“A” is for Axis Mundi

As is consistent with my temperament , when faced with a rather daunting task (in this case an alphabet primer), I start at the beginning and soldier on. Hence, “A” is for the Axis Mundi.

In Mesoamerican culture, the Axis Mundi, essentially the World Tree, is  situated at the center of the Earth. It is truly a  cosmic being, with its branches kissing Heaven and its roots finding their way to the bowels of Hell. Traditionally the World Tree is thought to be the glorious Ceiba tree, the link provided is well worth a glimpse or two. I remember this beautiful tree from our time living in Ft.Lauderdale. It is a perfect tree for me, close to nude save for ferocious thorns;instead of pedestrian foliage , the Ceiba rewards visitors with fabulous orchid-like flowers, often hot pink. It is quite simply a stunning tree, no wonder it is the national tree of modern Guatemala.

All that said, I did not depict the fantastic Ceiba, I chose instead an odd little tree that we have fallen in love at the Cactus Garden of Balboa Park here in San Diego. I don’t know what this curious specimen is, we haven’t located an identification plate, but I will research further. What is apparent is its great age, probably pushing a century mark, which is curious as it is a very tiny little tree.

This is my interpretation of the odd little charmer.

“A” is for Axis Mundi
June 22nd 2012
watercolor on paper
9 by 16 inches

And this is the tree as we know it.

Axis Mundi @ Balboa Park, San Diego

To give a sense a scale, here is the dear tree with David’s equally dear Aunt Lydia, a wee little woman, 5’2″ or so.

Aunt Lydia @ the Axis Mundi

I’m working through the alphabet, I think I will be more random than my initial inclination if for no other reason than aesthetics. Given the scope of the endeavor, there is bound to be stylistic progression as I delve forward. I think the primer will possess a more consistent aesthetic if I jump about. That said, “H” is drawn out, Hun Hunahpu, the Maize God. I will present that when complete.

I think this will be a fun ( and exhausting) project, I have been fantasizing about the frontispiece. My conceit is a primer of New Spain to be presented to Charles V, I want the frontispiece to be full of that overblown false modesty and groveling  found in  period documents.

Well until next time,

take care

LG

Fateful Encounter at the Axis Mundi at last…

Back in March with a batch of “paper dolls” (my mother-in-law’s description of my maquettes) in front of me,I created a composition that I thought might be suitable for a painting. The painting ,to be part of a cycle devoted to the Mayan creation myth, the Popol vuh. Working from the above mentioned composition I  set about creating some sketches; discovering I enjoyed certain elements of each, I came up with what is now (for now) a final composition .

The scene depicts the moment in the Underworld Xibalba when the freshly sacrificed Maize God, Hun Hunahpu is placed upon a calabash tree (some interpretations mention the tree as the World Tree-the Axis Mundi). The orthodox depiction of the scene is one in which only his head is placed amongst the branches; as I have a difficult time resisting the full form, I took some liberties. Mayan scholars take heed.

With our hero dangling like strange fruit, the Xibalba princess Xquic searches out this forbidden treasure (sounds familiar?). The Maize God upon encountering the Princess spits into her hand (subtle romantic move on his part) and from this spittle the Hero Twins are miraculously conceived , one more virgin birth in the canon of world mythologies. It is this scene I depict, one where the infant Hero Twins float between their parents; soon the Princess will depart the gloom of the Underworld for the sunshine of the living earth. A new adventure will begin for all of the characters.

Fateful Encounter at the Axis Mundi
2012
oil on canvas
20″by30″

 The following is a detail of the Maize God,

detail of Maize God

This is of the Hero Twins, my inspiration was the many early Renaissance depictions of the Annunciation in which the Christ Child is depicted as this wee little babe floating within a nimbus of light.

detail of the infant Hero Twins

And at last, the Princess ( with her demonic cousin Ralph).

detail of the Princess and cousin Ralph

With that I close, having attempted to depict an epic tale of wrathful demon-gods,  a virtuous savior, a virgin birth and heroic infants on a rather limited 20 by 30 inch canvas.

I am now working on a primer, a primer of New Spain. The first letter of course being “A”, will be devoted to the Axis Mundi. So far it looks like it will be handsome.

Until next time,

take care,

LG

Memory of a Night Terror

The other evening, more truthfully morning, I had one of those bone chilling nightmares that if they were not so horrifying ,would be exhilarating . I generally have vivid dreams, and I maintain a lackadaisical dream journal. But this dream,occurring  in the wee hours of Monday morning , shook me awake with a scream;shaking, I swiftly found a piece of paper to record the awful experience.

Upon awaking the next morning I was determined to record the wretched scene as a watercolor  ( a medium that seems well suited to dreamscapes, just ask Blake).

The note may seem incoherent but it is what guided me through the painting:

A woman has been killing little boys in their sleep, attempts had been made on my own life as well.

It became apparent the old crone ( a recurrent character) was the Mother and she was killing the boys.

I went to bed reciting “Father watch after me” over and over.

She entered nonetheless and I kept repeating over and over but I was silenced.

Vultures had landed all over my bed.

She was some Egyptian goddess of death, God was the father.

Night Terror

 My prayers were for naught. My belief that the Lord would watch over me was for naught.

I woke with a scream that scared the dogs.

 In my notes the vultures were specifically identified as Egyptian in style, I vividly remember their shadowy forms.

detail of vultures, Night Terror

The terror of being unable to speak or prayer was the most horrible aspect of the dream.

Silencing

It is when I have dreams like this that I wish the beloved was Jungian and not  Klienian.

With this cheery post I depart.

Wishing all vivid dreams.

LG

Sacrifice and Redemption

I finished this painting last week. Certain elements of the painting are experimental, most specifically the use of canvas cutouts applied to the canvas. Inspired by Clive Hicks-Jenkins’ use of maquettes, I created figures and attached them to the canvas.

It was frankly a naive understanding of how to use Clive’s technique; I have since come to better understand the actual approach. I confess  I would not suggest my version, it was a bit cumbersome, difficult to remedy errors.

But in the end I rather like the finished painting, a little  macabre puppet theatre devoted to the Mayan Underworld.

Sacrifice and Redemption
2012
oil on canvas
40 by 30


  

  

In this admittedly theatric depiction we witness two acts. On the left the Maize God Hun Hunahpu is sacrificied by the treacherous Lords of Xibalba.  The Maize God’s head is placed upon the proscenium, in the Popol vuh  it is placed upon the upper branches the calabash tree.

On the right, the celestial ball payers, the Hero Twins Hunahpu and Xbalanque redeem their fathers honor. 

The following are details of the Sacrifice and the Redemption. In the sacrifice, the snakes pouring out of the torso are a reference to the Mesoamerican tradition of portraying spilt blood as snakes.That really is a very clever idea, I can imagine streams of blood seeming as frightful as venomous snakes.

detail of the Sacrifice of the Maize God


detail of the Redemption of the Maize God by the Hero Twins.

The following is a detail of the Lords of Xibalba.

For now that is it. I am finishing up another painting from the Popol vuh series, plus one devoted to Perseus and Andromedus, yes a male Andromeda. In what my friend Clive refers to as gay revisionism I am claiming this much loved theme for my gay self.

This painting, Sacrifice and Redemption caused one of my professors concern in that it might offend Chicano machismo sensibilities. She felt I should reconsider the nudity. I cannot, I see almost all of my characters in the buff, through a quasi Classical perspective. I was taken aback by her suggestion, particularly as she holds a Phd in Renaissance art history.  But there you go!

Take care, LG

I realized after making the post the head of the Maize God had become clipped, I confess I may very well be the worst photographer ever. I intend to remedy that by taking a class in the Autumn. Until that time, patience please.

Sacrifice and Redemption

Screaming Into The Wind

I have just finished this oil sketch (18 by 24) of Philoctetes, post snake bite, post festering wound and most pitifully, post abandonment by his brothers in arms. There a several variations on how the snake came to bite the master archer, but what seems consistent is the fact that the stench from the wound proved too great an ordeal for his comrades to endure. In a startling act of betrayal, they abandon our hero on the island of Lemnos. Alone with a painful wound, Philoctetes’ rage festers.

It is this moment I chose to paint, one of impotent anger and resentment. 

Philoctetes
oil on cardboard
18×24

I painted this image on cardboard, a material I really enjoy painting on. The lushness of oil color on pedestrian cardboard really satisfies some aesthetic instinct. I love how the oil glides upon the surface, canvas no matter how fine, snags my brush. I love panels, but they are costly , with cardboard I can screw up with very little anxiety. I’m eager to try copper panels, as was the tradition during the Renaissance , but I know nothing about  their preparation. Until that  time, cardboard is readily available.

I was keen to keep this painting a simple sketch, I did not labor over a drawing in order to prepare. I am trying to be more free ( more brave?) and just lightly pencil my idea and begin the sketch.  There are of course flaws, most particularly concerning anatomy, I do not have a model, save my own reflection. It is quite difficult to twist and turn and sketch away. I have tried snapping an image of myself, but all I come up with is some sort of sordid image in front of the mirror.

Hopeless really, I need a model, must work on that.

I love to put together extensive preparatory renderings but at time that becomes burdensome. I decided Philoctetes could survive the experiment, he has been through a great deal already, one more trial could hardly cause much harm.


Dispatch from the Underworld, same neighborhood, different block.

I have switched gears just a bit, focusing on the Greek underworld of Hades instead of the Mesoamerican Xibalba.

It is most likely only a temporary distraction prompted by our  having recently purchasing a beta fish which we named Orpheus. He is a handsome fellow blue, pink and red and he inspired the palette a bit.

This latest watercolor (on paper , 18 by 24 inches) depicts that moment when Orpheus is so very  close to his goal, fleeing with fair Euryidice to the land of the living,alas he loses nerve,looks back and all is lost. It is a horrible story, made gorgeous by Gluck and countless visual artists.

Once again I try my hand at entering the visual conversation; once again I’m not sure what to think of the result.

My very dear friend Ken came to visit me this week, driving from LA to this underworld called San Diego. He felt I was depressed, for multiple reasons, but most particularly for my latest series of paintings. I’m not sure if I am depressed, but I do feel as if I am in a state of transition, a limbo not unlike that of Euryidice.

Difference being my limbo will most likely pass.

Orpheus and Euryidice
Orpheus and Euryidice

Doubt is imagined as a withered blue crone.

detail of Doubt, Orpheus and the unfortunate Euryidice

The following is a detail of the demon(ess).

detail of demon

The following is a detail of Mercury, reminding Eurydice she must return. I had forgotten Mercury was part of the narrative, happy he is as he is always one of the hottest gods around.

detail of Mercury

As I mentioned I was inspired by my beta fish for  some of the coloring; but as I found myself  painting the vegetation of Hades it began to resemble the Magic Rocks of my childhood. Those odd little bits of childish chemistry had somehow sizzled upon my decidedly unscientific little brain. Here they are popping out of the crevices of the underworld.

Although I had wanted to avoid hellfire, I hadn’t realized Magic Rocks came from Hell.

If interested and if you have 59 seconds to spare, follow this link for a video clip of Magic Rocks in action,

 Well I must go, it is Memorial Day weekend, a big deal in that David takes off for any holiday he can. So I must prepare.

Take care,

Leonard

Judas Iscariot, Man of Sorrows

I have just finished this small painting  (11 by 20 inches), in that it is watercolor and gouache it moved along pretty nicely.

The theme of Judas is one I want to explore. On Good Friday I did a study of the Deposition, I want to develop that image. Before I leave this earth I want to have painted at least one Deposition, all of my favorite painters have painted the scene,and I want to add my feeble version to that visual conversation. My thought is to add Judas to the scene, perhaps replacing the fair and lovely Evangelist John (perhaps not). The Theotokis will still be present, a mother’s love would never allow her to leave the side of her child; but adding Judas is my attempt to play upon the theme of Redemption. I am not speaking exclusively of Christian redemption but of redemption as understood by a humanist. “Everyman” as a wretch needing succor.

In fact I have painted my Judas not heroically as is my tendency but as “Everyman”; in many ways it is a self portrait.

The First Martyr, Judas Iscariot

I’m going to return to my oil paintings this evening, I have three going in various stages of completion. Judas will be on my mind, his  frail humanity, his failures and his weaknesses. All attributes I understand and can relate to. I want to redeem this man, so hated that it is difficult to even bring him up (particularly amongst the traditionally faithful).

But I want to, as a boy I would secretly weep for him during  the Passion service.

I still feel for him.

Take care,

LG