Ruins of the Human Ideal, johndockus

In ancient times the human ideal was animated by Divinity whose breaths fanned the creative fire and kept its flames alive, dancing.  That ideal, through the collective confluence of psychic energy which in its surfeit grew splendid, rose like a radiant sun at the dawn of civilization, emanating a light both natural and spectral through the clouds and smoke which highlighted any number of clear, noble forms.  A goddess would appear tossing handfuls of seed over her shoulder onto fertile soil and soon a virgin forest sprang up.  But those times of living myth have vanished.  The uplifting power and grace is gone.

The human ideal, old and wrinkled, is now stretched out on a gurney and hooked up to machines.  Its identity has been stolen.  Against its will its image, emptied of content and falsified, is transmitted to screens worldwide, and kept “updated” or forever young as a nostalgia-filled simulation animated by a trick of manipulated perception projected into a collectively shared virtual space.   As the human ideal withers behind a curtain, its life draining away, signs and symptoms of its deterioration spread and manifest.

The central figure in this image is buried just below to where the ribcage would be, protruding from the ground like a ruin or a remnant of the past.   What spirit if any has taken over and now inhabits and rules this assemblage of both organic and inorganic parts, all stitched and tied together like a puppet, seems to mock us from beyond the grave.

It’s difficult to tell if this figure is alive or really human.  The eyes appear glazed over but still to see.   The upper lip is worn away.   Blood and bodily fluids mingle behind the skin of the face, seep down over the gums and flow between the teeth, in a mouth which seems to smile, but it’s difficult to tell if the facial expression is fixed that way only because rigor mortis has set in. From one nostril a string of mucous flows, and from the other nostril another follows; while out of the top of the head, skin worn through and peeling away, an alien begins to emerge, an otherworldly parasite which has always lurked in the dark cosmic spaces of the human imagination.

At one time this alien may have been only mite-sized; but from its dwindling fear of being annihilated by the rays of the human ideal, it has taken hold in the cold and moist darkness, eating its way through the heart and up into the brain, engorging itself, and has grown large through the process of bodily inhabitation.

The alien however hesitates to push and squirm out of the top of the head when it espies a flying pest, a miniature dragon-queen, with a fluttering veil approaching like a toreador, giddy because high on the stench of rot and decomposition and playful because she may recognize her old friend.

A couple of loosely rolled up herald’s scrolls frame the central figure’s head and neck like some fancy dress shirt collar.  Directly below, out of this grotesque figure’s chest by its own glove – a glove either empty and moved as a lever or perhaps animated by who knows what smaller creatures writhing and wiggling inside – a drawer is pulled open, and out flies winged letters, several swirling up toward the flying dragon-queen’s fluttering veil.   They follow her around as if she wants them to spell out something, while the rest stay behind, densely packed into the drawer’s cavity and jostling for position with each nonetheless making a sound particular to its shape.   Only by chance might some of these winged letters take off and land side by side away from the morass, spelling out a word.  Far less often might a bunch of them be so positioned that they seem to spell out a phrase or a sentence, before the next moment one of them, then a few, followed by the rest are swept back up into the pandemonium.

.   .   .   .   .   .   .

After I completed this image, having had time to reflect on where it might have come from, though summoned and developed subconsciously, I can’t help but to think of Percy Shelley’s short poem Ozymandias, Matthias Grunewald’s black chalk drawing entitled “Head of a shouting man”, Frankenstein the monster, and Alfred Kubin’s ink drawing “The Good Lord”.


  1. Dear John,

    Thank you for your kind praise and interesting observations.

    Your feelings towards poetry seem rather to vindicate Tzara, the progenitor of Dada, whose prose is more electrifying than even Torma’s: ‘those who shout loudest against [poetry] are actually preparing a comfortable perfection for it’. I daresay you might enjoy Tzara’s works.

    As for your own, I find that your proficiency with both words and pictures — and in a way your subject matter — is more than a little Blakean. Your visual work, otherworldly and richly symbolic, has a really menacing quality about it. But it is from your expository prose that I derive greater enjoyment. It is relentless and beautiful and almost Lawrentian at times. I look forward to more.

    • The intelligence of your comment, the care and precision you display in your choice of words, in all your words it appears, is heartening and encouraging, even more so to me because I recognize your own writing does not come without intense thought and effort. Believe me, I understand intimately the personal cost. Sometimes I circle like a hawk over my own work. With sincere appreciation and, if you’re not too proud to take it because you are after all The Colossus, with some return sympathy, I thank you.

  2. This one got me talking.
    Your explorations seem aimed at the inner workings of our beings – literally, the mechanisms inside us that create outward appearances and functions.
    Uncontrollable emanations squeeze out of our bodies, if not fully, enough to tweak our beings via puppetry – the emerging alien, the gremlin in the forearm. I also see it in “Sun Egg…” and “Alienated Mind”. Even “Horror Vacui” appears a mess of guts on the wrong side of the stomach.
    Art reflects reality, as biology, delving ever more microscopically into our selves, finds bacterial partners in our evolution, selecting, switching on, modifying. Even those bacterial beings have bacteria within them, to evolve them suitable to our needs. We are, as in your drawing, a mass of creepy-crawlies pulling levers, pushing buttons inside us. We would not exist without them.
    There is nothing horrible about that, is there?
    I am reminded of the Aztec and Maya effigies of gods sprouting serpents, freed by severed heads. A horror to those new to the continent, but a source of comfort to the people who created them – an affirmation that all is as it should be.
    I assume you find comfort in your creating process. Acquisition of understanding? Knowledge? Catharsis?
    I do enjoy the drawings, but I can’t let them sit and glow. I am prone to look for meaning, to mentally tidy them up.

    I still can’t get “Thimblies.”

    • Brilliantly interpreted, Tailess Monkey. I’m proud to have your words posted here which not only vividly speak for themselves, being zesty and invigorating, but they also compliment and even clarify my work. I really appreciate it. Your words are a pleasure to read in their own right. We share in common the desire to glimpse behind obvious appearances at the inner mechanisms which generate them, not satisfied to let pictures vainly bask in their own glow, showing off like peacocks. A mirage in the desert, being only an illusion, could never really satisfy thirst. My own images develop out of an inner drive and necessity. I can’t create just any image. I don’t intend them to turn out grotesque or to have about them ugliness, weirdness, or whatever may cross one’s mind upon first viewing. I think you’re onto something in your reference to Aztec and Maya effigies and the function and affirmative meaning they had for those who made them. If one looks beyond appearances, primal energy is their motor, the “what is” being what has been rendered visible in symbols. I couldn’t adequately explain all that goes into the making of my own images, and what exactly I carry away from the creative process. I don’t feel it’s exactly knowledge, but more like a loss of knowledge, a shedding of old skin, and an opening of possibility. I don’t always feel good and a sense of release from art. Often I feel fresh and young again but as vulnerable and anxious as a child. Most of the time, however, after shedding an old skin I crawl out and find that I’ve remained a twisting and winding belly-crawler. About artists the term “divine frustration” has been used, which may be more common than catharsis or the release similar to flying. Demons still inhabit me, and by what I do, they end up making themselves more at home, not less, and so do the creepy crawlies. I can’t honestly say I’m comfortable with this situation, but as you do, I still see all entities, from microcosm to macrocosm, as animated parts of a larger dynamic system, if a system it could be called, and each has its place and function, including nonsensical and absurd beings. The creature “Odradek” which Franz Kafka described in his short story “The Cares of a Family Man” is utterly fascinating to me.

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