“N” is for New Fire Ceremony

At last another entry for my Primer of New Spain, “N” for the New Fire Ceremony. The end of the Aztec “century”, every 52 years was a precarious time, one full of tremendous trepidation. In the period of 7 “centuries” four major disasters occurred ; it was of great significance to the Aztec  that the New Fire Ceremony succeed .

After all flames within the kingdom were extinguished, the ceremony was performed south of Tenochtitlan at Huixachtlan, the Hill of the Star. The  nocturnal ritual entailed the usual human sacrifice; but after the removal of the unfortunate victim’s heart, the priest kindled a new flame from a drill board placed in the chest cavity.

The belief was that the new flame was divine, sent from the heavens ; IF a flame occurred the Universe was given a 52 year reprieve, if not…

My interpretation depicted with my usual romanticism includes a youthful priest, the victim equally young; I am currently a bit obsessed with Cain and Abel; my Temple of Huixachtlan fashioned to vaguely resemble the letter “N”;my altar looks suspicioulsy Neo-Classical.

All to be expected I suppose.

“N” is for New Fire Ceremony
watercolor on paper
11 by 18 inches

It is interesting to note that according to Fray Bernardino de Sahagún the last New Fire Ceremony was held in 1507 during the reign of Motecuhzoma II; the eighth was scheduled for 1559 but by then New Spain was a firm reality and the Aztecs long vanquished.

On another note my painting The Sacrifice of the Father: Recollections of the Popl huh I has been accepted in a group show at the Los Angeles based Brand Library and Gallery ;the exhibition, Memories , seems to have proven a suitable fit for my offering.    This is the second year I have participated at the Brand, the exhibition is Brand 41 as there have been 41 exhibitions.  My painting is now sitting in my studio freshly ( and unexpectedly expensively) framed.  I will most likely not attend the opening ( a bit of a schlepp), but I am hand delivering the painting tomorrow . 

Recollection awaiting delivery.

Until next time,

take care,

LG

Found a  silly Aztec cartoon that seem timely to this post:

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.

fourth plate-final

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

“Death would have him…”, the doomed Amphínomos

When I landed in San Diego I quite literally closed the final page of  Homer’s Odyssey ( Robert Fitzgerald edition); unlike our hero Odysseus I did not return to libertine suitors or “a wife dishonored” but rather my own dull life.

What I was left with was many vivid images.

Homer directs a set with meticulous detail, he minutely describes the marble halls of kings, golden vessels pouring forth liquid hospitality, horrifying monsters ready to pounce upon the weakness of man, fetching virgins willing to do the same and  the gallantry and failures of man himself.

Once such Everyman was Amphínomos, son of Nísos Aretíadês, comely , “gently bred” (340) and of all the ruffians wooing fair Penélopê he pleased her  “…for he meant no ill.” (302-303).  I was drawn to this character for in the telling of this tale Homer points out the excesses of  the suitors, the bold heroics of Odysseus and his son Telémakhos, the cunning of Kirke and the mad predictions of Cassandra; all characters extraordinary in their way.

Amphínomos isn’t particularly heroic he merely seems to possess basic deceny, a desire to try his hand at the hot widow Penélopê and indulge in the overflowing sweet wine and unending platters of roast meats served by boys with “…pretty faces” and “…pomade ever on their sleek heads…” (278). Can’t really blame the fellow.

In fact his only real act of heroics lies in his aversion to regicide, when the unruly mob of suitors plot to eliminate the young Telémakhos only Amphínomos objects, being unwilling to kill a “…prince of royal blood…” (303). Again and again it is just garden variety decency that makes Amphínomos so endearing, even to our lofty hero, Odysseus. Disguised as a beggar at his own court, Odysseus is greeted with cruelty by the band of loutish suitors; Amphínomos offers bread and cordiality to the unfortunate wretch. Odysseus repays this kindness with  words of advice “Get outta Dodge”. He warns the young man  that the king will indeed return and all are doomed for there will be “…no way out, unless by blood.” (341).

Something deep within the young knows this to be correct, he witnesses the debauchery around him and knows what the beggars says to be true. As he turns to leave he is frozen for “…his heart foreknew the wrath to come, but he could not take flight, being by Athena bound there. Death would have him broken by a spear thrown by Telémakhos. So he sat down there where he has sat before.” (340-341).

This is my interpretation of the doomed Amphínomos, the grey-eyed Athena and Unrelenting Death.

The Doomed Amphínomos
colored pencil on brown paper
24 by 18 inches

Well that is all it for now,after facing a fearsome goddess and Death himself, I must walk my dogs.

I had hoped to discuss my thoughts as to why this example of  Greek fatalism contrasted so sharply with the Good News of another figure to come. A theology where  redemption was indeed possible; where a fellow like Amphínomos inclined to change could have done just that. How in the Classical world god and man were bound by Fate ; the hapless must returned to the chair “…where he had sat before” and silently accept what must be. How a new theology could have understandably appealed to an ancient world weary of the irrational tyranny of  fickle gods and brutal destiny.

But thankfully I haven’t time to discuss such matters, I have rambunctious pups to attend to.

Until next time,

Take care,

LG

“M” is for Mictlantecuhtli and his lovely bride Mictecacihuatl

On to “M”,  I could have chosen Maize, the Maya or Monkeys; but instead  I chose some serious tongue twisting demons. That shouldn’t really be a surprise. I hope against hope that I managed to spell their names correctly on the Primer; would be rather awful otherwise.Given my dyslexia and increasingly failing eye sight I have my fears. 

“M” is for Mictlantecuhtl and Mictecacihuatl

Mictlantecuhtl is Lord of Mictlan, the seventh tier of the Underworld, a realm he shares with his bride Mictecacihuatl. He is usually depicted as a skeletal bundle, all bleached bone and red spots. As is true with all Lords of Xibalba, Mictlantecutl is a trickster but famously stupid and easily duped. I hoped to depict the arrogance and foolishness buffoons often possess, hence the priapic serpent between his legs. His bride’s disgust makes me smile.

Detail of a Randy Fool

The following is the image that inspired my little randy fool.

source

The double headed serpent motif may be familiar to visitors to the British Museum, it is one of my favorite objects.

For more information concerning the mosaic I suggest this link from the British Museum A History of the World in which they discuss 100 objects that altered the course of history; a wonderful program.

Well that is it for now.

Working on a large painting for which my weary eyes are pleased.

I begin a printmaking course on Tuesday, very excited indeed.

Until next time,

take care,

LG

Postcards from Miami, for an unwell Clive

Given that my friend Clive is unwell and taken  to bed rest I thought these recent photos would bring some cheer.

I boarded this morning from Ft. Lauderdale, arriving in San Diego a little dazed from the time difference. These images  were taken yesterday at Vizcaya, the Miami estate of John Deering which is situated upon the Biscayne Bay. Built between 1914 through 1923 the house and grounds are a marvel. Typical of the period it is a mad mash-up of the Italian Renaiisance and Baroque, pinches of Neo-Classicism thrown in for restraint and Rococo frivolity when called for. It is quite simply my favorite house in the States. Jefferson’s Monticello is of course a marvel, a close second in the race for my affections; but Vizcaya reigns supreme. It is a tremendously large house, rooms bloom more splendidly  from one to the next. Alas we are not allowed to take images indoors, a fussy precaution, this link is a gallery of interior images, well worth a peak. For more general information follow this link.

I hope the following  images speeds Clive along on his recovery.

Stone barge acting as dock for incoming guests.
View of Vizcaya and the aforementioned barge
An example of the very lovely Vizcaya pink.
One of countless caryatids.
Funny stone faces at every glance.
I just love her face.
The taste of the house and gardens tends towards the seductive, the male gaze particularly abundant. There are many such busts scattered about the grounds.
Living in the desert makes me ache for this sort of lushness .
I also miss little critters like this fellow. The ground at your feet is alive with movement.

I was able to find a vintage image of the interior, this being the entrance to the interior courtyard (now enclosed). Once again the seductive glance, this time from everyone’s favorite god Dionysis.

ca. 1917 entrance to Loggia

I’m going to close with an image of  Vizcaya’s designer, Paul Chalfin, essentially because I have a crush on him. I’m always having crushes on dead guys and given his good looks and incredible taste, he is just about irresistible. 

Paul Chalfin 1916 by Albert Sterner

Get well Clive!

 Until next time,

take care,

LG