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

 

 

A Heavenly Lake of Beer: St. Brigid’s Day Blessing

I publish this each year at this time to remind us of great lakes of beer, lambs, groundhogs, milkmaids, and miracles.  This includes St. Brigid’s Blessing, well worth reading.  Tired of groundhog day?  Celebrate St. Brigid instead.

Saint Patrick, meet your better half!
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  Brigid is a jolly saint of babies, poets, cows, scholars, travelers, and beer (the last attribution mine).  She’s a vernal saint associated with the green fire of rising spring energy. Her Day is February 2,  Imbolc. In Celtic mythology this the beginning of pre-spring, lambing, and lactation… birth and milk in the animal folk. She is a patron Saint of milk and milk givers, beast and human.

Groundhog Day was formerly Bear Day.  It’s time for us all to come out of the winter hibernation now.  Artists, this means you.  And in this year of drought,  a bit of St. Brigid’s spring rain would be very healing.

She studied under St. Patrick, founded her own convent, and tended the poor.  Some– I am one– think that she surpassed him in his time.

I often do series cow series that I associate with her, but what I love about her is this list of her best and deepest wishes for the world.  Read through to the last two lines, then get yourself a brewsky.

I would like the angels of Heaven to be among us.
I would like an abundance of peace.
I would like full vessels of charity.
I would like rich treasures of mercy.
I would like cheerfulness to preside over all.
I would like Jesus to be present.
I would like the three Marys of illustrious renown to be with us.
I would like the friends of Heaven to be gathered around us from all parts.
I would like myself to be a rent payer to the Lord; that I should suffer distress, that he would bestow a good blessing upon me.
I would like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings.
I would like to be watching Heaven’s family drinking it through all eternity.

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Left Behind

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Here in Porto, Portugal, I´m sitting in a beautiful hostel, a real hostel this time, that has won many prizes. It´s in a renovated townhouse in the center of old Porto: high French windows in each room, billowing white curtains, views of the port and river. I am in a woman´s dorm of six, and am about to go upstairs to a breakfast, up the old wooden stairs to the rooftop kitchen area. Once again, I feel like I am borne along on some gentle river of right place, right time. And there´s a computer that seems to work.

I left things behind, and lost things, on this trip.  Let´s start with the physical.  That pack is your home, and when things are lost or stolen, the shock is disproportionate.  I lost three items, probably because I left them behind~~ sarong, prescription sunglasses, and a pair of underwear.

This whole trip I have been experimenting with flow. I decided that when things went wrong, that was a signal to stop and do something else, in other words, to actually change something. I think it was Einstein that said you can´t solve problems on the level they were created, but have to step outside them to another place.  This loss of items sounds laughable when I list it, but these losses caused my stomach to lurch.  In the damp weather, having only two pairs of underwear left me no margin of error for drying them.  The sarong was my security item~~ scarf, pillowcase, bedcover, blanket, modesty while changing, and a curtain for my bunk if I wanted privacy.  Oh, and it was my towel too.  And sunglasses.

When I encountered bad events, feelings, and bad days, I had the time to do a few existential experiments.  My idea was that if things were going wrong, or I was freaked out, I could change my ideas and plans to something that felt better.  This sounds so simple, but often in life we are bent on a course.  If you have an awful work day, you stay at work and tough it out.  But I didn´t have to do that here.

So when I lost things, or became fearful of hiking alone in the green, dripping Galician woods, I could read these as gentle nudges to change plans.  It worked well.  When I got an infected blister, it gave me two days in a hotel room to reconsider how I approached the walk.  I think one reason my walk was so wonderful is that I let painful signs actually give me a message to change, and I could act on them.

I also had some bad dreams on the Camino.  I think that we brush through layers of religion, history, blood and war when we walk through these places.  The cathedrals are full of blood, bones, skulls, body parts, and monsters, the gargoyles.  When you start to align yourself with the good, I think the shadow can be activated.  I am used to this.  I often have bad dreams when I start innovative creative projects.  When you step outside your comfort zone, your subconcious mind knows it.  There is often a kickback, like firing a gun.   I believe all dreams are meant to help us, and are messages, so I don´t worry as much about uncomfortable dreams as I used to.

The Camino is a metaphor.  How wonderful to leave things behind!  I could leave the dream in a church, or at a tree, or in a cafe, and hike on.  All of life is a process of leaving things behind.  We can read that as loss, or a new chance.  I did my final leaving behind of deep things at the alter of St. James.  I left behind the same things the ancients did:  old wounds and sins and temptations, atonement.  I feel like I literally left them behind for the saint, or history, or nature, or God, to return to the cycle of the universe.  We leave things behind and face the new day freer.

By the way, after I started this post, I found my blue sarong in a ball in the bottom of my pack!  My friend returned!  Ah, synchronicity.  Go figure.