Over Underworld 7: How To Placate Underworld Beasts

Bitch, Suzanne Edminster, acrylic, oil, graphite and ink on panel, 16″ x 22″

In our quarantine Underworld, we need a wildlife field guide. We are wandering through a dark, foggy place, the upside down world.  Or we are caught in stasis, like a formerly productive worker bee trapped in amber.  And then we come upon a monstrous beast…

The Bitch, above, is part of a series of Underworld animals.  I start with random marks, and the paint-beasts emerge from the darkness, almost like a negative developing in a bath in the old world of photography.  Since I believe Hell to be states of emotion and being, the Beasts are instincts turned to shadow and  gone bad.  All underworld animals are generally about the mouth or maw, devouring or spitting fire or venomous. All tend to have big red or floating eyes.  And many cultures have Underworld dog creatures, like my Bitch, like Dante’s wolf.

Painting starts, my “negatives

I’ll let you wander in the Underworld with my Beasts for a moment.  The worst Beasts threaten to devour us during this Quaran-time: boredom, apathy, bitchiness, physical illness or disfunction, anxiety, cruelty to others with whom we are trapped, anger, denial, fear.  What freezes you when it happens?  What drives you to the couch, the bottle, your OCD activity,  the Netflix binge? That’s your Beast.

All Underworld beasts cannot be ignored.  You have to greet them, while avoiding being eaten.  You have to placate them so you can get by them and on to the next stage of the journey.  I have found three major modes of placating and soothing them, at least according to mythology.

  • Feed them.  Honey cakes seem popular.   Get to baking!  Spread some sweetness around.
  • Play music for them, or better yet, make music for them.  Music makes them wander off or doze off. Music soothes anything that is savage within us.  Making music, even at an amateur level, or trying to make or play music, opens a sort of beautiful mathematical or emotional space that the Beasts just can’t enter. Or you can also sketch them or poem them or paint them.  Create-a-beast.  They become friendlier.
  • Make a sacrifice to appease them.  Give something up to keep them calm or at bay. It’s like Lent.  You give them something that you will miss, like gossip or drama, or too much social media.
Suzanne Edminster, illustrated notes on Dante, Canto VI. Cerberus was not only a dog, but a snake/serpent monster, a part of the mythic genetics often omitted today.

I was happy to learn that there is a tradition in China of underworld Horses and Oxen. Perhaps Cash Cow, below, belongs to this tradition.  This was painted in 2017, shortly after the Trump inaugeration.  The cow is America, bought for cash and kept chained and overused for milk until it dies. Perhaps the little flying mosquito-like stars are the attack of the coronavirus.

Cash Cow, Suzanne Edminster, acrylic mixed media on canvas, 24″ x 24″

Dear Readers, I have new work, but have not been able to get to my studio to properly photograph it, due to movement restrictions.  I will try to do this next week so we can see what grows out of the Underworld– The Tree of Life– in the next Over Underworld Art Exhibit releases.

In the meantime, placate those Beasts.  All be well, Suzanne

This is the seventh Over Underworld release, a online art exhibit of paintings and sketches in March 2020. Featured art: Bitch,  Rocket Bunny, Underworld Herd and Night Hunt, all original acrylics on panels,  all $450.   Cash Cow, acrylic on canvas, $750. Available.  Contact saltworkstudio@gmail.com.

Events in 2020

March-April 2020: Over Underworld: New Work, a virtual art exhibit of paintings and sketches released on SaltworkstudioFacebook, and Instagram.  #dantesketchbook #overunderworld  #saltworkstudio

Over Underworld 6: Underworld Travel Tips

Over Underworld, acrylic on Canvas, 36″ x 48″, Suzanne Edminster

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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Progress of 3 Over Underworld paintings.

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.

Over Underworld: Beast by Suzanne Edminster

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 saltworkstudio@gmail.com

Events in 2020

March-April 2020: Over Underworld: New Work, a virtual art exhibit of paintings and sketches released on SaltworkstudioFacebook, and Instagram.  #dantesketchbook #overunderworld  #saltworkstudio

 

Over Underworld 3: Dante’s Inferno Sketchbook

This is the third installment of the Over Underworld art exhibit, a virtual release of paintings and sketches in March 2020.

Featured art: Pages from my Dante’s Inferno sketchbook, earlier circles of Hell

Dante surveys the Holy Grail. This is not from the Inferno, but I needed a break.

The Underworld is not necessarily Hell.  But, sometimes we get lost somewhere Not Good, like a Twilight Zone episode.  It happened to Dante. For the past year I have been doing a close reading of Dante and making a sketchbook of visual notes.  They are not illustrations, but ways to help me remember what I’ve learned.

Reading Dante is like Shakespeare or the Bible; it endlessly unfolds.  But I’ll post a few pages from the notebook with some of my observations.

Virgil, Dante’s guide, from Canto 2. A friend in need.

I’ve made up several lists of rules for going through the Underworld from reading Dante.  First, a tour guide is worth paying for.  Virgil leads Dante through, but can’t go with him to Paradise, as he is a Heathen, but is a good friend.  I discovered that Dante loves his non-Christian geniuses of the ancient days, but has a problem with them, as the Church said they were consigned to hell. What to do, what to do?

From Canto 4. Dante makes a hell that is like a paradise for his buddies!

He makes a beautiful green garden in hell so that these pre-Christian immortals can hang out! The petals of the flower hold the names of his special people. I began to be interested in painting themes from this Canto.  I didn’t want to do paintings of the Seven Deadly Sins, but I discovered the Seven Liberal Virtues– top right corner– which are the antidotes for these sins, and am working on an abstract series from them.

Source material for sketchbook project. My favorite is at the top right, a Modern Library edition from 1944.

Last year I went to the Library of Congress and got to see original Blake lithographs of Dante’s Inferno in the rare books reading room.  Here is my pencil copy of Blake’s print, made in the Library, and my LOC library card.

Pencil drawing made on location in the Library of Congress of a print made from an original Blake lithographic plate. Amazing that this masterpiece was accessible, on asking.

Plagues were a fact of life in the 13th and 14th century.  But Dante saw the worst infection as a moral plague infesting his time, with politics destroying peaceful structure and ripping Florence apart.  This next sketch features a wasp from his description of demons flying up like swarms of hornets.

From Canto 3. Swarms of dead people mourn, “We never were fully alive.”

This is the Canto that orders, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”  I was surprised to find that there was also strong message to live fully when you are alive on earth in the same section!  In all that darkness, there is always light somewhere in Dante. Suzanne

Featured work: Pages from my Dante’s Inferno illustrated notes.  Not for sale.

You may share this freely.  shortlink: https://wp.me/pP1o3-1xu

https://saltworkstudio.com/2020/03/21/over-underworld-3-dantes-inferno-sketchbook/

2020 Events

March-April 2020: Over Underworld: New Work

Virtual Exhibit released by SaltworkstudioFacebook, and Instagram.

#overunderworld  #saltworkstudio

 

 

Over Underworld 2: The Sky is Falling on the Little Red Hen

This is the second installment of the Over Underworld art exhibit, a virtual release of paintings in March 2020.

Featured art: The Sky is Falling on the Little Red Hen

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The Sky is Falling on the Little Red Hen, acrylic and gold metal leaf on canvas, 16″ x 20″. Private collection, Montreal, Canada

I’m here in coronavirus lockdown in Sonoma County, California, watching our collective sky fall.  In 2019, I did a series of small works that reflected the political situation. When I do these paintings, I just really let anything happen, but normally a fairy tale or folk tale or aphorism starts to emerge, combined with images from my daily life.  I don’t know how or why these paintings happen. I try to paint first, analyze later.

The Little Red Hen in the story was the worker who could not get any help to make bread from all the farmyard animals.  Nonetheless, everyone wanted to eat the bread when she was done. It seems to be an original American fable not based in European storytelling.  The link is to a 1918 version of the tale.

The Sky is Falling involves another hen, Henny-Penny, which must be why the two stories melted together in my painting brain.  The Sky is Falling is as apt a metaphor for our current toxic political crisis as I’ve seen.  It is a nasty and violent story of trying to have your urgent message of emergency and disaster heard by The King (Trump)and being eaten alive along the way by his rich henchman, the devious propagandist named Foxy-Woxy! The link to the version I’ve given you has illustrations by Arthur Rackham.  Both tales are worth re-reading.

The painting implies a reordering of the world.  The gold of the good is fractured and falling down the sky.  An ominous figure in the right corner is scheming on Henny-Penny’s egg– try to eat something he has not produced.  There may be a weeping eye in the sky, if a god is looking on.

I actually do have a little red hen in my five-hen free-range urban flock.  She’s named Hedy Lamar, is a bantam Cochin chicken with feather “slippers” on her feet, and lets me carry her around. She lays adorable little bantam eggs.

 

At the end of The Sky is Falling, the little red hen looks at the massacre around her and “crawls out of her burrow” because she has to get productive and lay an egg! Our hopeful vision is  that we all need to get to our small creations to start to bring the good back to the falling down sky.  Stay safe in your shelter and enjoy your “burrow,”  but don’t forget to lay your “egg.” Make your little contribution to the normal and good.  Folktales and history both say it has all happened before. It’s our turn of the wheel now. Suzanne

You may share this freely.  Link:https://saltworkstudio.com/2020/03/19/over-underworld-2-the-sky-is-falling-on-the-little-red-hen/

2020 Events

March-April 2020: Over Underworld: New Work

Virtual Exhibit released by Saltworkstudio, Facebook, and Instagram.

#overunderworld  #saltworkstudio

Backstreet Gallery, where the exhibit is installed, is available for visit by appointment.  Email Saltworkstudio@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

 

Over Underworld 1: Coronavirus as Visual Metaphor

Tree of Life details, Suzanne Edminster, acrylic on canvas

This is the first installment of the Over Underworld art exhibit, a virtual release of paintings in March-April 2020.

I’m an artist, not a mystic, but I love to reflect on symbols. An abstraction has kidnapped our world, the coronavirus, so it now exists as our shared global symbol.  Examining the metaphorical side of the coronavirus doesn’t mean we are escaping or ignoring the scientific; it means that we can be human and turn it around like an orb in our hands, exploring  shades of meaning, comfort, fear and awe in it.  If we seek myth and meaning, we don’t have to scrub terror away from our minds.

Coronavirus under microscope

The virus is the corona, the crown, related to the sun, to kings, the orb that unites all of humanity and gives life. The sun is the heart, is play and fun, is wild nature in full summer bloom, the petals around the sunflower.  In the Tarot deck, the Sun card shows a walled garden in which children and animals play– the original divine and protected innocence, Paradise.

But the corona is what shows when there is a total eclipse of the sun, and we are experiencing this darker sun symbol.  An eclipse was terrifying in ancient times. Many images from past cultures are very consonant with our experience of the coronavirus.The images are of monsters– wolves, dragons, heavenly dogs, pumas, frogs, giant snakes, insects– eating the sun, the source of life, like the spread of the virus. I saw the total eclipse of the sun in 2017, and the sky chill that descended came from a deep, instinctive place.

I am doing a ten-painting series on the Tree of LIfe, a mystical Jewish metaphor that spread throughout European culture. It is a series of orbs connected by pathways, and is a positive metaphor for continuous creation, types of ethical experience, and joyful participation in the whole. But there is also a tradition of the darker sun, a sort of shadow side to each of the ten positions.  The dark sun, as a polar opposite to the vital sun/heart, prevents us from experiencing The Sun realm. Light, beauty, joy, play, trust,  and a connection to the heart  is replaced by consuming fear and suspicion and survival angst– the dark corona.

To reconnect to our selves, our bright Sun, we need to consciously focus on those things which are obscured: safe community,  art, aesthetics, enterainment, kids, pleasure, nature, beauty, and the bright and protective sides of our chosen religions and deities.  It is our riddle how we will do this, but the Italians singing from their balconies have the right idea! I suggest making a lot of noise to drive away the demons, preferably with our own instruments, pots, pans and voices. Even to the present day, after a total solar eclipse, astronomers at the Griffith Observatory dance, yell, and beat pots and pans.

The Little Red Hen. Alternate title: The Sky is Falling. Painting on canvas from 2019. Private collection.

The sky is falling, as it always has.  Don’t get eaten by any giant frogs.  Stay loving, dance with life, pet your animals, walk in nature, and use those pots and pans. Suzanne

You may share this freely.  Link: https://saltworkstudio.com/2020/03/17/over-underworld-1-coronavirus-as-visual-metaphor/

2020 Events

March-April 2020: Over Underworld: New Work

Virtual Exhibit released in the Saltworkstudio Blog, Facebook, and Instagram.  Backstreet Gallery, where the exhibit is installed, is available for visit by appointment.  Email Saltworkstudio@gmail.com

 

 

 

Secrets of the Carlton Arms Art Hotel

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A short hallway becomes a miniature cityscape.

We stayed in the Carlton Arms in New York City, and by chance, we got to see a wide variety of rooms twice: once when we needed to choose a new room because our room was needed as gallery space, and once with the New York Adventure Club tour.  Since we saw more spaces than are normally available to show– the hotel cannot show rented rooms–  I thought I would share them with you, with photos not included in my other Carlton Arms post.  We were also privy to some myths, legends, and secrets of the hotel…

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Astonishing “neon” murals done in paint alone

Our room had an entire quilted graphic narrative around the molding.  We were actually staying inside a story.  We took some time to read it, and to see how themes were reinforced around the room.  By the way, it was a quiet and cozy room.

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The story was that of an immortal energy-soul as it evolved toward a specific heaven.

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Panorama storyline part one.

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Panorama storyline part 2, showing a rainbow enlightenment at the end.

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Plaster bas-relief wall sculptures in our room

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Me at the end of the Egyptian-themed hallway outside our room.

The hallway was a real marvel.  It was done in the 1990s and is still beautiful.  Whether or not the artist achieved fame, she created a place of lasting amazement and beauty.  If I could make an artwork that made hundreds of people happy over a few decades, I would be delighted….There was one door that had a painted warning on the outside, very aggressive, with the message that a trans person had done the art inside.  It was a “Beware, be afraid, yea who enter here” sign.  But when you stepped in the room you entered a strange paradise.

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An undersea, tentacled fantasy.

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Central image of the room

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The photos don’t really do justice to the strange beauty of the room.

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Painted mirror frames. Most of the furniture was painted so that the effect was seamless.

I was reminded of our visit in Rome to the Villa Borghese, with its intersex sculptures, a favorite of the then-pope– equally beautiful, and unsettling.  The hotel manager says that they try to be sensitive to the needs of the clients; this room is not necessarily recommended to those with young children.  The hotel tries to give guests the choice of available rooms.  Here is a secret: check in early in the day to get a choice of rooms in your price category.  The staff is extremely nice and will help you find the right space. The hotel has 54 rooms in its largely unrenovated, walk-up building.

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Near the lobby was a bar area that could re-morph into a hotel room with the addition or removal of the beds. The beds were very comfortable, with excellent mattresses on top of a more portable folding frame.  The rooms are redone by new artists every 3-5 years or so, and displayed in a one-night only opening in March as art exhibits. The very next day they are returned to hotel rooms!

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Scott and I in the “bar” room. The bed will be removed for the art opening night.

The hotel offers residencies to artists to re-do rooms, and has an annual art show to display them.

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Scott is either flirting or animating- not sure which!

The Carlton Arms has many secrets.  Since it is has been a hotel now for over 30 years, they downplay the colorful past of the SRO days (single room occupancy).  So many people seem afraid to stay here, and indeed it is not for everyone. Their primary clientele is now European.  Scott and I stayed in a room with a shared bath and we never needed to wait. I give it high ratings for a feeling of coziness inside a huge city.  You get to live inside art itself. And there are cats too.

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Poster for the 2019 Artbreak Hotel Opening

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Topsy, one of the hotel cats.

 

Bird by bird and stroke by stroke

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Suzanne Edminster, Metaphoracard collage, 5″ x 8″. I am teaching my version of this small collage process at Wavy Gravy’s Camp Winnarainbow for Adults in June.

Anne Lamott’s latest book, Almost Everything, is a great delight, as most of her books are. She has a chapter on writing, which she says she uses as a shorthand for discussing other modes of creation.  I took her at her word.  What follows are her quotations, with the word writing changed to [painting], my brackets.  Thank you, Anne Lamott. Have fun, and read the whole book.  The chapter “Don’t Let Them Get You To Hate Them” is worth the price of admission, these days especially.  My blog title refers to her classic book on writing, Bird by Bird, highly recommended.

“If you do not finish what you are [painting], you will probably not sell your [painting], although you may, for much less than what you were hoping, or deserve.”

“No one cares if you continue to [paint], so you better care, because otherwise you are doomed.”

“If you do stick with [painting], you will get better and better, and you can start to learn the important lessons: who you really are, and how all of us can live in the face of death, and how important it is to pay much better attention to life, moment by moment, which is why you are here.”

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Suzanne Edminster, Metaphoracard collage, Dream Beast, 5″ x 8″.

A History of Home

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A HIstory of Home in the window of the Art Museum of Sonoma County

[About Lascaux cave paintings, Paleolithic inspiration, and my abstract painting process.]

Once in a while we are lucky enough to create a painting that somehow is a little bigger than we are.  This painting, A History of Home, was that for me. I want to take the time here to let the painting tell her story, her history of coming into existence.

It’s sometimes difficult for an artist to really explain what went into a particular painting.  In these days of marketing, the emphasis is on the “elevator speech,” a short, catchy, 5-second summary.  What a nightmare– trapped in an elevator and having to give a speech!  I won’t be doing any “elevator speeches” any more, in my studio or anywhere else.  Life is too short to waste it on the superficial.  This will be a wandering journey, like the entries to painted caves.

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A History of Home, detail, acrylic mixed media on canvas, 36″ x 48″, private collection

The second painting of a triptych,  I envisioned painting a series of abstract “maps,” entries to a colored world of cave and imagination.  In this one, we have begun to enter the painted caves, specifically Lascaux cave.  We stand at the threshold.  It is a map of dreamtime,  perhaps similar to Australian ritual paintings that mark imagined geographies mixed with “real” landmarks.

It fascinates me that parts of the painted caverns are actually called “galleries.”  They may have been our first cathedrals: most were not inhabited.  I am often inspired by the maps of the passages of the caves, and their abstract forms that are very unlike maps of the daytime world. Some of the marks in the painting feel like one of these “gallery maps” to me.

lascaux-gallery-diagram

I really love the line drawings the earliest modern archaeologists did as reproductions of the paintings. Because photography was more primitive at the turn of the century, most archaeologists were adept at sketching artifacts and paintings.  Almost all archaeologists who were allowed to enter the caves were male, of course. The most famous was “The Pope of Prehistory,” Henri Breuil.   He did the most amazing drawings of cave paintings and petroglyphs from around the world.

Drawings by Henri Breuil of cave paintings

I’ve spent a lot of time, literally many years,  seeking out  books with Henri Breuil’s drawings in dusty shops in so I could own some of his reproductions, with little success.  I think what was “drawing” me was  the beauty of the originals, but also a fascination of entering the world of the caves through transcribing the marks and animals by hand.

On the other hand, so to speak, I didn’t want to do reproductions of cave animals, no matter how compelling and beautiful.  The caves themselves show centuries, perhaps millennia, of overwriting– animal on top of animal, elaborations and erasures, adaptions, handprints, and abstract graphic marks that were most likely a symbolic language.  Generations of hands, eyes, pigments, footprints, erosion, stalactites,  mud and flickering lights.   Generations of whatever went on in these deep galleries. I wanted that. I wanted to enter that process, the one that started 35,000 years ago and is still going on today.

Back to caves, cave paintings, and my painting.  After a trip in the late 1990’s to the Grotta del Genovese on the island of Levanzo,  in the Egadi islands off the coast of Sicily— where I was led (by a genuine small hunchbacked cave keeper!) to the caverns with paleolithic paintings– I began to wonder why we have so few modern records of women scholars and archaeologists visiting European caves.  (I would love to revisit this island: just look at the setting of the entry to the cave!)

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Entry to cave on the island of Levanzo off the coast of Sicily.

I found that one woman archaeologist had documented Lascaux cave,  Annette Laming-Emperaire.  A part of the French Resistance, she entered Lascaux in the 1950’s and documented paintings and marks as a part of her doctoral thesis. Her method of cataloging and interpreting cave art is still in use today. But what fascinated me the most were her line drawings of cave paintings: sets of different style bison horns, diagrams of colored areas, and superimposed animals.

The young Annette Laming-Emperaire

I wanted to use her marks, so I enlarged them with a copy machine, created transparent acrylic transfers, and embedded them in the painting.  The black line drawings and diagrams are sunk in a dense field of paint.  Because they are transparent, the paint underneath is visible.

Hooves over color diagrams

Lower right, bulls and horses, superimposed

The painting has multiple layers.   Just last year I found that my paintings transform with 3-D glasses; the translucent bright layers, and the use of fluorescent paint, help facilitate.  With the glasses, the layers separate, and the lines float in an intermediate space on the picture plane.

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Viewer looking at paintings with 3-D glasses at the Paleomythic show. Chalk horses on “cave” wall by Caren Catterall.

This painting emerged out of paleolithic art, a trip to Sicily, Annette Laming-Emperaire, and the modern technologies of plastic, digital copies, and fluorescent pigments. The feeling of the painting is hearth-fire warm yet mysterious, filled with the spirits of people, animals, and landscape, and invoking a great woman scholar.  A History of Home is a story of entering art and making it our home over vast expanses of time— creating the new on top of the old every generation.  This process is hard to explain when someone asks “How long did it take you to paint this?”  (I figure about 25,000 years, give or take.)

I am pleased that it is going to the home of Rachel, Brendan and Tabitha Welsh in Alexandria, Virginia.  Their home was built in the 1790’s, so A History of Home will reside in a home with history.

Suzanne Edminster, September 2018

 

Getting high, creatively speaking

Salt, detail, Suzanne Edminster, original acrylic on canvas, 48" x 60"
Detail from “Salt”

I’m reading a book about getting high without drugs or alcohol.  Ironic, because I live in the heartland of  hedonistic, exquisite,  gourmet highs, sipped, smoked, or tasted: Sonoma County. In the midst of an opiate epidemic– understandable within our current mutated, obscene American political climate– I think we have lost our ways of enjoying the old ways of getting high, all on our own, in our own brains and bodies.

The Book of Highs, from my library, with four charming blue eggs, from my Coturnix quail.

The Book of Highs: 255 Ways to Alter Your Consciousness Without Drugs, by Edward Rosenfeld, is an likeable little compendium and pretty fun to read.  Written as a list, and illustrated with pop psychedelic-toned graphics, I immediately turned to the segment “Creativity: Reach into yourself, find and make something new.”  The quotes are all from this book.

“Creativity is something new, something fresh, something that arises out of the absence of preconceived ideas.  Intuition— ideas that spring from the untapped, unpredictable parts of the self– results in creativity.”

I found this striking.  In trying to teach students to paint intuitively this summer, I found that the concept is very hard to explain.  It doesn’t mean that there is no selected form, no restrictions.  It also doesn’t mean that you can’t alter it, edit it, find it wanting, or judge it.  If it exists in the physical universe,  there is always something that restrains and limits the painting:  the canvas and brushes, perhaps a chosen color palette or emotional feeling.

I think you have to paint first to have something emerge.  You have to make a random act on the canvas of some kind, because intuition wants a little springboard.  One mark… one spatter… one line…

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My demo painting with initial intuitive marks

 

It’s this act of intuition that gets you high.  It is exhilarating to watch forms appear from nowhere.

“To observe the unexpected, the unknown, and then use what one finds there in a new, unique way: that is creativity.”

One thing to note is that you have to use it, not just observe it.  It isn’t a movie, and it’s not an opium dream.  If Coleridge hadn’t written down the lines of Kubla Khan before the “man from Porlock” had knocked at his door, we would not have an amazingly strange and evocative poem, but just another lost drug hallucination.  We tend to focus on the lost world, the longer poem or epic that vanished when Coleridge was interrupted.  Why not celebrate what he did manage to capture?

 

I was talking to a novelist who recently visited my studio about characters in his novels who seem to live their own lives,  independent of his best writerly plans for them.  He said that a master writer once told him something to the effect of “give the construction of your novel to your characters.  They’ll do it for you.”  I try to give the construction of the painting to the intuitive impulses that manifest:  shapes, lines, colors, sometimes spirits or ideas.

Salt, detail, Suzanne Edminster, acrylic on canvas
Salt, another detail.

This intuitive painting process makes me high.  It’s a problem.  I can’t drive when I’m painting; ask my husband.  It also makes me useless for a while for everyday life and chores.  It takes a lot of energy as well, and there can be a big low after the high of creation.

Salt, far left, Suzanne Edminster, acrylic on canvas, 4 feet by 6 feet,
Salt, the final painting, to the far right.

But I’m now an addict.  I couldn’t live without the creative high.

Creativity is the ability to bring something into existence from nothing. That is, from chaos comes a meaningful, organized whole.”

Creation is our agency to make change, and it gives us back unimaginable pleasure in return, if the risk is taken.

Artistic Failure and the Dangers of Branding

Ikebana, Suzanne Edminster, gold metal leaf and acrylic on canvas, 15″ x 30″. This painting was part of a failed attempt to get into a local gallery.

I was going to write a completely different blog today.  But so many of my friends in the artistic community failed to get juried into our 2018 juried open studio tour, Sonoma County Art Trails,  that I wanted to bring up the topic of failure and the dangers of branding.

All four that I know are fine artists, with established reputations, patrons, and studios.  Also, coincidentally,  all are abstract artists or work outside traditional genre lines, and all are women.

In America, we have a fetish for success.  Our success-lust — there should be a word in German for this and there is, “Erfolgswunsch,”– leads us down many dark and sterile ways.  Our movies worship the thought that if one works hard enough, makes enough sacrifices, you too can SUCCEED!   There are genres of treacly, inspirational songs devoted to this notion.  We Americans are suckers for this one.  It has invaded our churches as prosperity theology, the notion that even God wants us to succeed at everything. God wants us to market ourselves.

In this spin,  the accusation is that if you have failed, you have simply not tried enough.  You need to try again. And again.  Apply to Art Trails again.  Get in those ten thousand hours, loser.  (Though those four women painters I mentioned already have put in their time to their art.)  We need to re-examine our blind adherence to the try, try again philosophy.  Tenacity is good. But what does it serve?

The American dream of success promotes guilt, and it promotes throwing a lot of time and money out to enter the palace of fame and fortune.   It promotes buying advice and spending more money to find out how you can get into the Academy, the gallery, the open studios tour– spend year after year applying and paying the fees to apply.  Take marketing classes. Give money to get online courses and gurus. Brand yourself, baby.

Goose game, Akua soy ink on paper, a failed monoprint.

Part of the current propaganda of Succeeding  is “branding.”  My own connotations with the world are of pain, burning, slavery,  hot iron and screaming calves, and ownership of cattle and humans.  Branding involves creating a consistent image and not deviating from it.  This means failure to conform to your own brand— say, an abstract painter deviates and paints vineyard landscapes– means that you have failed your brand.  It is a failure within a failure, a double failure, failure squared.  Loser!

The problem is that in avoiding losing, in identifying with our own brand, we lose the chance for personal growth.  Milton Glaser, in the video below, voices what artists have always known.  It is a seven-minute video and worth your time.   It’s also worthwhile using the link to his website, above, and taking a look at the series of his own quotes in the header.  It’s no coincidence that in discussing failure, he brings up branding as an issue.

Success, or personal growth?  Milton Glaser managed both, an enviable trick.  But difficult.   I think everyone really needs to discover their own way through, and that takes reflection,  and failure, not wholesale adoption of the images of celebrity and success our society promotes.   The internet provides ways of crafting an individualized success that did not exist when I was a kid back in the the 1960’s.   We only had print materials and TV.

I had a childhood memory of the show Branded,  the 1965-66 show starring Chuck Connors.  The theme song seems, well, branded into my brain.  It is a very scary theme song and image, showing a man stripped of all his honors, his good name, his sword,  and his regimental family, cast out due to apparent desertion of his comrades.  In fact, he is literally “drummed out” of the Cavalry, to the sound of military drums in the background.

The very last line of the song in the video below expresses my feelings about branding.  Remember listening to those TV theme songs and trying to understand every word?  In the last seconds of the final credits of Branded, we hear:

Branded! That’s not a way to die… what do you do when you’re branded, when you live with a lie?

Enjoy the video below.  I chose a black and white version,  the way I originally saw it.   Suzanne

Thanks to Austin Kleon for his incisive thoughts and for providing the Milton Glaser video.

And check out my summer painting classes at LocalsCreate, a new art venue in Geyserville.  Metaphoracards is really fun and coming right up on May 29. I need two more people… if you are the first two to  sign up online and email me about it,  I’ll give you a free copy of Salt Licks and Bad Birds, my book. Just remind me about the book as I’m only offering it here in my blog.  I’m teaching a 3 week series  Wednesdays in June and July on abstract painting and a wild little class called Dream Figure Intuitive Painting  on June 16. Email me at saltworkstudio@gmail.com with any questions.