Right now we are all in an Underworld together. The Underworld is not a place but a state of being, full of dangers, ghosts and monters. We are traveling as pilgrims through it, and the robbers and tricksters are gathering, as well as the saints and helpers. The global quarantine is our Underworld.
I learned a lot about how to navigate the Quarantine by studying the mythical Underworld/s.
- Follow the rules if you want to survive. In the Underworld, to get out, you mustn’t eat food, go in the wrong direction, or look back. In the Quarantine, follow the rules.
- In the Underworld, you are at the lowest point of personal identity. You are at your blurriest; your Great Things just don’t matter as much. If you are Jonah in the belly of the whale, your grape crop is not on your mind. Survive the half-light and the long night.
- In the Underworld, you are trapped until time or a god lets you go, or you go through the right fragile opening of chance. You really are imprisoned; to pretend otherwise is to risk a naive reaction that will have disastrous results. You can only comply and be aware.
In the Underworld, you are actually in the lowest part of the Hero’s Journey, the monomyth behind human life that was popularized by Joseph Campbell. As humans, we experience this as grief, depression, paralysis and heartbreak. It is most unpleasant. In the chart below, life is like an iceberg: most lies below the surface. Only a small part of our time is in the ordinary material world. Americans are not good at below-the-surface thinking. We want to be heroically on the mountaintop, in the sunlight, at all times. My Over Underworld paintings have a very high horizon that reflects this often unacknowledged reality. I also put it ladders to connect the Under with the Over. We are in the crisis, the trial, the belly. It is a temporary, and necessary, state. The hope is that we go on to the next stages as a people, and as individuals. In the Over Underworld process paintings below, I tried eerie black and white paint sketches at the top… the road into the Underworld. They were beautiful but there was no real way to affix them. The black and white compositions were turned into individual paintings and left me long ago. There is only one of these large paintings left now, I think it might have been a seed or nucleus for the next work.
The whole world is in a chysalis of dissolution and re-forming. We have no idea what will come out at the end. Joseph Campbell said, “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” I tried to make the unformed lower parts of the paintings as beautiful and ambiguous as possible to hint at the beauty possible in the Underworld.
There may be a treasure hidden in the Quarantine Underworld for us, but we will have to travel carefully through it to discover it. Be well, Suzanne
This is the sixth Over Underworld release, a online art exhibit of paintings and sketches in March 2020. Featured art: Over Underworld: Raven, acrylic on canvas, 36″ x 48″, $1750. Available. Contact email@example.com
Events in 2020