Over Underworld 8: Quarantinis in the Afterlife

Dante notebook, from the Getty Villa Underworld show. Gouache, pen, watercolor, pencil.

What do we want most when we are traveling through an Underworld?  One ill-fated goal is to rescue another who is stuck to bring them back from Death, never a good idea: the Monkey’s Paw effect.  Better is to journey toward a happy ending, reuniting with our loved ones or God. This was Dante’s goal. Another favorite hope, a subset of reuniting with loved ones, is to be in ecstasy all the time, eating and drinking and making love and giggling– to get high. The goals of the Underworld are actually in alignment with the goals of Comedy, not Tragedy:  it should end with a reunion or party with loved ones, and you should be able to get drunk, maybe listen to some really good music…

A music band of 3 statues. The Sirens or Harpies are underworld creatures. This Siren is singling to a pipe played by a Satyr.

I made these drawings in the Getty Villa’s Underworld: Imagining the Afterlife exhibit. One thing that tickled me the most was Plato’s disdain for those who only wanted to go to the Underworld to drink wine.  There apparently was a cult devoted just to that.  As a citizen of perhaps one of the most hedonistic places on the planet, Sonoma County, California, where wine, weed, and fine food are elevated to a religion, I understand.

Plato loved wine, but was careful.  He even proposed the first age-related drinking laws: that boys should not drink before age 18, because it is wrong to add “fire to fire.” But he was careful not to elevate wine, preferring to use it as a tool for truth and celebration.  He said that to spend all our time in the afterlife “crowned and drunk” was dumb, that eternal inebriation was an unworthy goal for the Underworld.  Many of the Underworld themed wine vessels had phallic grape bunches, implying that there was even more bliss available Down There.

Detail of phallic grape bunch on wine vessel

In this time of quarantine and apocalyptic thoughts, I can’t help but remember the rat banquet scene in the Werner Herzog film Nosferatu.  The people are feasting and dancing in the square in a sea of rats, because they know that they are about to die. In our world, this is a good metaphor for substance addiction; unable to stop as a world falls apart.  Dark.

Scene from Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu

Is it so wrong to imagine that some of life’s fundamental pleasures might be available after death?  I wish you surcease of sorrows, but in non-apocalyptic quantity that does not wreck your world.  Or your morning. It’s a slippery slope.

Many entries to the Underworld were portrayed as steep descents. From the Dante notebook.

From Plato to you, as you sip your Quarantini  2,368 years later:  “What is better adapted than the festive use of wine in the first place to test and in the second place to train the character of a man, if care be taken in the use of it? What is there cheaper or more innocent?”

Here I am with my quarantini and pearls, sans rats.  Here’s to all of us. And from Plato: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” —Suzanne

This is the eighth Over Underworld release, a online art exhibit of paintings and sketches in March and April 2020. Featured art: Sketches from Dante’s Inferno Illustrated Notes. Contact saltworkstudio@gmail.com.
View 7 previous Over Underworld Art Exhibit paintings, sketches, and essays here.

Saltworkstudio Events in 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 4: Dante Begins

The lion of ambition.
This is the fourth Over Underworld release, a online art exhibit of paintings and sketches in March 2020. Featured art: Pages from my Dante’s Inferno sketchbook, Cantos 1 and 2.

Since Italy has its first national Dante holiday this year on March 25, I’m releasing Dante sketches instead of paintings for the next few posts.  May celebrating his poetry help Italy heal .

We are Dante. The poem opens to a scene of attack and menace. The lion is ambition to rule, the despot. The leopard is worldly luxury and lust, hedonism, consumerism.  The wolf of avarice, of greed, is always hungry. After she eats, after feeding, she is hungrier than before, literally insatiable. Dante is lost in the woods, and all is lost.

I choose to see Dante as a guide through Underworlds, the times when we are trapped, in despair, lost, yet we know we are somehow on a journey, a lonely road. We need our guides. Virgil is Wisdom, who guides us through the “arduous and savage”way.

Virgil wrote the Aneied, another epic poem that contains an Underworld journey.

He also calls on his beloved Beatrice, who has died and gone to heaven. She appears with her girlfriends: Rachel, who symbolizes contemplation, and Lucia, who is clear vision, eyesight, and light. They indicate their approval of his journey, and then we don’t see them again for a long time.  They are all making a brief visit from heaven.  Hell is not their style.

Beatrice calls in Rachel and Lucia.

So gather your friends:  Wisdom from the past, Light, Meditation, Divine Love.  Dante needed his beloveds to help him continually trust that he would have guidance during his pilgrimage .  I noted that “Hell is forgetting that there is a paradise.”  Keep to your dream-path. It’s actually a Divine Comedy, even if we walk through Tragedy along the Way.  Suzanne

Painted notes

Featured work: Pages from my Dante’s Inferno illustrated notes.  Not for sale.You may share this freely.

Events in 2020

March 25, Wednesday, is Dante Day in Italy, a new annual national holiday to honor Dante. I  will be storytelling from my Dante sketchbook at Saltworkstudio via Facebook Live. See event for more details.  FB live times: 10 AM, 1PM and 5 PM.

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

 

 

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

 

 

Creative Demand

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My desk for the illustrated Dante notes project. My main reference is a 1944 Illustrated Modern Library edition, with amazing pictures by George Grosz

“A creative person must convince the field.” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention.

Another open studio? Another First Friday?  Really? My current new project is a series of illustrated notebook pages on Dante’s Inferno and the Underworld.  Not really a high demand there, unless perhaps you are a dead person of the 13th century.  For years I have struggled with the ideas of supply and demand in art.  I saw demand as a corrupting influence, producing Thomas Kincaid cottages, pet rocks, and social media addiction.

“What limits creativity is not the lack of good new memes (i.e., ideas, products, works of art), but the lack of interest in them.  The constraint is not in the supply but in the demand.”

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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 know and work with so many amazing artists, most of them unfairly obscure, in my SOFA Santa Rosa neighborhood.  We are everywhere, and we are creating.  The supply is high. You could argue that perhaps we have saturated Sonoma County with our good work.

Csikszentmihalyi says that perhaps the limitations of creativity come from scarcity of attention for the products. “Unfortunately, most attempts to enhance creativity are focused on the supply side, which may not only not work but is likely to make life more miserable for a great number of neglected geniuses.”

He goes on to say, “But usually the necessity of ‘selling’ one’s ideas is seen as something that comes after the creative process ends and is separate from it.  In the systems model, the acceptance of a new meme by the field is seen as an essential part of the creative process [my italics].

This gives me hope.  I always knew there was something wrong with the neglected genius / Van Gogh model, birthing beauty into a silent or hostile void.  I hope that I can joyfully enter the creative stream anywhere, either creating new art or by readying the field for it. Thanks, Mihaly.

More frequent posts

I’ll be posting several times a week now, probably.  Fair warning!  These messages are part of my own creative process.  Later I’ll offer a monthly newsletter format.

If you’re going through an Underworld passage right now– as our whole country is– stay safe.  I’ve seen and heard a lot more random racism and everyday hostility around me than usual.  The decay at the top and the inaccessibility to universal health care is wearing us out.

Suzanne

Saltworkstudio Events and Classes 2019

SOFA Santa Rosa First Fridays 2019, 5-8 PM.  Informal open studios neighborhood-wide. Find me in Backstreet Gallery, down Art Alley behind 312 South A Street, Santa Rosa, CA.  Map here.

First Friday, March 1, 5-8 PM.  Selected SOFA art studios are open; I am.  Drop by to chat.

 

3 Tips on how to keep an illustrated travel sketchbook on the road, even if you “can’t draw”

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A basket of apples in Basque country. The stamps are the the same ones used for Camino “passports.”

In 2014, I decided I wanted to walk the Camino de Santiago and keep a travel journal. Only problem was, I disliked sketching.  I knew what a travel journal SHOULD look like…

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Photo altered and text added with apps
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Storks nesting on top of Spanish church. Photo altered and text added with apps.

Never in a million years could I keep an sketchbook like the ones above– the ones full of architectural detail and castles with swans floating on them, with notes in a perfect calligraphy.

I’m an abstract painter.   I like big, sketching is small. I like color, and sketching is black and white.  I like huge ideas, and sketching is detailed.  I don’t even like reality that much, so why would I want to draw it?

I am not an expert sketcher, so please take my advice with more than a few grains of salt. But I was lucky.  I ended up keeping an illustrated travel journal that has brought me and others pleasure over the years.  As I walked the Camino, this scratchy, amateur sketchbook got me free food, wine and rooms, acted as a thank-you note, and bailed me out of trouble a few times. It got worn and dirty occasionally, as I did.  It also let me keep “secrets of the Camino” that eventually became painting and printmaking series, though I didn’t know it at the time.  And I normally didn’t draw from photos, drawing what was in front of me instead. I wasn’t a purist about it, but I wanted to draw my moment, adding memories of the day and figments of my imagination.

Tip #1: Practice before you go

Yes, you non-drawer, you do have to practice a little. Why would you suddenly start doing something on a trip when you don’t ever do  in everyday life? Everyone can draw and paint. You did as a kid.  So get a kid drawing book that shows you how to make firemen and hot wheels and dinosaurs, or get Art Before Breakfast by Danny Gregory, or a book on anime or doodling.  Take a course from a local sketching expert like Susan Cornelis if you can, or find your branch of Urban Sketchers.  Find the size kind of sketchbook you feel comfortable with– but with blank pages. Do not use a fancy sketchbook that makes you feel like you have already screwed it up just by looking at it.  It should feel friendly! Make stick figures or cartoons. Spill ink and paint on it. Don’t get too serious.  Draw your Starbucks.  Don’t show anyone.  Take an online course from Sketchbook Skool. Do this for a few weeks to a few months before you go.

Full disclosure: here are notebook pages done as practice before I left for Spain.

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Snow globe and sticky note. I was teaching Moby Dick and Macbeth at the time

 

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Another in the sticky note series. I should do that series again!

 

Tip #2: Use your words and your little scraps of things. Use what you got.

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A plate of paella with cutout collage scallop shell.

Use your words and the paper travel media which you collect, cut into pieces. Stick on train tickets.  Get places to rubber stamp your notebook, then draw later.  The key to an illustrated travel journal is words plus images done NOW, not later.  You can’t plan what the pages will look like in advance, but you can enter the moment and use everything in front of you.  Don’t be a purist and don’t try to have each page make sense.  That is your perfectionism speaking, and it will stop your daily travel journaling like an anvil dropping on the head of Wile E. Coyote .  I did this page with a plate of paella in front of me, looking at a Roman arch hung with hats.  Even if you did only collage and crayons and words, no drawing at all, it might be more amazing than you could imagine when you started.

Tip #3: Do it daily and do it anywhere.

 

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The Cafe Moderno, established 1912. Fountain lady and urn.

I did this one waiting at a fountain for it to be time to see a movie at night. Please do not wait to do your travel journal page for the day.   It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece.  This page had a healing quality for me, as I was stuck in this town as my foot mended from a minor– but threatening to become major– blister infection.   I did work on the train and in cafes.  I am not a dedicated urban sketcher, braving snow and balancing on stools.  These pages do not capture a “thing,”; they address time, space and emotion.  They are not as good if you wait for the “right” scene or right place to draw or even a better idea.  Do it now, with your crummy view and the mediocre idea in front of you.  “If you’re not with the one you  love, love the one you’re with.”

I kept an authentic, daily travel journal as a pilgrim in Spain, carrying a tiny bundle of sketching materials. You can see some of my pilgrim sketches here, or read my Camino de Santiago story.

Upcoming Events and Classes

Sunday, November 4, 2018 10:00 AM,  Lecture/Slideshow for SketchKon Art Convention,Westin Hotel Pasadena, Pasadena, CA . “Inner Reportage:” How a Lousy Sketcher and Lazy Hiker Drew an Illustrated Travel Journal on the Camino de Santiago Pilgrim Way.”

Saturday, November 17, 2018, 5-9:30 PM-  SOFA Winterblast. SOFA Arts District on South A Street, Santa Rosa, CA.  This locally-famous free art and street festival includes a parade with decorated couches.  Follow updates on Facebook.  This year, Saltworkstudio will feature work by Tim Haworth as well as my paintings.

First Friday, December 7, 2018, 5-8 PM, Ring the Bells, an informal holiday event. Backstreet Gallery, SOFA Arts District, South A Street, Santa Rosa. Bring your own chimes and bells to ring as you walk through winter studios to enjoy hot cider and live music. The artist Karina Nishi Marcus will have work on display as my guest.

 

Foolish Sketching and Big Nature

fools gathering

Fools flocked and chattered in Occidental, California on Saturday April 4 for a traditional Fools celebration.  Susan Cornelis, Carole Flaherty and I went out to sketch from life.  The subjects were moving and in crowds, for me the toughest kind of sketchbook challenge.

 

Carole Flaherty sketching
Carole Flaherty sketching

Susan and Carole have been participating in Bay Area Urban Sketchers Sketchcrawls.  Carole had a lovely setup with her self-designed travel watercolor set and everything clipped and attached to a small drawing board.  Susan loaned me her tiny Pocket Palette to try.  I’m terrible at this kind of sketching, so it was good to do it on a Foolish day when everything was allowed.  This sort of sketching from life takes plein air to a new level.  It is meditative and process-oriented. My style tends to be more of an illustrated journal, with writing and collage.  I kept a sketchbook through Spain, and at other times,  but am entirely untutored in the finer points of more realistic rendering, and am hoping to improve.

 

Fears of Sketching

I might as well make a checklist of my sketching fears, and get them out of the way as soon as possible.  On Saturday I accomplished all of them.

  1. Fear of doing a really lousy sketch.  Check.  Around 5 times.
  2. Fear of doing a really lousy sketch while others sketching are doing better ones.  Check.
  3. Fear of just not being up to the task— moving figurative subjects.  Check.
  4. Fear of messing up pages in a bound notebook.  They will always be there as flubs. Check.
  5. Fear that if I share the messy process of learning, I will be seen as less accomplished in my painting.   Check.

I was happy to have some of my sketching doctors give me a critique, over Prosecco and prosciutto at the Underwood in Graton.  Here are some of Susan’s sketches from the day.  My Rx:  mechanical pencil, slower more continuous lines in ink, some media suggestions.  (I’m hearing that a new-to-me brush pen favorite is the Pentel.)  I’m taking an online sketching class from Marc Taro Holmes which is really excellent.  There is a new wave of arts education and it lives online.  What if we all came to art school with many skills and techniques, and the ways and means, spiritual and practical, of living as an artist were taught by generous, seasoned masters?

I want to sketch people in life, not in a figure class.  I think my best sketches recently were done in DMVs.  It took me 3 tries to get a replacement for the license which was lost or stolen.  Learning to sketch is a metaphor for letting a new identity emerge.  And it’s not always comfortable.

Big Old Nature

fools blog redwoods

My artist friend Laura Foster Corben and I went into a grove of coastal old-growth redwoods on a misty, rainy day.  It used to have the worlds tallest tree at around 380 feet.  Now taller trees have been measured, but these seem tall enough to me. I was struck by the primitive nature of these trees.  Inverting the black and white lets me see the almost palm-like form of these titans in Montgomery Woods State Natural Preserve.

A sunburst or natural altar of giant roots.
A sunburst or natural altar of giant roots.

fools standing stone ring

The eerie magic of the giant redwood forest puts those sketching fears in their proper, tiny place.