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My Desert Vacation 2: Petroglyphs and Premonitions

Grey Magic, acrylic combined media on paper, 10" x 10", Suzanne Edminster

Premonitions, by definition, come first. But, like ancient oracles, you never know what they really mean until you get there.

In hindsight, this little painting foretold our desert trip. I did this in October as a collage painting demo. Now it strikes me how much it is like the petroglyphs we saw at Painted Rock State Park, just outside of Gila Bend, Arizona, in late November. In fact, there’s a lizard spirit slithering gila-like through it.

Petroglyphs are the abstractions of the ancients. Were they a semi-precise writing or language, like heiroglyphs? Religious spirit encounters: “Hey, the Deer Dancer possessed me here!” Maps?

It’s interesting how there seems no real distinction between realism and abstraction in petroglyphs.  The deer with bulging belly seems so obviously pregnant, but the squared-off labyrinth delights  in the design-play of geometric abstraction.

Petroglyphs are vigorous and melancholy at once.  Here people met, prayed, danced, hunted, ate, and spent days and weeks creating with what they had– stone and imagination.

Boo!

Over Underworld Vacations in Graton

Over Underworld, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48, Suzanne Edminster

Over Underworld is going on a vacation in Graton.

This painting is part of a meditative abstract series on the links between worlds. I’ve always found it fascinating how much of our lives are lived in fantasy, dream, reading, and contemplation.  These are whole worlds that float beneath us. I wanted to paint the notion of a thin “skin” of organized thought, houses, civilization, geometry, over a beautiful chaos of creative form.  Ladders link the worlds, so, that with focus, we can climb up and down from one world to another… ladders without the chutes!

Painting process:   I established a horizon line for the three paintings, then started a gold and orange spatter process underneath, working on all three paintings simultaneously.  I tried various stages for the top.  You can see some of these in October Underworlds.  I opted to paint the whole thing rather than adding on the black and white paint compostions I had considered mounting.  Then I used areas of intereference paint mixed in with other paints over large areas of the painting, so that they would shift with the shifting light.

The Underwood, 5 x 7 watercolor collage sketch, Suzanne Edminster

I’ve spent little time in Graton, but the painting is currently on loan to Catherine Devriese and Isabelle Proust.  That’s mighty fine company, I would say.  And I did have a drink at the Underwood with Susan Cornelis last night, resulting in this immortal masterwork of a sketch.  Overworld, underworld, Underwood–  after my martini and some fun with Susan, watercolors, and ripping up the Underwood menu to collage, the horizons between them seemed to become , delightfully, more permeable.

Tell me, what lies Under your Overworld?

Mythic News:  I’m going to Rome this Christmas, and had forgotton that in one version of the Trojan myth,  the last of the remaining Trojans fled to found Rome.  I don’t know how this fits in with Romulus, Remus, and the Wolf Mom, though.  I’ve been feeding my soul with the classical warrior heroes, and only periodically get patriarchal indigestion.

Studio News: my new weekend workshop is called Spontaneous Construction and will be offered in the spring.  More soon.

The Cave Painters Were Really Pretty Good Artists, for Cave Men!

Spotted horses probably existed way back then, says a new genetic report.  This means that the cave painters weren’t just having a great time making a cool, fun, repetitive dot pattern on their creations, but were somehow representing AN ACTUAL HORSE.  DNA now proves that the cave painters were “good.”  Good means realistic in painting.  We wouldn’t want cave painters painting their dreams, now would we?

I salute  the writer,  Alicia Chang,  for pursuing this connection. And the article in the NY times is more fleshed out… or more boned out, because that’s where they got the DNA.   But these articles proceed from a  number of assumptions that make me a bit crazy.  Here’s a list. Ancient artists couldn’t paint realistically.  Ancient artists make “primitive” art.  Ancient artists just sorta prayed to animals or grooved on them but didn’t observe them.  Ancient artists didn’t really know about paint application, media, and drawing.  Ancient artists weren’t da Vinci, or even Dali (who is actually a super-realist using the images in a surreal way).

In fact, recent research strongly implies that ancient people observed the animals so closely that they recorded the small changes in appearance and behavior in different seasons and during mating times.  They applied paint with brushes, air, organic materials like moss or hide, and fingers. They always used as many colors as they could, including greens and purples.  They used lamps and scaffolding to paint in high places.  And as Werner Herzog’s new film Cave of Forgotton Dreams  shows,  they clearly used the three-dimensional stone as part of their media, as well as animation techniques and a convention called “twisted perspective.”  Which I love, because it’s twisted. 

But the thinking remains either/or.   Was it realism or surrealism?  Science or art?    Why not both?

  And now I have  an excuse to put in my favorite little spotted horse, the Dawn Horse from my dad’s 1963 high school science textbook.  I also found newly released Lascaux cave photos from the 1940’s in this amazing Life photo essay.  I adore Lascaux with all my stone-and-iron-oxide  heart.

 I did a little Honey Bear sketch of  to honor Hezog’s cave bears, whose skulls decorate the floors of Chauvet .  My father, Bob Edminster, who passed away this year, loved  honey and told a mean Eeeeeeyow Bear bedtime story.  This picture is for you, Werner Herzog and Bob Edminster.

  Mythic News:  Hey, it’s 11-11-11! I give you here a link to my favorite visionary, Caroline Casey, who talks about eleven, and de-apocolizes the day.  Eleven is a threshold number: go ahead and step over.

Studio news:  the divine Laura Hoffman, along with her ladies, women, folk-art motifs, resins, and power tools– yeah, baby– will be our guest artist on the blog next week.  Don’t forget the A Street Studio’s innocent-yet-decadent Winterblast! Tomorrow!

A special thanks to Susan Cornelis, who has been encouraging me to sketch and shared her super-secret material list with me.  See her wonderful travel sketchbook-collage techniques here.

Aurochs Moon: A History of Home

A History of Home, acrylic combined media on canvas, 36" x 48", part of the Terra Incognita series

Ahhh, home sweet cave. I wanted to do an imaginary landscape that was like a child’s drawing, an aboriginal painting of mythic locations, a bright map with line engravings of the entry to inner worlds.  This painting, originally titled “Aurochs Moon”, shows various signs upon entry to the cave or just inside it.  The Aurochs was a cow almost as large as small elephant. Aurochs are the bulls and cows of the Paleolithic cave art.  They lived on until the 16th century in the forests of Eastern Europe, where the last one was eliminated as hunting game for the rich.  A variety has been genetically re-bred in France as Heck Cattle

This painting, one of a triptych called High Pastures, transformed several times.  I wanted to keep the heat of the bright orange underneath, to do a map with impossible colors.  You’ll see transfers of line drawings over all, petroglyphic elements using the paint as a wall that lets images emerge from another realm.

Why the cave? I think the cave is our brain dreaming, our true home, the hearth that underlies any location we happen, temporarily, to live. The alternate name for this one is “A History of Home.”  My own history of homes is a long one. I’ve lived in rural California (Los Banos and Merced), urban California(San Francisco Mission District, pre-gentrification),  coastal California (Santa Cruz), and now northern California (Santa Rosa).  Urban Hawaii (Honolulu and Waikiki) and rural Hawaii, Na’alehu near South Point on the Big Island.  Munich and Freiburg, Germany, and southern Norway. Bangalore, South India.  When I lived there it only had four million people, but now it has topped five million— definitely urban.

Wherever I went, there I was.  Each place had a dream at its centre, realized or not. And you, dear reader? What’s your history of home?

October Underworlds

October is the month where the borders and boundaries between the worlds become a little thinner.  I love the lengthening days and cooler weather.  Growing up in the Central Valley, October provided the first respite from stifling heat. It’s been a long year… my father passed away in August .

 I painted these for my June show, wanting to evoke the flow between the thin crust of overworld and the bulk of the underworld, how we are a skin on a much larger being.  I started with spatters and the determination to use interference paints over large areas.  In the end, I kept them near the top horizon, where the “city” is.  I liked the look of my studies mounted at the top, but wanted these pieces to be all paint and no collage elements.

I’m reading Greek mythology now, realizing that there are many entrances to the world that is not our waking world:  a dark lake, a crack in the earth, a dream, or a painting.