“C” is for Climate Change

Given the extreme weather we have been experiencing  recently :here in southern California, insanely hot summers and back home in NY and NJ, unheard of hurricanes, climate change has been in the thoughts of many. Even folks who I know to be staunch deniers of climate change are rethinking their stance that perhaps we have had an impact on Mother Earth.

My interest in Meso-American culture has me linked to numerous blogs and I recently received this post claiming the great civilization of the Maya collapsed due to man made climate change which resulted in a “long catastrophic drought”.  The Maya civilization as many know was massive , a complex web of city states ruled by various lord/kings. As power was brokered, each lord would vie with one another in building massive elaborate temples, palaces and public building, all with the intention of giving expression to their magnificence. The architecture, rubble and stone in construction was given a fine white stucco finish. When Cortez and his men first encountered the Aztec they were dazzled, but this magnificence came with a cost.

According to a NASA Science News article twenty trees were needed to heat the limestone in order to create one square meter of plaster. Given the massive scale of these structures and the tropical climate which demanded incessant maintenance, that’s a hell of a lot of dead trees.

All of this course sounds and feels familiar to our own increasingly desperate situation. Clinging to a fuel that is outmoded and toxic to a planet we claim we love. We treat this planet as a resource, not something to be revered.

The Maya have been idealized by many as having been more attuned to the gods of the natural world,  yet  by their hubris they ignored the divine pleas for mercy. Ignoring the pleas had serious consequence. I’m hoping against hope we can learn something from the Maya, sadly I fear the worse. Whereas the Maya left behind enchanted ruins I fear we will leave behind the shells of big-box stores, McMansions and endless freeway system going nowhere.

“C” is for Climate Change.

“C” is for Climate Change
watercolor on paper
11 by 19 inches

“C” is also for Cinteotl, a manifestation of the maize god. Usually depicted as a young man, golden in coloring and wearing a maize head-dress.

I stumbled upon an image of the young god with a distinct resemblance to Apollo. The statue is described as Huastec, 11th-13th c.A.D.

What is notable is his nudity, there are very few depiction of the human figure in its natural state in Meso-American art. Since I have a fondness for nudity he was a suitable model for my letter “C”.

Symbolism for life cut short played a factor as well, but mainly it was due to the fact that he was a comely young man. 

I will be spending the remainder of my holiday catching up on readings and working a linoleum block (this time a Christian saint).

Until next time,

take care,

LG

“O” is for the Owl (& for Obama)

 I had been planning on owls for “O” from the beginning, mostly because they re so darn cute.The Mesoamericans however did not necessarily find them as adorable as our contemporary society seems to find them. According to my ever reliable Illustrated Dictionary of the Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya , owls were a mystical yet fearsome creature. Dwelling in dark caves, portals to the Underworld, owls were  considered guides to dark mysteries and ominous omens of what lurked in the shadows.

 As does western culture, owls were identified with the night, further cementing their connection to the supernatural.

To the Maya the owl represented fertility and death, this dual nature can be seen in the Popol vuh narrative: owls deliver the Hero Twins to the Lords of the Underworld sealing the Heroes doom and also guide the pregnant Xquic out of the darkness of Xibalba. This seems in keeping with the rather consistent duality of Mesoamerican mythic narrative.

The green owl was favored by the artisans of Teotihuacan, appearing in wall paintings, and according to the Dictionary over mirrors (I assume polished obsidian), the mirror itself representing a passage to the unknown. I was happy for the chance to use green as my accent color for this page of the Primer.

“O” is for the Owl
watercolor on paper
11 by 18 inches

I mentioned that “O” was also for Obama, this is because I had intended to work on this painting during the presidential election last Tuesday. I had expect a long anxious evening ; I had hoped working would soothe my nerves. It was a stressful evening, but at some point the dominoes of fate starting falling in Obama’s direction; in no time at all it seemed as if my president would be given a second chance. I began to just feel incredibly giddy, something I have not felt in months. This election has been particularly stressful , full of vitriol and mean spiritedness ; when Obama gave his acceptance speech the little green owl on the branch smiled- and that is how I left him.

Hoorah for Obama, that is the cheer of this chorus of wise little owls.

So “O” is for the Owl and for the president, I can now exhale peacefully.

One of my inspirations for my owls was a funny little Halloween decoration from the 50’s-60’s , very familiar to American baby boomers . I always liked his green and orange coloring and his funny wink, I wanted to squeeze a reference of him into the painting. I hope I captured some of his goofy spirit. 

Halloween decorations from my youth, mid-century.

I have been receiving notifications concerning the Alphabet Soup deadline at the end of this month; I thought I would enclose the following for inspiration.

Until next time, take care,

LG

Primer

“L” is for La Llorona

The character of  popular Southwestern/Mexican folklore La Llorona is familiar amongst Mexican Americans. When  I requested information about the Weeping Woman, as she is popularly known, David’s Aunt Lydia fondly recalled the delicious childhood terror of the northern Arizona winds being described as the “cries of La Llorona”. Aunt Lydia was,  as many youngsters were, advised to behave, or La Llorona would snatch her up.

 Succinctly her tale is thus:

Although several variations exist, the basic story tells of a beautiful woman by the name of Maria who drowns her children in order to be with the man that she loved. The man would not have her, which devastated her. She would not take no for an answer, so she drowned herself in a lake in Mexico. Challenged at the gates of heaven as to the whereabouts of her children, she is not permitted to enter the afterlife until she has found them. Maria is forced to wander the Earth for all eternity, searching in vain for her drowned offspring, with her constant weeping giving her the name “La Llorona”.

In some versions of this tale and legend, La Llorona will kidnap wandering children who resemble her missing children, or children who disobey their parents. People who claim to have seen her say she appears at night or in the late evenings from rivers or oceans in Mexico. Some believe that those who hear the wails of La Llorona are marked for death, similar to the Gaelic banshee legend. She is said to cry “Ay, mis hijos!” which translates to “Oh, my children!”  Source

“L” is for LaLlorona
watercolor on paper
12 by 18 inches

It has been argued that LaLlorona is an incarnation of the much maligned La Malinche,  Hernán Cortés’ guide, translator and romantic companion.  La Malinche has been accused of having sacrificed her “children”, the native people to her lover and  to the  brutal tyranny of the Spanish empire.  This is an easy assertion to make, but the historian Luis Leal believes that La Llorona has roots that date  before the Conquest- hence her inclusion in this Primer of New Spain. Leal’s belief is that the Weeping Woman is not La Malinche but in fact the ancient goddess Cihuacóatl, the Serpent Woman.

Source

Leal quotes  Fray Bernardino de Sahagún‘s Historia de las costs de la Nueva España, describing the Earth /Fertility Goddess as such :

” …she appeared before men, she was covered with chalk, like a court lady. she wore earplugs, obsidian earplugs. she appeared in white, garbed in white, standing white, pure white. Her womanly headdress rose up. By night she walked weeping, wailing; also was she an omen of war.”

My desire was as usual, was to interpret this mysterious goddess through Western eyes, hence the stylization in the manner of the Artemis-Ephesus

Artemis Ephesus[edit]
I have placed upon her head the helmet of a warrior, for before the time of the conquest the Woman-Snake, Cihuacoatl was called upon by women giving birth. Patroness of mid-wives, the soon to be mother was urged to call upon the goddess for strength. As described in the Illustrated Dictionary of the Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya, she was of “warlike aspect” due to the fact that giving birth was akin to battle, ” Midwives exhorted women to call out to her in childbirth and to be as warriors in the violent expelling of the child from the womb”.  I love that description, not a whiff of romantic sentiment to be found, just sound advice. Our goddess goes from benign protectress to demon after the Conquest which is not at all surprising.  According to Leal,  Sahagún considered her an incarnation of the devil, speaking to the conquered he describes her :

 “Behold another confusion of your forefathers. They worshipped a devil in the guise of a woman, named Cihuacóatl…She terrified men…And because of this they celebrated her feast day. They laid offerings before her, they slew victims before her, that her anger, her fury, might not fall upon [them]” (Book I, 69-70).

Later on Sahagún softens her image more in keeping with the pitiful LaLlorona. During the final days of the ill-fated reign of Moctezuma II she seems a demon reformed:

“In the days of this same [ruler] it happened that [the demon] Cihuacóatl went about weeping, at night. everyone heard it wailing and saying:

‘My beloved sons, now I am about to leave you’ “(Book VIII, ch.1,3).  

Truer words could not be imagined as Cortés marched into the dazzling city of  Tenochtitlan.

With that image in mind, I have tried to paint the pre and post colonial character with  the sensitivity and pathos reserved for Medea. I have taken liberty with the violent death, the children are known to be drowned, but my approved accent color is red!

Take care,

LG

From Yesterday’s Sketchbook

I am on a Minotaur jag, conversations with Clive have me thinking about the theme. I want to explore possible emotional themes concerning the unfortunate beastie while at the same time avoiding the Beauty and the Beast trope.  I have a lot of territory to explore.

Theseus and the Minotaur

Until next time,

take care,

LG

A Blast from the Past

 

What seems like many moons ago, I painted the dressing room ceiling of my friend Eleanor. She posted this image on her Facebook page, bringing back very fond memories.

 Eleanor has a fantastic collection of jewels and fashion, what would be more suitable to guard her treasures than a fierce dragon.

The room and the painted decoration were a nod to Brighton Pavilion, a shared passion of the client and of the painter.

Brighton Dragon, Eleanor’s dressing room

Until next time,

take care,

LG

Theseus and the Minotaur

I was assigned by my printmaking instructor to put together a full value sketch for our next assignment, mono-printing.

No problem, delighted to oblige.

What I find  surprising is how most of the class does not share my enthusiasm for this part of the process.

 I-phones in hand they download an image and create from such a micro source- it boggles my old weary eyes.  

I overcompensate at times and this sketch became a finished drawing.

 I’m happy about that, I have wanted to play with the Minotaur theme for quite some time.  Picasso an inspiration for subject matter if not aesthetic approach, Clive’s gorgeous horse-men also prompted me along , but most especially Blake’s incredible illustration for Dante’s Inferno.

 I love the half beast-half man being truly half beast and not just sporting a bull mask (although Picasso’s Minotaurs cannot be beat for pure erotic appeal).

detail of Theseus and the Minotaur

Theseus, described as young and handsome, was of course a delight to depict-thank goodness there aren’t many plain Greek heroes.

Theseus and the Minotaur
pencil on paper
18 by 24 inches

Detail of Theseus.

detail of the hero prince

The following was a beautiful inspiration for the awful Minotaur, an inspiration I failed to follow.

(It can be found in the Museum of Athens. It is incredible, I would love to visit the mad beast.)

When researching the Minotaur myth I found few examples of the “centaur” version as depicted so beautifully by Blake.

Although there is little stylistic similarities in my drawing to the Blake, I think with mono-printing I may be able to capture Blake’s well- studied spontaneity.  I will post the results.

I was delighted and spooked when the Minotaur theme entered popular culture. On one of our favorite television shows, Dexter , last evening’s episode featured a terrible  murderous villain obsessed with the myth. It was a truly frightening. 

Well  ,back to work,

until next time,

LG