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.

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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.

Open for Critique…kinda

So after much studio time (on and off, over a year) I am at last, pretty close, almost positive, for the moment, finished with my latest paintings. And although I have heard younger artists, seemingly without any pause (or apparent modesty) call their work “masterpieces” , I am in no way inclined to make the same claim; but I am pleased (for now).

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Seizing Sanctimonium 

2016

56 by 40″

oil on canvas 

click on the image to enlarge

 I have been eager to get the painting into a presentable stage as Sunday is my turn for the critique group I have recently  joined. As some of you might remember this is a bit anxiety producing. My paintings are very far from random and imbued (crammed)with meaning : personal, mythological, literary etc. All not terribly obvious from first encounter. I fear it might not be well received or understood, but that is something I cannot control.  One of the problems I anticipate is that the one being critiqued is  not to respond while criticism is being made. I might have bitten off my tongue by the end of all of this.

So wish me and the painting well.

I will tighten the painting some more next week, details and glazings, saturating shadows and such. Then I will try to explain the painting at some length in the final post. Hopefully with a better image.

Until then , be well.

The Old Gods

In between other paintings and relief prints (once again  I am trying my hand at that elusive medium), in between such endeavors, I’m working out a large painting.

I’ve posted on this painting before at this link, but I am now at the stage of fussing with details and working out negative shapes and placement. Funny how I rely upon the skills I honed as a decorative mural painting. What seemed so perfect on a scaled drawing is just a wee bit off when faced with the actual , rather large canvas-56 by 40 inches.

Briefly the painting deals with the old gods reclaiming their positions, toppling the false envious demiurge Yaldabaoth (Yahwah). I’ve been working out the details of each and it has been a great deal of fun.

As posted previously:

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Preparatory  sketch of Tlaloc, She of the Serpent Skirt and  the Feathered Serpent

Placement is critical and I have been poring over Poussin’s excellent examples for inspiration but in the end heeding my own intuition.

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further drawings follow:

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The Maize God

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The Hero Twins-one version

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another version for another project-I really like these fellows

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My sanctimonious Abrahamic god  the embodiment of the apostolic church, soon to be toppled ; do I have  just a wee bit of vitriol for the god of Leviticus or what?

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for no apparent reason, a Meso-Herakles.

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Placement so far, I have a few more figures to add so placement is a crucial, I feel a bit like Cecil B.DeMille.

But onward.

Until next time, be well,

Lg

Sometimes you just want to draw…prepping for 2014

I have for the last several months  been ruminating upon a large canvas to tackle. I want a big scene, along the lines of my beloved Pousssin, but as usual tackling a Meso/metaphysical theme. Old gods, Gnosis, toppled usurping false gods all play a part in this newly conceived project. After notebooks of doodled ideas , oil sketches,elevated renderings and readings, I have begun fleshing out details.

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A familiar cast of characters, including from right a little Teotihuacan fellow, Tlaloc with lightening/storm cloud staff, Quetzalcoatl descending from above, She of the Serpent Skirt,Coatlicue, and the great and mighty war god Huitzilopochtli clutching his mother’s serpentine skirt.

A bit of the process for tackling a large (or small) project.

 Spontaneous sketching, confirming ideas.

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More sketches, some in color,

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Elevation renderings to help determine composition,

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and now, working out details, what stays , what goes, more color compositional sketches…I’m daunted already.Looking forward to seeing how it professes, wish me luck.

Take care, Lg

Intro to Printmaking

As I mentioned before I am taking a course in printmaking, so far we have focused on etching and its various methods.

It is as many can imagine, very exciting, frustrating and humbling.

But I am thrilled to be gaining this knowledge.  The following image is my first complete print, which consists of three distinct processes: hardline etching, soft ground texture and aqua/mezzotint.

Predictably I have chosen my beloved Quetzalcoatl sowing his seed (naughty innuendo intentional) .

Quetzalcoatl
etching
6 by 5 inches

First off, please understand I am still trying to master the most basictechniques; my stylus slips all over the zinc plate, my hand is unsteady and insecure, this clumsiness is apparent .

But at this stage I really am trying to merely understand the process and the opportunities afforded by this new medium.

The first stage of this print is hardline etching, pretty basic ; you press your stylus into a plate prepared with a base coat of hard asphaltum. Warm the wax on a giant hotplate, you roll it out, cool  it and presto, a lovely surface to doodle upon.

Unfortunately  i have yet to master line control on this slippery surface.

Patience and practice… first stage follows:

First plate- hardline etching

The second plate, adds texture and mood (or so I am told), frankly it is my least favorite stage.

I prefer creating texture by hand.

In this assignment I was instructed to press textured material into the plate which had been prepared with a softer ground of asphaltum than we had used for the hardline step.

I chose, given the print’s very small size, wisps of broken cheesecloth and snippets of  an ungodly 70’s textured wallpaper. 

second plate- textured soft ground

The third plate, which was to be our last, was aquatint, a variation on mezzotint (made famous by Goya).

This was the most challenging step, values are determined by timed soaks in an acid bath.

Having first fashioned (a time consuming) value chart , I had a sense of how to achieve the values I sought; or so I thought.

third plate- aquatint process

Unfortunately my timing  was off, I hadn’t created any blacks; a problem in that I wanted them, and more importantly the assignment demanded them.

Back to the acid bath, blocking out the areas I wished to keep with a material called Stop Out ; then with careful timing, seeking to attain my goal of a richer black foreground.

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I achieved what I sought, I would make changes if I could have better predicted the outcome,  but I am pleased that I am beginning to better understand the complexities and opportunities of etching.

My appreciation for my own collection of  18th and 19th century engravings and etchings has soared beyond mere aesthetic appreciation ; what was accomplished by these past masters is technically astounding.

A technique I was eager to play with was drypoint.

 I have a few drypoint prints in my collection, I love the evocative smudgy quality of the images. Rembrandt of course made the technique famous, but others have mastered it as well.

 It turns out (thus far) to be my favorite technique.

It also proves to be the most challenging, this little (3 by 4 inches)Ecce Homo is my first incredibly naive attempt.

It is a brutally ugly image, I’m frankly embarrassed  by it; but Clive has encouraged me to revel in the process.

So here is what reveling in the process looks like.

God save me.

Ecce Homo
drypoint
4 by 3 inches

Tomorrow we start a new process, soft ground etching. It is a process my insructor believes offers artists the freedom drawing affords. In anticipation I have put together this finished drawing of Cain.  I understand the final image will not retain the precision, but I like to work out all details BEFORE facing an acid bath.  I will post the result and perhaps some of the process when  I am finished.

Expulsion of Cain
preparatory drawing on paper
6 by 5

Until next time,

take care,

LG

“K” is for Kukulcan

As the deadline for Alphabet Soup looms in the not so distant future I decided it was time to get busy; printmaking and mythology assignments be damned.

This addition to the Primer of New Spain is for Kukulcan, the Yucatec  term for quetzal-serpent (aka Quetzalcoatl).

Early accounts (pre-Aztec) of the priestly king describe a  divine sovereign so gentle of nature that when tempted by demons to engage in ritual human sacrifice he refuses. The Codex Chimpalopoca informs the reader :

“he would never agree [to human sacrifice] because he loved his vassals the Toltecs, and his sacrifice was always of snails, birds, and butterflies”.

Poor snails, birds and butterflies.

This enlightened monarch evidently introduced his people to the benefits of maize-hence the funny little crown.

He is also understood to be of great beauty, rendered the color of jade, beloved above gold-hence his pretty green body.

“K” is for Kukulcan
watercolor on paper
11by 18 inches

The funny little crown I mentioned is based upon a stucco portrait of the Great King Pacal of Palanque.

One of my older books describes this gorgeous bust as perhaps representing a priest of Kukulcan, the Quetzalcoatl of the Mayas. That has since been disproven but I thought the inspiration for my priestly king appropriate.

Stucco Portrait, King Pakal, Seventh Century A.D., Palenque

I love this portrait bust, I believe it rivals that OTHER bust of a certain lovely Egyptian queen. This portrait of Pakal captures the grace and beauty of Mayan art that just makes me loopy.

Another inspiration, another source of loopy-ness is the Pergamon Altar ; since boyhood the unabashedly sexy snake-legged giants have fascinated ( and titillated ) me.

They proved useful models for my winged- serpent- priestly lord, Bestower of Maize .

detail of Pergamon Altar

That is it for this evening, I have readings to finish, tackling the Orpheus and Eurydice tradition, next on to the Creation of Man.

Exciting stuff.

I’m almost finished of my first etching, it has been in three parts,  I will submit for later review. It is crude, but the process is fascinating.

Gotta love a good acid bath!

until next time,

take care,

LG