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.

Paintings in Process
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

 

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.

 

My Private Paleolith

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“The Old Ways,” mixed media collage painting, detail, Suzanne Edminster.

What about our private, individual Stone Ages?  What about your art that was a start, years ago, before it ripened?  What’s in your art cave?  Is it brilliant?  Submerged? Rough?  Hard to find?  From ancient eras?  In this post, I’ll share some personal old, extinct art.  Some is destroyed, some still exists hidden, and all are my little secrets.

As I considered paleolithic creativity, I began thinking about my own ancient art.  Art is transient.  Periodically, I clean out and discard my old art.  Ancient art in nature is drowned, avalanched, petrified, faded, scratched and licked by animals, mineral-dripped,  overpainted, destroyed.  Some fragments remain.

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Detail of Doctor Doctor, mixed media collage painting. Suzanne Edminster

I still don’t know why I made this painting, which I named just today after years of existing title-free.  It does look like a shaman within a shaman, or big foot, or a gorilla, with magic biceps.  And a little hippo is sort of irresistible.  Maybe there’s a little bit of Big Bad Wolf, with granny inside.  It’s scary enough that it never got hung on a wall.  It has a personality…. someone you may not want to meet in a stone age alley by moonlight.

And a few more details of old paintings.  I was really into that heavy texture, my own modeling paste, made from thick gesso and lightweight spackle from the hardware store, half and half.

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Antique fragments, excavated up from our own lost ages,  still have power.   What do you do with your own ancient art?

Illustrated Journaling Doodle

Illustrated journaling lets you make connections… salt, the etchings on the cafe wall, appetite. Somehow these disparate things come together in a good way, sort of like doing collage with pieces of your consciousness.

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Suzanne’s Virtual Manifesto for Artists

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Why do social media at all? As an artist, you have to do it artfully, or it won’t work. It has to be authentic, interesting, generous,and beautiful.

Ironically, you can’t take it too seriously. It’s like throwing pebbles into a great sea. You produce a ripple or two. Keep them going and something interesting will come in on the tide, but you can’t predict what or when.

Here’s a hint for Facebook. Continue reading → Suzanne’s Virtual Manifesto for Artists

Painting Journal 1: Lost Continent

I’m using this space to intermittently post a few paintings and tell some stories in detail as “Painting Journals.” They are a journey into the space of the work and my own thoughts and process, and an authentic record.

Lost Continent
Lost Continent

This painting, Lost Continent, speaks to me of a pre-verbal time. I always remember in the Mary Poppins books that the babies could speak with animals and spirits before they themselves could speak, but lost the ability when they got older. This painting is about that wordlessness. Continue reading → Painting Journal 1: Lost Continent

Metaphoracard Collage Play at Camp Winnarainbow for so-called Adults

One of my cards.

What the heck is a Metaphoracard?  Laura Foster Corben and I invented these small (5″ x 7″)collage paintings on matboard to provide art play for Wavy Gravy’s Adult Camp Winnarainbow.  I’m the Metaphoracard Girl and Amuse Grove Reader.

In the tradition of side amusements for The Players– the musicians, clowns, dancers, arialists, stiltwalkers, magicians, storytellers and poets of the cosmic, comic Circus– the cards provide diverse diversions, a little taste of trickster mind at play.

As in my Saltworkstudio classes, we work  in series, doing three at one time, and follow one of the Almost Unbreakable Cardinal Rules–Paint First.  Getting the mark of the hand, paint, brush or ink down before applying images is vital.  I’m not sure why, but it seems to transform the cards from stiff constructions to flowing, “wavy,” spontaneous combustions of dreamy image.

They are meant to be entertainments, in the way that some novels are called “An Entertainment.” There is no number to the deck.  The deck is temporal and temporary, created in time by a group, played with, and dismantled after.  Because they call forth a certain bubbly synchronicity, their accuracy can be astonishing, but unrepeatable.  Like an appearance of a Loch Ness Monster, they leave splashy traces, but can’t really be nailed down or captured in a net of a single meaning.  And they dissolve after the week at camp, each player claiming their own trading cards of vision, dream, and just plain weird stuff.

A little handful of art magic to play with.

Since Camp Winnarainbow emphasizes fun, play, and performance, we wanted to create a recreational visual art form  that would give satisfaction in the both in the making and in active use after.  The cards were read by a raggle-taggle Amuse group in the temporary Amuse Grove you see below.  There’s a Cosmic Phone for when we get stuck.  We just dial up the Demigods to get an anwer. The chairs are decorated with old wedding gowns from the Costume Tent.

Instead of the Muse Grove, the Amuse Grove.

Metaphoracards require a community.  You need a group to get a deck, and you need someone else to read your card. It’s the rule of the Cosmic Trickster that you can’t know what your image might say.  I puzzled over my image of Faulkner, doggies, and a flower, until my husband Scott said, “That’s easy.  It’s Power: dog power for the body, Faulkner power for the intellent, and the flower is pure vegetative power, an idea bursting out.”  Huh, and wow.  Flower power?

But… are they serious ART?  I absolutely hope not.

My thanks to Wavy Gravy, Jahanara Romney, and Laura Foster Corben for sponsoring me  as a Guest Artist at Camp Winnarainbow. Take a look at the cards the talented Susan Cornelis made. Towards the fun!

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Art Collage Box Cleanout

Spidermen Original Holga Photo, Suzanne Edminster. Pre-Instagram!

As I was going through my overcrowded art storage area, I came upon my nemesis– the art collage box.  It was full of things I collected at one time.  I was sure I would use them some day.

 I won’t tell you everything I found, but there was Monopoly money from a broken antique set,  German fortune-telling cards, a work on rice paper by an artist from Bangalore, India,  and Mexican loteria cards.  Out fell ancient notes and antique photos, a Virgin of Guadalupe print and a Holga photo of Spidermen, and a paranormal magazine I got in Prague in the 90’s.

Collage Box

I thought I might tell you what I kept and what  I discarded, but I found I was reluctant to list things I threw away.  Hey, it felt like a taboo.  Why?

I’ve always said that collage itself had some connection with destruction and death, the dark side.  Things are dismembered and removed from their original space, time and context, often by cutting  or tearing, actions that have an air of violence.  There’s an air of secrecy about them. That box felt like a  coffin for dead ideas combined with  a treaure box, a graveyard for things that had once compelled me.

Someone would be sure to ask, “Why did you throw that out?” Even worse, they might say, “You could have given that to me.  I would have liked that.”  I would be responsible for disappointing someone.  Another person would become implicated and entangled in my decision.  I’ve encountered this a lot.  People really do not like it when one simply disposes of things. A taboo has been broken.  Improper burial?  Disrespect for objects?  Then the discarded object comes back to haunt you through the remonstrations of others.  And now, with the advent of eBay, all junk has been acquired a false patina of consumer value.

I bought this in Bangalore when I was rich. Now I’ve lost the artist’s name. Perhaps Rashika Thakur?

Each item is really the representation of a certain dream, experience, or longing.  An object then has become a literalized metaphor, carrying meaning far beyond itself.  If I discard the object, do I discard the idea?  Or does the object become a substitute for fresh experience?  Each item becomes a love letter from a past idea-affair.

Nowadays I use only two kinds of collage: text and black and white non-copyright photocopies of drawings or my own photos.  Often the collage vanishes completely, or is torn to become an area of texture that may have figurative associations for me, but not for the viewer. I’ve never liked using “old” or “failed” paintings as collage parts.  It seems disrespectful to the original impulse, a Frankenstein construction that I am forcing to life.

I think I’m just as happy putting this flotsam on the floor and photographing them, and then letting them drift back to the strange ether of discarded objects, or the garbage.  But then, again…

There, I’ve revealed my collage underbelly. What’s in your boxes?