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

 

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

over underworld the sky is falling
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.

 

 

 

 

 

The Cherubim Experiments and Winterblast

Cherubim 1, Suzanne Edminster

I’m doing experimental mark making and painting.  I start with automatic writing on each surface with drawing tools: conte, graphite, China marker, charcoal, oil pastel.  Then I white or obliterate areas of the writing or painting.  I follow ideas as they arise.  From automatic writing I get ideas and phrases.  An example: “History seeks to remember the mantra.”

I am fascinated with the process of making “sense” of random marks, images, words, and events.   The creativity lies not so much in the painting process as in the slow excavation of meaning out of fields of chance.

As I worked on this series of 3 20″ x 20″ paper pieces, the word “Cherubim” appeared to me.  Originally lions and bulls with wings, they “devolved” into Valentine Cherubs.  Cherubim guard the Tree of Life.   Cherubim guard The Big Chair, that is, God’s Throne:  Chair-u-bim. It seems that floating forms, surreal automatism, and a bit of religious icon are melding in this series.

Experiments are risky.  That’s why they call it “risk taking” and not “sure thing making.”  Below you can see one in progress.  I know they are done when a certain internal narrative about them crystallizes like rock candy in my mind. The point of “finishing” is in my psyche,  not in the painting itself.

Process painting in the Cherubinm series
Process painting in the Cherubim series

I think the real old-style Cherubim would be terrifying, more like wheels of UFO flame or hybrid winged lions, yet we know that sometimes monsters guard the gates we must enter as artists. I go forward with some trust in the process. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition, friends.

Suzanne

If you’re in Northern California this Saturday, November 14, come to Winterblast, the best homemade holiday EVER.  I’ll be there with the studio doors open… if I’m not dancing in the street.

Winterblast 2015!
Winterblast 2015!

Ancient Egyptian Blue: How the World’s First Synthetic Pigment Is Producing Tomorrow’s Brave—and Colorful–New World

Just for fun, a news flash on the first known ancient synthetic pigment from Egypt. It hovers between aquamarine and lapis. Even sculptures from the Parthenon show traces of it. Now I have to pull myself away from youtube videos of snoring hummingbirds and ruby-eyed lavender boas. Have a great weekend.

AntiquityNOW

color paletteHave you ever noticed that the AntiquityNOW website has splashes of a particular set of vibrant colors? Perhaps you’ve even found the Our Colors section on our site that reveals the ancient history behind our beauteous array. One color, specifically the deep blue, is particularly intriguing with its 4,500-year-old past, its surprising relevance for today’s scientific inquiry and its future promise for such fields as medicine and communications technology.

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Leaning Into Twenty Fifteen

lanterns by lisa
I am leaning into the curve of 2015. In November I dressed up my studio to honor lights in the darkness by decorating paper lanterns for Winterblast, solstice, and Christmas. I respond strongly to the annual winter darkness, and I’ve heard many other artists say this too. It’s a time of a lot of inspiration seeds or acorns stored to use later in the year. (Don’t hide them so well you can’t find them, though.) I chose two themes, Cave and Matisse. One is glowing in the dark recesses of the past, and one is jumping with color into the future. There’s a link to my instructions for making them at the end.

I did a lot of family things this year. It’s easy to overvalue the things that “show” and are visible. Visual artists do this all the time. Home, family, the elders, and ancestors are the deep roots that feed us, invisibly. I cooked a goose and that was very complicated indeed, but was delicious. It was called “roast beef” in the past because the sliced goose is brown and really does taste like beef. And why not? Geese are land grazers, the cows of the bird world. I did this as an edible metaphor to kick off my work on my new series for 2015, The Goose Game. The Christmas goose is eaten, though wishbone, stock and fat are left– the old ways. Come on over and I’ll roast potatoes in goose fat for you– I got that hint from a 1940s James Beard cookbook and they are amazing.

My Goose is Cooked and a Cat Likes It Just Fine
My Goose is Cooked and a Cat Likes It Just Fine

I’ll be starting a Goose Game monotype series soon, using Akua soy inks and etching press. You can come along for the ride: I’ll be posting process photos and blogs. January is coming to an end and a new year is unfurling like a fern frond. Lean into that spiral. Here are Saltworkstudio’s lantern instructions. Enjoy.

Art According to Starbucks

I’m in an anonymous Starbuck’s in a LA suburb town.  It’s next to my mom’s old folks home and I use it for handy breaks and internet.  I look up and suddenly  I notice that I’ve  somehow I’ve fallen into a mixed media collage.

The drawn teapot is "finished" to the right in the negative space of sign and window.
The drawn teapot is “finished” to the right in the negative space of sign and window.

Okay, I decide to analyze the art.  Above we see a very popular style.  Its components: handwriting, chalk effect, white lines over a surface.  So ironic. Handwriting is arguably dying and it is probable the artist who designed this never saw a real chalkboard.  “Courier New” typeface is also popular with the crowd who’ve never used an actual typewriter.

Torn collage pieces
Torn collage pieces

Irregular transparent torn pieces, stencil underneath, and a painterly wash of white obscures the “canvas”.

Wall-sized mural detail
Wall-sized mural detail

It struck me that mixed media has entered mainstream art.  Notice use of maps, “encaustic”– the waxy seal– and graphite-looking line work.

Fantasy animal
Fantasy animal

The animal looks like it was assembled from transparent transfers of non-copyright material, similar to transfers from Dover beloved of Trader Joe’s brown paper bags.

Starbuck's mixed media
Starbuck’s mixed media

The original of this whole wall might have been under a yard wide.  It does look as if it was done as a physical rather than digital artwork, but I might be wrong.  A small piece photographed at high resolution can become huge.

Transparency, graphite lines, white lines, torn pieces, transfers, encaustic, canvas, washes, chalky lines:  mixed media today, and all can be imbibed visually along with that decaf soy latte.

Painting Journal 2: Over Underworld

Over Underworld, acrylic on canvas, 36" x 48"
Over Underworld, acrylic on canvas, 36″ x 48″

The Over Underworld series features high horizons and chaotic, rich undergrowth. You can climb up and down the layers of it, and the black ink spatters underneath sometimes look like animal forms. The top has modern, intereference paint; the top invokes architecture, the conscious mind, technology and civilization. It’s shiny and bright, while the underpart is rough.

The concept behind each art piece is as vital to me as the finished work… often more vital. Abstract work has its own demands because it is unmoored from the anchor of representation and floating out at sea.

Students ask me, “How do I know it’s finished?” I think my true answer is that it’s finished when your dialogue or conversation with the painting is somehow complete. This is true whether or not the painting is a “success” at the moment. Ask your questions not ABOUT the painting, but TO it. If you can know it as complete, whole, and satisfying, your viewer will as well. Knowing an abstract painting is finished is also an abstract idea!

I believe we shouldn’t dwell too much on the underworld, the unconscious, the uncivilized. We don’t need to invite it. It will always come to us unbidden, as these paintings did to me.

Art Hearts

A White Ago by Suzanne Edminster
A White Ago by Suzanne Edminster

This is “A White Ago.” The title was taken from an e e cummings poem. He was one of the most romantic poets of our time, and a painter.

Painting with hearts is tricky. You always are in danger of falling over the boundary into treacly greeting card territory. I liked this notion of a heart in a field of white, time sweeping away old loves and perhaps bringing in the new.

Salamander Winter by Suzanne Edminster
Salamander Winter by Suzanne Edminster

I titled this one Salamander Winter. Again a heart, but there are little salamanders hidden in the base… small fire dragons. My husband, Scott, places boards in wet places to provide little houses for real Arboreal Salamanders in our yard. In alchemy, the salamander represents fidelity and the animal that can survive the flames of adversity. Here’s wishing you luck in love.

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