Some famous researchers into Paleolithic art, David Lewis-Williams and Jean Clottes, believe the ancients may have seen the cave wall or rock shelter surface as a “permeable membrane.” They say that the shamans encountered the spirits coming through that threshhold and, I suppose, immortalized their visions on the rock, so that the image continued to act as a wormhole for spirit. It’s worth hearing it from them:
“The painted images of another world made sense because of their location on the ‘veil’, the interface between materiality and spirituality. The walls of the shelters thus became gateways that afforded access to reals that ordinary people could not visit – but they could glimpse what it was like in that realm as painted images filtered through…”
I like to create a permeable membrane. What comes through are arrangements of lines, ideas. The more random it is, the more I can see. Many more transformations are possible. It’s like ordering chaos, but allowing the background to meld with the foreground, the unconscious with the conscious. There has to be sufficient complexity for the spark to ignite, an invitation for the spirit of creation to arise.
That would make the artist a kind of shaman, though I don’t like that often-misused word. And here’s a painting on that surface, full of random marks. You might not know what will come through and leave its tracks, scratches, and breath on the surface.
The Greek Gods weren’t white! We just think they were. “The Gods in Color: Polychromy in the Ancient World,” recently at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, was a revelation. Using minute traces of residual colors, historical material from past centuries that documented colored temples and statues, and all the resources of modern science, we now can be sure that temples of the gods in ancient Greece may have resembled a set on Black Panther more than a mausoleum.
“Chromophobia” is the fear of color. It may be wrong to apply it to a to a whole society, rather than an individual, but I think that we live in an era of mass chromophobia. Modernism in architecture and decor focuses on neutrals, greys, browns, black and white- with maybe a daring splash of green from a succulent. But from the earliest times, back to the time of Neanderthal woman, we have sought and ground pigments to produce beautiful, durable colors.
Seeing this exhibit reminded me of the gorgeous color in ancient Roman murals I saw when I was in Pompeii, and other examples preserved in the Naples Archaeological Museum. I notice that the stone pigments have a chalky quality with a kind of depth found in modern pastels today. Yummy!
Look at those pinkish stones! Pink was a popular color in ancient times.
I speculate that it was hard to get a sort of true blue-red: Red ocher tends toward sienna/orange/ brown, and any red mixed with a white opaque binder would turn pink. “Rhodophobia” is the fear of pink; someone with this affliction would have had a hard time in ancient Greece, because pink tones were everywhere.
A few hundred years ago it was still possible to see traces of color on Greek temples. Pre-photography, you could go out with your watercolorist and his camera obscura and paint from life. There were still traces of temple color documented in the watercolors of Greek landscapes and monuments by the English antiquarian Edward Dodwell and the Italian artist Simone Pomardi.
The complex friezes of the ancient world take on a vivid, comic book quality in color.
The ancients used all the color available to them. We should too.
Upcoming at Saltworkstudio: “Paleomythic”
I’m pleased to be a co-curator for PaleoMythic, a show opening on May 4, 2018, in Backstreet Gallery. I have long loved ancient art and found inspiration in it. I have joined forces with master printmaker Caren Catterall and three other fine artists to explore our creation of modern myths from ancient sources. I feel like I’ve been waiting ages to do this show… 65,000 years or so! I hope that images recalling the sacred darkness of the cave can dispel some of the darkness rising in our collective souls.
On our road trips last summer, Scott and I developed an idea we called “spiritual congruence.” Every place, every direction we headed, every style of experience– from rough travel to luxury— moved either toward greater congruity with the flow or time or what was needed… or away from it. For example, spiritual congruence on a camping trip might produce a campsite like this one, on the Olympic National Park peninsula.
This was a campsite that “just happened” to be open in the busiest campground in the National Park, just when we needed it, without reservation.
We first invented the term when we landed at a cabin that looked great on Yelp, but felt really soulless. It was expensive and unsettling… it was supposed to be the “honeymoon cabin” but it was coldly over-decorated in black and grey, graveyard colors, an attempt at modernity and elegance that failed and became merely frigid and depressing. We had hoped for a cozy, kitschy, pine paneled little place. We were surprised at how disturbing it was. After all, we had weathered true travel crises with equanimity and humor. But the vibe was bad. We started talking about it. There was no congruity with who we were or what we wanted from the trip. We sacrificed a hundred bucks, took the hit, and checked out.
The last time we experienced this deep disquiet, an anxiety bordering on fear, was on another road trip when we were heading to the Badlands of North Dakota. We wanted to see Mount Rushmore. As we drove, an overwhelming oppression enveloped us. It was so profound that we decided to cancel our trip. We checked into a motel, where we both had nightmares all night, and turned right around the next day. Perhaps it was the blood-soaked, coal-ripped country around us, the country of so many Native American massacres. Or maybe the earth itself was bleeding from strip mining.
Spiritual congruence is a flow state where outer world and inner move together. We got up before dawn to go tidepooling on Beach 4; light, water, and tidal treasures.
Sometimes it doesn’t come too easily. We were only 10 miles away from Dungeness Point, yet could not find fresh, cooked, whole crab for a whole week. We only found overpriced restaurants with crab salads and such. I even tried crabbing, with no luck! We finally found a roadside stand after hard searching. We cracked our crab congruency and ate it without butter on paper plates… ahhh.
My yurt at Ojai, with alstromeria I was taking back to plant at home
Ojai, lizard swallowing bug bigger than his head.
Keep Klickitat County Green sign
At my aunt’s beach cottage on Puget Sound, on her porch looking in.
Scott and crab
Near Cape Flattery, Olympic peninsula
Sometimes you can make your own little snail shell world so you can be spiritually congruent on the beach even on a rainy day. This setup of campfire in a can, beach shelter, and lowboy chairs makes even a windy, cold day a beach day.
I am very interested in those states where, even where there might be discomfort, there is a larger flow or current of rightness, agreement, moving together: spiritual congruency. How can our little lives be folded in like egg whites to the cake batter of the wide and glorious world? I sense it more in travel than in my daily life. But it must exist everywhere, in minor and major states of grace. I think a lot about how to make my life more like the road trip it really is.
I am open for Art Trails this year in Studio 33 one more weekend, on October 17 and 18. Come visit. I have the Camino notebook pages up, and have decided to take the plunge and make a book.