.

Design for endpaper, left side.
a-1, Prologue
a-2, Prologue
a-3, Prologue
” The local bruja warns of the dead about the lapsed pyramid.”
A-D, Maiden Blood
“Lord One Death hangs the head of a slain warrior in the dead tree by the road…”
A-F, Flight from Xibalba
(final version)
“…my hands fly to my belly. Both alive, they kick inside.”
A-F
I decided against this one, but still elements I liked .
A-I, Messenger Owls
A-J, Maiden’s Journey to Grandmother’s Hut
A-J
Spot illustration with text.
A-M, Birthing at the Placed Called Los Sapos.
A-N, Song of Hunaphu
“…of mother’s womb the void glowed redness bathed me for hours…”

 

Plate A-N, Nursing Twins: “screechers of want…”
A-O, My Boys
“…returns with quetzal feathers, muscled shoulders draped with jaguar skins.”
A-P, A Grandmother’s Wish
“…I remember their father did the same…”
Plate B-D Hard Work
Plate B-G, The Rat’s Tale
Plate B-G Ixbalanque, We Twins Scheme for our Father’s Rubber Ball
Plate B-N, Twins Practicing the Ball Game
“Atop a pine the dove observes their arrival”
BX, The Underworld Lords’ Complain
“Have they no shame stomping about up there? said One Death.”
CX, A Summons from Lord One Death
“Lord One Death summons you to play the sacred game against us.”
DX, Screech Owl Leads the Way
“At dusk, I transform from owl into a skull…”
EX,The Brothers’ Canyon Descent
“Milky Way glitters overhead against the dark womb sky.”
FX, Scorpion at the Crossing
“Midair, my stinger whips and spikes the rubber sphere with such fury that ball and striker will not separate.”
GX, Blood River in Earthshine
“Two boys ride the scorpion’s back. Eight insect legs scuttle across my river bed.”
HX, Finding Black Road
“Under Blood Moon Twins ride Scorpion’s back…”
IX, Mosquito’s Tale
“Hunaphu plucked a hair from his leg. He gave me wings, named me mosquito, and told me to guzzle blood.”
JX, Thrones on the Black Road
“Thus they came to where the Xibalbans were.”
KX, Gifts at the House of Darkness
“The messenger of One Death offers us a torch and two cigars.”
LX, Home-court Advantage
“We…drop our rubber ball on the court. But the Lords refuse it, throw down a skull instead. ‘This is not a ball’ we protest.”
L-LX, Winners and Losers
“Just four bowls of flowers, says Seven Death, one bowl yellow petals, one bowl red, one bowl large petals, one bowl black.”
MX, Prisoners in the House of Blades.
“Yours shall be the flesh of animals, they said to the blades”
MX, 1
spot illustration
MX, 2
Spot illustration
NX, Ants Tell of Cutting Petals
“We clamber stalks to nip petals from their stems, march back to the House of Daggers, our fragrant spoils.”
OX, Outside the House of Daggers
“Air thrums with death bats, moths, owls. Ground crawls with coralillio, centipedes and scorpions.”
PX, A Night in the Bat House
“…screeching snatch-bats careen through the dark.”
Poem Q, Severed Head.
“One Death rolls Hunaphu’s head to the court where the Xibalbans rejoice. Ixbalanque turns from grief and calls together all the animals. From a squash, leaves, wood and stones they build for Hunaphu a crude head.”
Poem R, Rabbit’s Ruse
“In the House of Bats Ixbalanque whispered in my long soft ears…”
Poem S, The Songs of Ixbalanque.
“Now the Lords scheme our death by red hot stones and burning coals.”
Poem T, Twins Leaping”.
“Let’s play a game of jumping over fire, said Lord One Death…Coals blazed and the rocks glowed bright red. But before the Lords could push us in, we dove headfirst to our deaths.”
Poem U, Funerary Advice.
“The Lords pulled our smoking corpses from the fire pit and laid us on the ground.”
Poem V, Resurrection.
“After five days we reappeared with faces glistening and shimmying in the water like catfish.”
Poem W, Of Orphans and Armadillos.
“On a side street we dance the Armadillo. A crowd gathers to whistle and shout.”
Poem X, Dancing for Lords.
“One Death cheers when we dance the Deer and laughs at the Centipede.”
Poem Y, Death Wish.
“Kill me, then make me live again…But One Death does not revive and his heart is cast before his throne. Next we take the heart of Seven Death. Two High Lords now lie dead. Ten more shake with dread.”
Z-i, The Heart of One Death.
“I call my heart to my chest. For I am One Death risen from the dead.”
Z-ii, One Death Survives.
“Let them think they’re Gods about to kill an earthly Lord.”
Z-iii, The Song of One Death.
“…loyal Lords dead, owls and moths fleeing light.”
Z-iv, Exile from Xibalba.
“Do not fear for I am serpent and I am sky. I am death.And death survives.”
Epilogue, Aj q ‘ijab.
“…we reach a flat hilltop clearing where an eight-foot stella rises. Carved on the back are glyphs of dynasties and sun nosed bats. 1600-year old traces of cinnabar cling to tooled crevices.”
Finis.
Design for Endpaper, right side.
The Xibalba Codex

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resurrection Sunday: Maize Gods, Hero Twins and the Popol vuh

This Easter Sunday I find myself gathering reference material for a newly commissioned project, illustrating a new imagining of the Maya Popol vuh. The author , who I will refer to as J Khan, is a poet of great sensitivity, and while I have read a good half dozen translations of this epic creation myth, his retelling is quite evocative and compelling . The  rich, visually dense language inspires me a great deal, calling to mind my own layering of esoteric ambiguity.   We both, artist and poet ,share a great love for William Blake, and though Blake’s imaginative, frequently Christian,  Romanticism may seem worlds away from this Mesoamerican pre-Christian narrative , the liminal, otherworldly qualities they both share make the association seem obvious to us both.

With that spirit in mind, I’ve begun the process of illuminating each verse, chapter header, not sure what the correct poetic term is , but the heading after each break will receive an associated spot ornament . 

 

The above is for passage A-J,  concerning the grandmother of the Hero Twins and her hut :

Maiden’s Journey to Grandmother’s Hut

 

Heavy with twins,

I walk two days

to her hut.

I place her hands

on my belly

but no smiles

welcome me. 

I love how the author conveys this chilly unwelcome yet at the same time there is compassion for this bitter matriarch who has endured ,for those familiar with the story, her own grave loss.

 

Spot illustration for U : Funerary Advice evokes the terror of the underworld, yet also evokes the buffoonery of the Lords of Xibalba (the Underworld). 

The Lords pulled our smoking corpses 

from the fire pit and laid us on the ground.

 

Xibalbans whistled and shouted, 

danced around us as we lay dead. 

The buffoonery of these nitwit demons is both horrifying and hilarious.

 

Of feathered serpents, “roaring blood and stacking skulls”; of  awe and wonder that one finds in visiting these ancient sites.

 

 

Of brujas (witches) and uncertain wanderings.

I am wary of stepping, 

of slipping on this unkiltered hill

 

pricked with burrows and bones,

glinting obsidian and reeking death.

 

Lastly, my latest, plate K-X.

 

 

 

 

KX

 

Gifts at the House of Darkness

By firelight they lead us
to the House of Darkness.
The messenger of One Death
offers us a torch and two cigars
against the black night inside.
“These gifts from my Lord,” he says,
“must be returned at dawn unconsumed.”

My brother sets a scarlet feather atop
the torch, pins bright fireflies to the cigars.
The night watchman surely sees:
in the house a torch burns, two embers glow.
The Lords of Xibalba chortle at this news
thinking that by dawn their gifts will be ash.

In the morning we step
from the house, hand One Death
his two fresh cigars and unlit torch.
That rattles the Lords. Red-faced,
they decide amongst themselves

that we must be finished off.
“Boys,” they say, “bring your belongings,
we will settle this score
in a game of Ball.”

Marionette of One Death

I’ve explored the Popol vuh previously , I am pretty well acquainted with the Hero Twins, the sacrificed Maize gods, the foolish lords of the Xibalba (a  few examples follow below) but working with a dedicated collaborator, one who treasures these stories as deeply as I do is a real treat. I can’t begin to explain what a pleasure it is to need not explain each and every detail of what are for many unfamiliar (if not dreadful) tales.   Instead J Khan and I find inspiration in just how universal these narratives are. While integral to the  rich traditions of Maya culture, we  outside that culture can sense an element of the universal  in these very human  tales of  bravery, fortitude, honor and redemption; the Popol vuh 
possesses all the wisdom and inspiration  one finds in the more familiar mythologies of the Classical world.  

This project is only in its most nascent state but I am really looking forward to seeing how it developed. For now, some work from the past.

With that, happy Easter!

The Afterlife at El Velorio

Resurrection of the Maize God (and the Miraculous Birth of the Hero Twins)
2019
Mixed media: recycled fabric, polymer clay, acrylic paint, embroidery floss, poly-fil, wooden cross
46 by 16 by 3 inches

I was recently asked to participate in a collective exhibition , the theme being The Afterlife. Ordinarily I avoid these mass group shows as they tend to be more inclined to spectacle and keeping the masses entertained (as the public never seems sated, craving new sensation after new sensation, we makers are asked to accommodate). But the curators are well regarded , one I know and respect, the art critic Shana Nys Dambrot, and it is after all a subject of keen personal interest.

El Velorio, as these annual celebrations of Dia de los Muertos are known  center around a mass call for art, all loosely tied by a single element, participants receive ,via post, an object to base the work, this year it was a stock wooden cross. 

The image above is my contribution. 

Resurrection of the Maize God (and the Miraculous Birth of the Hero Twins) was inspired by the Popol vuh narrative in which the Maize God is slain/sacrificed and from this loss,  new life, in this case the immaculate birth of the Hero Twins. An old familiar story, found across peoples, from John Barleycorn to Jesus Christ.

I had several years ago made the polymer clay heads for puppets, the puppets didn’t quite work out, but my rat-packing paid off as new life was found is this work. Unfortunately , from social media comments, the Hero Twin budding corncobs read as feet to the crucified Maize God.

I don’t read it that way, but it seems the public, in a mad dash to the next sensation, rarely actually observes.

Oh well.

That said, the work is available, along with many other very well crafted offerings October 12th at the Plaza de la Raza here in LA. I am told it is quite an event, very festive, costumed revelers.  La Plaza de la Raza is a very fine art hub, actively community based and a vital center of artmaking; 40% of sales will benefit this wonderful resource.

Link to the event follows:http:/https://www.facebook.com/ElVelorio

Resurrection of the Maize God (and the Miraculous Birth of the Hero Twins)
2019
Mixed media: recycled fabric, polymer clay, acrylic paint, embroidery floss, poly-fil, wooden cross
46 by 16 by 3 inches

Tenochtitlan Toyland

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.

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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!

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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.

 1-Rape of Tenochtitlan
1-Rape of Tenochtitlan

2-detail from Primer of New Spain
2-detail from Primer of New Spain

3-Hero Twin marionettes
3-Hero Twin marionettes

4-Paper-dolls from Xibalba
4-Paper-dolls from Xibalba

5-Selfie Booth
5-Selfie Booth

6- Tlaloc Tapestry design
6- Tlaloc Tapestry design

7-Welcome to the Xibalba Dollhouse
7-Welcome to the Xibalba Dollhouse

8-Huitzilipochtcli Rag-doll
8-Huitzilipochtcli Rag-doll

9-Xibalba Variety Hour
9-Xibalba Variety Hour

10-prototype example
10-prototype example

11-Walking Puppet
11-Walking Puppet

12-Installation Schematic
12-Installation Schematic

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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.

tenochtitlan_glyph

Seizing Sanctimonium, a Primer

My latest painting, a large one (40 by 56″) , large at least for my studio, is at last finished!

Hurrah!

It has not been an easy birth, unbelievably having been started February of 2014.

Link below:

https://boondocksbabylon.com/2014/02/16/the-old-gods/

Between other paintings, my time in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and my own uncertainty , the painting often languished . And when I thought it near complete, and to my satisfaction, my last critique group, left me once again in the grip of  uncertainty. After nearly four weeks of being unable to paint (hence a stream of drawings) I at last regained my faith in this painting, finished it up,  and now consider it one of my best.

IMG_8755

Seizing Sanctimonium 

2016

oil on canvas

40 by 56″

The painting is undeniably complicated, visually and in its narrative; I think that is why my critique might have had some issue with it. But my interest in paintings often includes complicated compositions; I might be hubristic but my intention with this painting was to emulate in my modest way the elaborate tableaux paintings of Poussin. I studied them carefully, which is pleasurable work as he is one of my idols. I captured what I love about his paintings: the ability to stare at this painting and discover ever unfolding details. Bosch of course, another idol, also gives us that generous gift. But I think for many viewers, particularly those with the 6-second attention span, this painting will not please. I perhaps, to satisfy contemporary tastes should have left the painting in its initial planning stages; something several folks, had hoped for. I might have saved myself headaches and angst, but I would have been very unhappy. This painting ,in its finished state,makes me happy.

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(Initial stage of the painting, I do like it, I like the ghostly images; but I am not that sort of painter. I love a lapidary finish.)

The story behind this painting is complex and personal. It began after discovering the Gnostics, with the concept of the Demiurge,  a false god posing as a true god. Misleading the faithful down a path of sanctimonious righteousness . My demiurge, the bronze figure in the center is a sarcastic depiction of Christ the Church. If I were to change anything it would be this element . It is more cynical than I now feel , with our new pope, the blessed Francis, my relationship with the Church has become warmer, more loving . I know longer harbor the estranged hurt and anger I felt when I began this painting. But instead of erasing him, I felt it good to keep a record of my discontent.

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 The Demiurge, center flanked by details of the earth goddess Coatlicue, one of the Hero Twins, Hunahpu and the Axis Mundi.

Going counterclockwise , from upper left around, I will attempt to offer clues to the figures:

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My initial conceit for this painting was to utilize “bad” gods, unfortunate figures, maligned archetypes, to do battle with the smug and sanctimonious , be it the Church herself, the pompous evangelist down the street, ISIS, or that homophobic second grade teacher who shamed you for playing with the girls. That said, the upper left figures are depiction of the denizens of Xiblaba, the underworld of the Popol vuh. Next, descending in a very theatrically baroque manner is the savior Quetzalcoatl . Below, stands the accursed Judas ( noose still dangling) and the blessed Magdalene, clad only in her long hair, as per the archetype. Next to her, stands the familiar companion of the Other, the Scapegoat.

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The Scapegoat .

In the next quarter,  the Mesoamerican rain god Tlaloc sheds tears for humankind, he is attended by a companion vaguely reminiscent of the figures found in Teotihuacan, possessing triangular heads. Further back, the Mother of the Gods, the Aztec earth mother, She of the Serpent Skirt,Coatlicue, she hurries her son, the Great War god Huitzililopochtli into toppling their nemesis, the Demiurge, embodied by the Church that silenced them.

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Next to them is a gaggle of squawking birds, sure of themselves, confident in their noise, essentially those who I politically and religiously disagree. Next to them, well I guess that is me.

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In the third quarter, I placed a Boschian figure of no particular meaning, just an odd blue figure with a piscine phallic nose. Next , again, just vague figures, a Fire-god aflame with passion;  a herm to signify the supremacy of the fertile earth; another Quetzalcoatl, or perhaps a passive Ares, I don’t know. Basically he was hot and looked Poussin-ist. Central to this quarter are the Hero Twins from the Popol vuh, archetypes so dear to my heart. Although they are brothers, I have in a personal way , embraced them as emblems of same sex affection. They are fiercely loyal to one another, acting as one; Hunahpu (on the left) going so far as to sacrifice himself, hence the blood and unearthly pallor. His brother Xbalanque helps to resurrect his fallen brother. I have returned to the Twins time and again, in paintings, puppets and prints. I predict they will be with me until I pass into the Underworld myself. A quick click in the side panel,on the tab “Hero Twins” will lead you to other examples.

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 Floating above on a very smart cloud is my favorite figure of this painting, the dashing floral-tatted Herakles. Herakles is every sissy boy’s hero, and I just could not resist including him. He surely would fight the fight of the just.

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Herakles, plus a preliminary rendering.

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Rounding out the painting in the last quarter I have various moon gods, non specific, just pre Christian. Next to them stands an Earth Father figure. A softer kinder answer to the excesses of patriarchy. He is horned in his affiliation with old truths, old gods, old ways. He also reflects my evolving reintroduction to the Church, with the pope reminding me of Christ’s magnificent message. This figure is a tribute to that compassionate god. He may also be an incarnation of the great Maize-god, sacrificed father of the Hero Twins and of humankind , Hun-Hunahpu. It is through his death, we are born. Sound familiar ?

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Moon-gods, for you can never have too many!

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The Christo-hun-Hunahpu figure.

If I had any residual uncertainty concerning this painting, it was silenced by this painting being accepted into an upcoming show ( along with my jumping jack figures from a recent post). I’m thrilled the well regarded juror Peter Mays included this painting.

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The positive aspect of being unable to emotionally (post-critique) to paint for a few weeks was drawing. I’ve been drawing like mad, I’m sure I am  boring social media with my progress, but I feel I am gaining confidence and ready to begin a series of small panel. I think of them as Illuminations, intimate, needing to be contemplated. I am discovering, at heart,that  I am a religious painter. Unorthodox , unclear and ambiguous in my own faith, but I am compelled to make “icons”, depictions of universal archetypes. One of the new paintings will be of Jonah, this preliminary sketch, shows my intention.

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That’s it for now, I will post this little painting, only 8 by 10″ when I am finished. Until them, be well.

The Inept Filmmaker

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A filmmaker friend has expressed interest in filming my marionettes , the making of them , performing with them,  our exploring the Popol vuh narrative, etc.  This all sounds like great fun. So in my naive enthusiasm I decide I’m going to explore  stop-action filmmaking. After all I have a bunch of articulated maquettes to play with. How hard can it be?

Tedious , certainly, but that shouldn’t be a problem.

Well it ain’t easy.

I purchased an app for stop-action, that has helped certainly, but so much more to figure out.  The following clip is one of my first experiments: Mictlantecutli, the Not-so -great Hunter.

Inept, but at least very short…this is even shorter . 

The First Kiss

This will obviously NOT be a career change anytime soon. But it is fun. I want that sense of play in my life in general, which often in my devoted studio practice can seem elusive. Particularly once I have committed to a large canvas. Such is the case at the moment, I’m working on a large oil, that I enjoy painting ;  but it is daunting, a commitment of time and energy. Dabbling with stop-action is a welcome distraction. I will in time master editing, lighting, buy better tools (a tripod perhaps)…but for now, I’m playing.

Be well,

LG

Genesis

Last evening I finished a new painting, Genesis. As is so often the case my inspiration was the Popol Vuh, the sacrifice and resurrection of the Maize God , the Hero Twins,  and the narrative of the Creation of Man.

An added inspiration was AIDS, I am of that generation where many of my friends and loved ones from my youth are now long since dead.  Not too long ago Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart was on television. My visceral reaction was of  a resurrected  fear, long suppressed, reborn at the sight of so many Spotted Men.    Those  past  days of Act Up meetings in NYC and Philadelphia; those handsome men speckled with death and anxiety; demonstrations on the street, at St. Patricks…; anxiety and selfish terror, would I be next?; and yet the excitement of activism, these  were all faded memories in my now relatively carefree life.  Until that film.

I was  confronted once again with that incessant gnawing deep within, a true existential crisis. So in a simple way, my Hero Twin Hunahpu, who is  traditionally depicted spotted, as he too encountered Death,  represents all those struck down. Somehow I missed the scythe, I bear witness like Xbalanque, Hunahpu’s brother in arms.

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Genesis

2014

oil on canvas

30 by 40 inches

My Spotted Hunahpu

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The inspiration for this painting is also from a previous painting, Primavera a relatively small water color. My friend, the incredible artist, Judithe Hernandez suggested I rework Primavera either in grissaile or as a larger composition. When in doubt I always choose larger. The original version:

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Primavera

2014

watercolor on paper

In this painting there is a nicely perverse little subterranean flowering plant, symbolic of life in hostile situations; today my lovely little Stapelia-Carrion flower offered up a gorgeous maggot filled blossom. A Boschian treat if ever there was one.

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This morning’s Carrion  blossom, more on the way.

IMG_5478 2 My imagined Carrion Flower.

Tomorrow I return “home’, Philadlephia, to visit family of the flesh and those of brick, and paint and marble. Philadelphia is so architecturally rich: Furness, Richardson, Queen Anne, 18th c; plus the museums, I will be in heaven.  I think I will print out this “prayer card” of the Maize God , Hun Hanahpu to keep me safe.

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Be well, Lg

Primavera

I just finished up (for now anyway) a watercolor painting called Primavera.

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Primavera

2014

watercolor on paper

18 by 29 inches

Once again I draw upon the Popol Vuh and the sacrifice-redemption theme. The eternal fascination with the Life and Death cycle never seems to relent; the understanding that through death there is life. I am currently reading Zimmer’s collection of Indian “myths” ( offense term for a faith with current practitioners). But the Hindu grasp of this most elemental truth fascinates and brings a degree of comfort to what can be a deeply discomforting exploration. This painting tries to address some of this. Through the sacrifice of the Maize God, Humankind is born-man made of maize. I wanted to convey the visceral quality of this act, the maize shaft bursting through the actual flesh of our mother earth. Of course this is a very personal imagining with miscellaneous cultural references thrown in as I saw fit. But with Good Friday approaching it felt timely; the resurrected world is colored in Easter egg pastels. the underworld is rich and ripe with verdant greens and blood crimsons.

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above ground

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The Hero Twins below ground.

One element I enjoyed introducing into the composition was the very feline looking dog.  My recently deceased  (actually I put him down) daschund Buddy keeps appearing in my dreams. His appearance causes  me much conflict. We, I decided to put him down the day before we move back to Los Angeles. This decision has tormented me, for although he was 19 and his health was quickly, seemingly overnight, failing,  I still wonder if I put him down for my own convenience. He might very well have lived a bit more, I don’t know. He obviously haunts me but in the spirit of this painting he always appears in my dreamscape, first as deeply broken as the following photo indicates; but as the dream progresses he is fresh, new and reborn, happy and bouncy and beautiful.

I try to take that as a good omen.

All that rambling aside, dogs were believed to be guides in the Maya understanding of Xibalba, the underworld. The little  fellow I painted  was inspired  not by my sleek Buddy  but by a  chubby  ceramic “neighbor”  from Colima at LACMA. 

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detail

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Dog Wearing Human Face Mask

Colima, Mexico

Burnished red and orange slip

Los Angeles County Museum of Art

He is a delightful fellow, as was Buddy.

That is it for now,  I’m working on a few other paintings, seems to be the season for watercolors right now at least until my new easel arrives which will be strong enough to hold a hefty canvas. I will close with a photo of Buddy, be well Buddy.

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Back To Class, First Proofs

The Fall semester began this week and one of my courses is Printmaking III- I cannot believe how quickly time has flown. I am still very much the novice, but I do feel I have a better grip on this elusive medium. This first week of this semester I have focused upon two plates : one a relief print on lino ; the second an intaglio drypoint on copper.

I am determined this semester to achieve a better grasp of intaglio , I find it so challenging. The following are early proofs, the lino being the more successful of the two.

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Artist’s Proof # I

relief print,lino on paper

plate 10″ by 12″

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 St Anthony of the Desert

Artist’s proof # II,

drypoint, copper plate, 6″by 8″

As I said the intaglio needs a lot of work. Given that I am determined to work solely in drypoint for this print, the “burrs” are causing me some trouble. I will this weekend rub them out, adding more marks as needed. This is when I wish I had a home press, I am burning with a desire to resolve this problem NOW!

But I must practice patience,  taking deep Ujjayi  breath. Printmaking is not an immediate art, at least with out a home press.

The inspiration for the relief print, which is close to complete, is the following watercolor ( a VERY immediate medium ). 

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Redemption of the Father

Last Day of Semester…Plus a Sale!

IMG_3904Today was the last day of the semester, last day at the printmaking studio until Autumn.  Bittersweet as I will be better able to focus on painting, but saddened that the immediate thrill of fresh ink on virgin paper will need to be postponed  until next semester. Painting, particularly in oil has many joys, but not immediacy, oil requires patience.  Relief printing seems so direct, so immediate, I love that quality.  

In all this was a great semester, some noisome mockingbirds disrupted class with there incessant chatter, but Jim our instructor guided the class with a firm hand.  I was pretty prolific, 11 prints in all, some in multiple editions with different color ways.  Some were complete duds, but a few I actually like, particularly as I stood back and ACTUALLY looked at them during the critique.  

Sometimes the forest  really is just too thick to make out the trees.

Jim had many encouraging  words for which I am grateful, he is a discerning man, his praise is not given lightly.

 To top off the day I sold Strange Fruit, a two color relief print that I had submitted in the student show.  Very delighted by that.  The young woman who purchased the print really “got” the print, particularly concerning aesthetic sensibilities; again, I’m  very appreciative of that fact.

So today was a good day, will get back to painting soon but right now just savoring having finished  a semester in such fine condition.

The following is the ‘sold’ print, image from the purchaser’s Facebook page.

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Thank you Natalie!

Until next time, take care, LG