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4 images: work in progress of Moche Ear Plug replica chair, faux turquoise and gold, 29 x 29 x 29 inches mixed media furniture.
The Moche culture lived on the north coast of Peru between 100 BC and AD 700. With no writing system, they left incredible representations of their activities through art on clothing, pottery, jewelry, architecture, and hunting weapons, illustrating themes like ceremonies, supernatural beings and warfare. This chair is a replica of an Ear Plug – one from a pair -found in the tomb of the Lord of Sipan, one of two large tombs discovered in 1987 just north of the village with the same name. Accompanied by sacrificed members of his court and wearing beautifully crafted cotton garments, the highly regarded king died at 30 years of age and was buried with ornaments, carefully placed crowns and various types of jewelry made of gold, gilded copper, shell, feathers, and precious gems. Over 250 ceramics were found, as well as figurines, banners, helmets, scepters and rattles.
The Muscovy duck was a symbol of water abundance to Moche society, and they revered gold as symbol of the light and sun. The color gold is associated with higher ideals, spirituality, wisdom and understanding. For thousands of years, Turquoise mining and adornment has spanned all cultures, prized as a symbol of nobility, invoking luck, protection, and the power of immortality.
The first four first four Chairs were re-purposed second-hand store original Solaire Chairs, but I have found a decent source for new ones, so finally some ideas I’ve had for years can be realized, and special orders can now be filled. With thin applications of plaster then sanding and waiting for successive layers to dry, four new Chairs, 29 x 29 x 29 inches, started April 5th are now in progress, concentrating on the details of two while the others cure. One chair, the priority, is of Shiva as The Lord of Dance, and one chair is an addition to the Zen Garden series. The third is a large replica of a Moche culture (1st century Peru) earring/ear plug, and the fourth chair will portray an Easter Island theme, something I’ve had in mind since I bought the very first chairs in the 1990’s. Until refining stages, the four can be worked at the same time while plaster is added, cures and is sanded down.
Shiva as Nataraja chair in progress
The Lord of Dance symbolism
Eastern philosophy is full of symbolism for concepts much deeper than words could ever express. The teachings are so complex but beautifully simple at the same time. Divine concepts are depicted in human forms with worldly items to help us identify somewhat, and increase our understanding toward making healthy decisions in our lives – for mind, body, and soul.
Sculptures, pictures, and literature are charged with multiple meanings and contradictions conveying the extremes in Life, like the existence of intense joy and pain, and the importance of balance in day to day living, and practicing a middle road of contentment. The interpretations here only outline the more prominent symbolism of this famous icon. As research continues, this article will elaborate on the most important symbols of this sculpture.
The purpose of the dance is to release us from our ignorance and entanglement in the world of opposites, all set within the circular, rhythmic motion of the universe. We are to acknowledge, yet remain detached by their effects. It is said that Truth requires detachment and at the same time, knowledge and acceptance.
There are different names for the Hindu god, Shiva in his various forms. Though an ascetic, Shiva’s role is as householder, implying that we need not leave society to be devoted to following principles of Dharma; conduct; right way of living. In the aspect depicted here, Lord Shiva creates, sustains, and destroys life. As The Nataraja, he dances within the world of illusion, represented by an outer ring of fire. There is an inner ring of water, and some statues show multiple rings of fire and water. As he victoriously dances upon the demon of ignorance, Shiva’s matted dreadlocks whirl about him, capturing a number of heavenly bodies, like the physical representation of the sacred river Ganges, which fell from heaven to earth, first landing in Shiva’s hair so as not to destroy it. The moon is symbolic of many things, such as seasonal changes, life’s rejuvenation and love, all kept active with this dance.
The gestures of the dance represent Shiva’s five activities: creation (symbolized by the drum), protection (by the “fear-not” pose of the hand), destruction (by the fire), embodiment (by the foot planted on the ground), and release (by the foot held above ground). Snakes coiling about his body symbolize the life force within all of us – the Shakti or kundalini – and display his power over the most deadly of creatures. Also, as snakes shed their skin, so do our souls reincarnate, according to Hindu beliefs.
In this visual translation, the symbol of Om, first sound uttered in the Universe, weaves throughout, as if to involve a complete sensory understanding. All hand gestures have specific meanings, like the open front right hand facing us in “abhayamudra” gesture, denoting reassurance and safety for all who follow a righteous path. The drum in his right hand beats ceaselessly and infinitely, “Om”, while the universe is created, destroyed and recreated. The back left hand holds flames of fire, with both destructive and cleansing properties. The front left arm is held across the chest like an elephant’s trunk, with the hand pointing to the left leg and foot, lifted as a sign of liberation as the sacred elephant leads the way through jungles of ignorance.
The design is partially engraved with pencil in damp plaster, with the addition and removal of small areas of plaster, then carving as well. The design is refined very slowly with successive layers of plaster and paint which also creates a mottled sort of patina, perfect for this subject.
The icon on the finished chair will be gold-bronze colors, as the Shiva as Nataraj sculptures are traditionally made of bronze. Plans are for the background to be antiqued cobalt blue or teal.
“Art is a human activity having for its purpose the transmission to others of the highest and best feelings to which [humanity has] risen.”
Creating art is always a personal endeavour, and every so often I’m drawn to study only for the deeper experience of it; for the kind of education and understanding that can’t come through reading or any other means. Here is a painting I started in May, along with links and information about a unique culture, a group of Russian immigrants who made significant contributions to Canada and the development of the Canadian prairies. Next week I’ll be driving up to Alberta through Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan where some of the Doukhobors, whom I’ve just recently learned are part of my own heritage, settled during the 19th century. Upon returning from this final leg of summer travel there is another painting commission to complete, so I’ll be blogging regularly again and finishing this painting in about two months.
“Toil and Peaceful Life” (quote, Peter V. Verigin), 24 x 36 x 2 inches acrylics on canvas. Study only, NFS, work in progress: There are harsh contrasts and colors at this stage, so am planning to paint over the whole surface with my friend Virginia’s white wash formula (1/2 guesso, 1/4 matte medium and 1/4 water), then will gradually bring out details again by scrubbing areas away with a wet cloth and repainting as well. Further layers of siennas, umbers, pale yellows, unbleached titanium washes etc. will be treated the same way.
When the light bulb on my sewing machine burnt out – it won’t work without one – I could have hopped in the car and driven three blocks to go buy another, but instead made due hemming a garment by manually spinning the wheel on the machine. I had already started the above painting referring to an old photo of 16 Doukhobor women pulling and two men directing a plow as they tilled the land in southern Manitoba, Canada’s eastern-most prairie province, during the late 1800’s. This is one of the more powerful images portraying the character of the Doukhobors, who left their homeland in Russia because of religious persecution, never allowed to return, becoming the largest mass immigration in Canadian history.
I’ve often wondered how it must have been for women in the past, considering all of the chores that raising a family and taking care of the home must have entailed. On top of that, there was little relief from extreme weather conditions as, for example, during the heat of summer all of these responsibilities were done wearing long dresses, petticoats and bonnets. I guess it was with this in mind that I endured impatiently sewing my jeans without electricity.
The small amount of soil I turn over in the garden is planted mostly with flowers. The few veggies that are novel to watch grow from seed to fruition are not crucual to the survival of my family. While I’m purchasing ready-wound thread on a plastic bobbin, I can select from a number of food choices and shop during any time of day, 24 hours a day in a 7 day week. Todays’ lifestyles are so far removed from the realities that pioneers in any land must have faced. Living in small communities where all could share the work as well as morally support each other made complete sense. So it was for the Doukhobors, living a philosophy very similar to the Hutterites, the Mennonites, and the Amish.
Photos are photos and paintings are paintings, but as traditional artists we can take advantage of the art of photography as inspiration to trigger motivation and memories, recreate impressions, and refer to for details. If photos are used as reference, very soon after painting begins I rely on and respond more to what’s happening on the canvas. For some time before putting brush to canvas, every detail of a subject adds to an internal mental picture, one that gradually envisions the painting finished to a certain degree. In some cases I’ll work from pictures of historic art or artifacts as educational studies, or from a client’s photo if they commission the reproduction of a favorite scene. Always though, the resulting art is an emotional translation.
The first thing that strikes me in the enlarged re-re-reproduced print I’m working from is how little the quality of the image matters. The shadows on the faces of each individual say it all. Some appear curious about having their photo taken, and most are more concerned about the task at hand. Though the image is crude by modern standards, and maybe even partly due to it, we are able to share the raw truth of a moment in one of an uncountable number of cultures throughout human history who worked so physically this way. For most of our time here on earth, we, like all of nature, knew we depended on the land, and it truly was survival of the fittest. I can only hope to capture the calibre of this story as well as the photo does.
Sometimes a painting can never be as effective as a photo, particularly when it comes to human portraits. In intances like this, there is so much value in “the journey” of your efforts. Painting such a scene, it really is like being transported. Of course the goal is to make the work successful, and artists all hope and plan for sales, but we also need to make time for creating work that feeds our soul and brings us back to the inner sources that pulled us into this not-always-externally-fulfilling vocation in the first place. When I recommend forgetting the rules and listening to your own, that’s what I mean. Even if you have never tried to paint or draw before, or you think you don’t have enough skill, you are as capable as anyone if you are spurred on by your emotions toward subjects you love, using whatever methods you enjoy.
Facebook – group intro:
“Toil and Peaceful Life”
The name Doukhobor means “spirit wrestler”. Although many of their beliefs descended from Christianity, being a Doukhobor is more of a way of life than a religion. Doukhobors are a group of pacifists that came to Canada from Russia to escape persecution for their beliefs at the end of the 19th century. The most well known leader of the Doukhobors was Peter ‘Lordly’ Verigin. The Doukhobors established communites across Western Canada, many times cultivating land that was not seen as desirable. There are still reminants of Doukhobor villages primarily in British Columbia and Saskatchewan.
“…The settlers found Saskatchewan winters much harsher than those in Transcaucasia, and were particularly disappointed that the climate was not as suitable for growing fruits and vegetables. Many of the men found it necessary to take non-farm jobs, especially in railway construction, while the women stayed behind to till the land…”
The Doukhobors: 16th Century Russia to Canada, 2010
The origin of the Doukhobors is fairly dubious, but some information dates the culture back to 16th and 17th century Russia. Deeply spiritual, the “Doukho-borets”, which literally means “spirit wrestlers”, rejected common orthodox practices of organized religions and society, including the worship of icons and individual land ownership. As pacifists, their motto was “Toil and Peaceful Life”.
After refusing allegiance to Tsar Nicholas and military service, in 1895, they burnt all of their weapons in response to this. (The date, June 28th, has become a day of celebration of their humble roots.) Facing persecution for their beliefs, over 7,000 Doukhobors sought refuge in Canada starting in 1899.
The Doukhobors’ passage across the Atlantic Ocean was largely paid for by Quakers and Tolstoyans, who sympathized with their plight, and by the writer Leo Tolstoy, who arranged for the royalties from his novel Resurrection, his story Father Sergei, and some others, to go to the migration fund. He also raised money from wealthy friends. In the end, his efforts provided half of the immigration fund, about 30,000 rubles.
* Multicultural Canada http://multiculturalcanada.ca/node/48207
With sympathy from the Canadian government, for a $10 fee each adult male was intitially provided with 160 acres of “free land” on the prairies of central Canada; present day Saskatchewan and Manitoba. They were expected to live on and break the land, plant crops, and eventually apply for a patent to own it.
During 1906, a new Parliamentary Minister revised their previous agreement to laws that commanded a pledge of allegiance to the Crown or else lose their homesteads. In 1907, 2,500 homesteads were cancelled, causing communal splits into three distinct groups. The largest group of Doukhobors, incuding Peter Verigin, the man who had re-documented and defined their Orthodox faith, moved to British Columbia. The “Sons of Freedom” also went to B.C., but were radically different than the Community Doukhobors. They actively protested (sometimes nude!) issues arising from Canadian governmental control over their way of life, creating misunderstandings and negativity toward Doukhobors in general that remain to this day. The “Independents” maintained their homesteads in Saskatchewan in compliance with the new Canadian laws.
1908 to 1912: Peter Veregin’s group purchased land in the West Kootenays, B.C. and developed large communal enterprises. The Doukhobors now call themselves the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB), situated in Brilliant, B.C..
Cycad Fossil Chair, Salish NW Pacific culture wooden whorl replica Chair, and Ancient Mayan bowl replica refurbished vintage chair, 29 x 29 x 29 inches mixed media. Read the feature article.
On exhibit and available for purchase February 11th – 27th at Visual Image Fine Art Puiblishing and Gallery Juried Show, 14320 Midway Road, Suite 300, Dallas, Texas. Come and meet all the Artists at the Opening Reception this coming Saturday, Feb. 13th, 3 – 9 p.m.
Good Artist Pals also come in threes
Some friendships will last forever, and how fortunate that three of mine also happen to be artists! Listed in no particular order of favoritism, each are miles apart geographically speaking and personality-wise, but they all have one thing in common: they’ll tell it like it is if you ever need a good critique, and on the flip side of the coin: a smile, a boost of energy; encouragement. I’ve posted my favorite works created by each, and highly recommend browsing each of their websites..
a) Chris Bolmeier: Happy Pigs, Oil on canvas I met Chris on the internet three years ago through Robert Genn’s Painter’s Keys newsletters. Formerly an actress and professional singer, she’s not through yet with entertaining you through humour, song and paint. She often posts mini-videos of herself singing, and her artwork is pure, straight from the gut, and some of the funniest, most original material ever. I chose this piece to share as an absolute favorite, portraying fanatically goofy pigs because it makes me laugh…not just smile, but laugh Christerically every time I look at it. In my opinion her best work is of childhood memories, and some of the baffling stuff that originates from who knows where in the infinite canvas of her mind!
b) Karen Xarchos: Restaurant mural in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada Karen and I were neighbors many years ago. We designed and painted murals together in the Ottawa area for a couple of years. Thank goodness for the internet, we’re able to keep in touch when either of us needs a good eye and some honest advice. Karen’s style and mine are vastly different; our pace, the style, the manner and we continue to learn so much from each other. She reminds me to slow down and smell the paint; her blending techniques are amazing.
Karen accepts commissions for canvas pieces like wall borders painted at home, then cleverly installs them with wallpaper paste so home owners can remove the work and take it with them when they relocate. My favorite work of Karen’s are the murals depicting work of the Masters, which are enjoyed by customers dining in many of the Greek and Italian restaurants in the Ottawa area.
c) Virginia Wieringa: Prayer, mixed media collage Virginia and I met about four years ago on an Artists’ interactive website, wetcanvas.com, and I think she still participates there under the avatar name “Veedubya”. I’m positive she’d love to meet you there too. Virginia has well-developed drawing and painting abilities and currently experiments intuitively with mixed media collage. Her work, no matter what the media, reflects her open-mindedness and strong sense of spirituality. Formerly an Art teacher, she’s fun to write to because she puts up with my inner-most silly self and doesn’t hold back her own. My favorite work of Virginia’s are the subtly symbolic collages, and some of the more vivid, energetic paintings that are about two phases pre-Realism.
The Tree of Life, 29 x 29 x 29 inches mixed media; refurbished vintage plastic lawn chair, woven canvas strips and white glue, thin layers of drywall compound: cured, sanded, carved, acrylics paint, varnish. Durable, completely functional.
There was an interesting buildup of colors after a lot of changing colors and repainting the design many times, so the impressions of this chair are created like the other chairs in this series; ancient artifact replicas. The back design is still in progress. View an earlier post of this chair, April 18th, 2009, and the other chairs are listed on the Art, Prices page.
The title of a work of art can help sell it, and captions can complete our understanding of a picture, but the most successful works of Art manage well without an explanation. Our visual senses – sight and insight – have a language of their own. Upon viewing anything, multitudes of information are presented and understood simultaneously, almost instantly. With or without color, images are powerful, possibly even more than words, because with the development of human communication, pictures came first. It’s now widely accepted that symbols marked the origins of written language across the world.
It takes much less time to perceive than it does to write about it. For a hands-on illustration of this, draw a simple Smiley Face, and note the time that it takes to draw it. Afterward write down everything that comes to mind about that icon; what it means, other general impressions and associations. Although this is a familiar icon with clear connotations, possibly something we see every day now, plus almost all of us have drawn it at some point, within seconds of describing it you will realize how much longer it takes to interpret as quickly into words. Harvey Ball, the original artist of the Smiley Face icon must be flabbergasted that succeeding generations would come to coin the term, “emoticons”, based on an indefinite number of facial expressions that spawned from the first, including animated ones that wink and cry, and more.
April 18th, above: still in an extremely rough state, and still deciding about which colors to use and how. There must be much more plaster on the Salish chair, because this one is not carving as well. Only the Shou symbol will stand out carved..all else will be implied. Blue, purple and green are the new black! Actually that’s the old Impressionist trick of course, but I also rarely use black if those 3 will do – they are much more lively and interesting than flat black. The Yin-Yang/Aboriginal legend snakes have been eliminated because working them in color-wise was going to be a problem. The Celtic design was getting lost in too much else around it. I am anxious to find another chair because I really want to do one with Australian-inspired motifs and colors.
Post-dated note: Unfortunately there is not enough room to show this for the premier of the Trees show in Raleigh. I’m mostly relieved that there is extra time in my schedule now for preparations, but this chair now needs to be set aside in light of the other priorities.
April 14th: 29 x 29 x 29 inches vintage chair, canvas strips, layers of sanded plaster.
The design incorporates a few esoteric concepts common to many world cultures: Overall is the idea of the Tree of Life and the theory of As above, So below, represented by branches and roots. Symbolic of longevity along with the pine tree, and central to the design is the Japanese character Shou. The branches and roots of the pine tree are interwoven in the classic Celtic style, inspired by designs in the Book of Kells, gospel manuscripts that were illustrated by Irish monks around the year 800 A.D., common era. Two snakes drawn in the Yin-Yang placement represent Australian Aboriginal legends; the Rainbow Snake is their most important sacred symbol, believed to be the creator of all things. Christian biblical literature it is the snake who gives the apple from the Tree of Knowledge to Eve. There are more, but the rest you may like to discover yourself!
There is still plenty of intricate work to do with the roots – this’ll be fun! Drawing freehand is much better than casting the original drawing on with light and tracing it because each time it’s drawn, first with graphite, then marker, then many layers of paint, I become more familiar with the lines and the final outline will be steady and clean.
April 7, 2009: While studying some of the previous paintings that are still in progress, I sketched out my version of The Tree of Life, a preliminary drawing for the fourth refurbished vintage chair, and have also been layering and sanding the plaster in preparation for it. Colors planned are black, off-white and greens. The other 3 chairs in this series are shown on the price list page.
Each functional, comfortable 29 x 29 x 29 inch replica of ancient Art or artifact re-utilizes vintage plastic lawn chairs that were considered Art during the 1960’s. The original structures, damaged or unusable were refurbished by a process of weaving canvas strips along with white glue paper-mache style over the entire plastic top and bottom, and multiple layers of drywall compound sanded in between coats. Designs are drawn with graphite, painted with Acrylics and a few coats of varnish for durability, then waxed to finish and enrich the colors. Two more Solaire chairs and other styles of chairs are in various stages of completion yet to be embellished with historic Art themes from other cultures. Other styles of chairs are also in progress.
The skeletal structure of these chairs, called Solaire chairs, were manufactured during the 1960s and 1980s. Art in their own day, these particular ones were unusable; in poor condition they were bound for the landfill sight. Originals designed by Fabiano and Panzini, a French Canadian team, the Solaire chairs are now collectors items, some selling for $500 a piece.
The first chair given a facelift produced a large replica of a Mayan bowl. The Mayan culture (Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and parts of Honduras, 900 B.C. – 900 A.D. Common Era) developed a very complex written language using pictographs. Many of these were facial expressions and hand gestures. The bowl displays the birth of the Maize God, and along the top edge the name of the bowl’s owner is written, as well as possibly what it was used for.
Salish Carved Wood Whorl
Whorls are weights that stabilize spindles used for spinning yarn. The yarn in this case would have been wound just above the whorl. Spinning yarn and weaving fabric are some of humankind’s oldest technology. Left: example of a spindle with whorl, Eve Spinning Illuminated Manuscript c. 1170 A.D.
Historically everywhere wood has been used for tools, utensils and everyday items, they were often carved. This spindle whorl was used by a Salish Northwest Pacific coast community living south and east of Vancouver Island. Here a central human figure holds two otters. A Kwakiutl (also living in Vancouver Island territory) prayer to a Cedar tree prayer was very much a part of the inspiration for this chair. It reads: “Look at me friend! I come to ask you for your dress, since there is nothing you cannot be used for. I come to beg you for this, Long-life maker”.
December 18th: Finishing details, further definition with Acrylics and two coats of varathane, waxed. Decided against the decoupage of the Kwakiutl (also living in Vancouver Island territory) prayer to a Cedar tree because it does not look as good as hoped. December 16th: Carved the plaster in areas then inlaying purple for contrast rather than black. Purple glazes also make yellows much richer. Right: back of chair, rubbed off areas give a carved effect. The undercoat of yellows shines through succeeding layers, and carved wood textures are created with varathane leaving raised brushstrokes..and trying whatever else I can think of! More modeling with plaster and light sanding, then redrawing with graphite, and the design is continually adjusted.
This functional replica of a Salish Carved Wood Whorl re-utilizes a 1960’s plastic lawn chair, 29 x 29 x 29 inches that was considered Art in its own day. The refurbished chair has woven canvas strips and white glue applied paper-mache style over the entire plastic top and bottom. Multiple layers of wall plaster are sanded in between coats. The design is sketched with graphite then painted with acrylics, and drawing is continually adjusted as layering of materials continues.
This is the second chair of four in the historic Art-themed series. The other two chairs are in the earlier stages of progress.
Great moments in painting – the addictive kind – are when you completely lose yourself in the work and time is non-existent. I’ve had a good week with this one, partly because of struggles overcoming the habit of trying to control the outcome. Things happen in every painting that are not planned, and the endless choices are part of the fun.
At this phase some solid strokes need softening again; finding a balance between the two. The lighting is the biggest challenge so far, plus making a subtle transition in style from top to bottom and foreground to back that will bring our attention back to the top half of the painting. Now, how do I go about doing that I wondered, I only have a hunch. After adding mid-tones a couple of days ago there were second thoughts about doing so, because the whole painting became dull and flat, entirely not what I wanted it to be. Briefly discouraged, I thought this painting would join the I-don’t-know-what to-do-next pile. When unsure I look for answers in the very basics, like concentrating on what I do know for sure, rather than what I don’t.
I do know for sure want the glow of magic, so yesterday took a leap into the darkness with pure colors straight from the tube. There’s a huge sense of freedom trying something out – and ironically the more afraid you are the better it is. It’s the intermittent periods of doubt that spur determination to conquer issues and at the same time entice you to quit!
Painting is considered to be a two dimensional undertaking, but it’s so much more. While lost in the work process we explore all the dimensions of the subject plus the deeper dimensions of ourselves. While painting we discover our convictions and the means to ask how far are we willing to go to stand up for them. Work every day is about continually reevaluating decisions, taking responsibility for choices made, being honest about mistakes, shortcomings and limitations of media and self, and digging deep to find technical and intuitive solutions. It’s about control of all those elements combined with easing up on trying to control too much. All this and more translates onto a flat surface as we hope to give the illusion of depth…if that isn’t magic I don’t know what is!
Post-dated Note: When choosing this totem pole that is erected in Thunderbird Park at the RBC Museum in Victoria I didn’t realize that it’s the same one that Emily Carr painted in 1928. More magic! Here is a link to more information about this totem, the Gitxsan Pole moved from Gitanyow (formerly Kitwankool) B.C. Also on the July 24th post« Previous Entries