. . .
Ridiculous characters pester me, undermining my seriousness and disturbing my peace, obliviously carrying on in the shadow-side of my mind, mumbling and bumbling, existing probably to test my patience. I have peopling my imagination a circus of such characters, vagabonds, hobos, the dumb Hans of fairytales, clownishly dressed up, tumbled around and spat out of the undertow of my higher aspiration. One might say they are immortal. They never die. Squash one, and another even more motley takes its place, springing up and behaving with as much maddening persistence as gum stuck on one’s shoe.
Angry outbursts only strengthen and embolden them. Nothing seems to hurt them. Like Weeble Wobbles ya’ can’t knock ’em down. Corner one and whack, slap and punch it in the head, and it bounces up more defiantly impish than before, with a more exaggerated appearance, a stranger and more alive physiognomy, it may be a funnier looking nose, larger protruding ears, an odder shape to its skull. The more one takes out on them, abusing them, chasing them around and attempting to drive them out if not kill them, the more they stick around, making themselves at home, and turn into a perfectly suited mockery of oneself.
This 36″ by 24″ oil painting is unfinished and undated. Areas remain as under-painting, especially the clouds at the very top and the two snakes and shed skin at the bottom. The two snakes need a little more differentiation. Since it has entirely shed its skin, the body of the snake in the backround on the left should be more vibrant and glistening. After all, the blue of the pure sky has just entered its tail, soaked up into it, and higher up, replacing it, the sky is flushed like skin with slight bruising blooming in.
I’d also like the clouds to feel lighter and more amorphous, holding light and changing color like some magical substance, tantalizing and with more than one side, one moment like white gauze absorbing blood, still fresh and warm, pus seeping in around the edges, then like gatherers of amniotic fluid about to shake loose and fall like rain, and the next moment like barely transparent veils which dissolve to the touch, stretching and thinning out, and almost immediately reappearing fluffier where they just were; but overall I’d like the clouds to have the feel, curiously, of tissue inside living anatomy, the whole landscape despite grotesquerie in details like the inside of a womb, a warm and intimate yet scary and mysterious place where growth and development occurs, but also where danger is lurking and there’s the possibility at any moment of accident, of miscarriage and death.
There’s a suggestion in this picture of being stuck and stillborn. The tree is an incarnation, twisted and knotted up, of desire to preserve oneself as part of the whole and, with a vague hope, to continue pushing and straining toward full realization, the whole in some profoundly regressive way like some monstrously cosmic umbilical cord twisting up toward the sky, and longing at the same time for the opposite, for self-annihilation and oblivion in one’s instinctive awareness of the horror of the overall form of which one is a part, and one’s crippling incapacity to face up to and endure the pain and suffering required for extracting and freeing oneself. Inevitably there’s collapse and resignation within the overall form, and the roots grow deeper and the tree bark spreads and thickens. Any beauty is merged with and consumed by the grotesque, and finally overtaken by it, to where the whole tree despite itself becomes beautifully ugly. Is the sun rising or setting? The womb is perhaps becoming a tomb.
I have this idea that this picture, as grim and hopeless as it appears, represents a necessary stage of descent, a digging in and pushing through the downside, and dwelling there for a time, in preparation for emergence on the upside, a retracing of a dark shadow cast in a nightmare world back up to the source of light. Anyone who finds oneself a branch of such a gnarled and grotesque tree, eventually through the force of nature must crack, break off and fall to the ground, and then I imagine, wounded, must slither out and belly-crawl for a time, sidewinding like a snake, enduring the degradation and estrangement as an integral part of healing and maturation needed for a fuller and more complete return to human form. It may be necessary for some to be an even lower and more basic lifeform first, a worm, before becoming a snake, fully experiencing each of those lifeforms before one can grow limbs, climb to one’s feet and begin walking upright let alone ever dream of sprouting wings and flying.
(Note: My sister Amy painted one of the sprouted open little daisies in the right mid-ground, right in front of the tail-end of the fully shed snake skin. Daisies are one of Amy’s favorite flowers if not her very favorite.)
. . . . .
A while ago I wrote the following to my parents, with whom, contrary to how it may seem at first glance at this picture, I have quite a good relationship:
“I was thinking of the Family Tree painting I stopped working on some time ago. Do you remember it? I think the placement of each of us in it is psychologically accurate. The branch Amy is or has become, arches over the heads of you both, frozen but screaming out, a scream which would fill the air. There’s about it however a silence: it’s a mute scream. Lisa is stretched away in the opposite direction from you both, her face with the sap almost entirely drained out of it and sullen, her arm-branches loaded down and about to break with the weight of her two children, hanging from her like two monkeys. Maria and Nicholas are the only two free beings, but they’re naked and vulnerable as the day we were born. They don’t yet suffer attachments and the consciousness thereof as we do. They climb around the branches joyfully and innocently. They’re the fruit of the tree. Children are the blessed fruit on the tree of life. And I, of course, crowned with a bird’s nest which has eggs in it (a self-sympathetic self-mockery is in this – a clown of nature, a jester I am, not an actual royal being like a prince or a king, though I sincerely desire to be), am stretching away from the roots as far as possible, nonetheless trying to feel in myself the tree’s whole form and the sap flowing through it of which I’m but a part, merely one branch, attempting to touch if not drag my twiggy fingertips through the passing clouds (my propensity for abstraction, for dreaming or “getting lost in the clouds”). What knots have developed in this family tree. You both are the trunk of the tree, embracing one another, supporting the entire weight of us all, branching out from you both. The strain of the whole tree mainly comes down in your back and hips, your loins, Mom; but you, Dad, are there using what strength and counter-weight you have to hold her and us all upright, and to provide whatever firmness you can muster in yourself, roots gripping deep in the earth, but you pay a price for this by developing an inflexibility or stiffness in your pose. Anger appears on your face; your brow is furrowed, as is Mom’s, but Mom’s face has in it the strain of agony and sorrow. And around the base coiling and writhing around the roots are a couple of venomous snakes shedding their skins. There’s also, if you recall, an ambiguous creature in the right foreground of the picture, crouched like a lizard, with a skull or kind of death’s mask for a face, and a wine jug protruding from its hind-quarters. It pisses red wine into the roots of the family tree. I consider this a rich symbol, and it doesn’t only suggest alcoholism. Red wine, as you both know, also symbolizes blood in the Christian religion, the blood of Christ, which alludes to redemption. The wine jug is also stitched into the hind-quarters of the ambiguous creature, however, with an “X” pattern, a criss-cross, which suggests poison. One of the snakes which has shed its skin has a bulge in it, suggesting that it just swallowed an ambiguous creature like the one on the right foreground of the painting. Snakes also have more than one meaning. They don’t only embody threat and danger; they also embody intuitive and instinctual wisdom. Consider, for instance, the universal medical symbol of two snakes entwined around a staff. Of course this is all open for interpretation, but I do feel I’ve struck on something accurate here. I should probably take the painting out and continue it, try to finish it.”
. . .
As I was working on this picture, I had the following verse by the poet Friedrich Holderlin from his ode entitled “Evening Fantasy” written out and taped next to my easel:
“Springtime buds high up in the evening sky,
There countless roses bloom, and the golden world
Seems calm, fulfilled; O there now take me,
Crimson-edged clouds, and up there at last let
My love and sorrow melt into light and air! -“
For the amusement of Brian George, who recently, along with some generous words and sympathetic insight, very helpful and encouraging to me, sent me a fascinating sort of essayistic prose poem he wrote entitled, “Behind the Mask, the Presence, and Behind the Presence, the Mask”. Some time ago – around four years ago – I drew this little picture. Of course it’s only indirectly and by chance related, but it did come to my mind after reading the title of his piece.
Stumbling along sad and dejected one late afternoon into early evening, the sky above purplish blue but down by the horizon turning the orangish red of rust, I veered onto a clover and ivy fringed path which snaked its way between old oak trees and moss-covered rock formations, and before I knew it I found myself in an enclosure surrounded by tall cypress trees.
On one side of the enclosure a rock face rose up, as variegated and full of character as any grizzled and wizened elder’s face, with dark, moody hollows around which spread lichens like age spots, deep cracks lining its craggy brow, and twisted and tangled vines hanging like hair down the sides. Flowing between dense thickets of bushes and wild grasses at the top, a narrow stream of water trickled down, collecting into a pool at the bottom. The ground beneath me was moist. It seemed everywhere I looked growth appeared which wasn’t there before.
A distant voice then spoke to me which also was so close and familiar. It seemed to whisper from within me and simultaneously to call out from the essence of things, no matter where I turned, making me feel some secret was about to be disclosed to me.
A diminutive man in size between a field mouse and a cane toad, gnomish but not a gnome, crawled out from under the broad-domed cap of a large mushroom, stood up and bowed to an audience of gently shaking daffodils and blue bells which only then I realized were behind me. He then looked up at me towering above him, his eyes wide and clear, a subtle grin on his face, and slowly turning and lifting his arms, he allowed me to study his appearance. He was a cross between a muppet and a Tiki doll come to life, having thin, arching eyebrows, human ears, full cheeks, a wide mouth, and a flat, upturned nose somewhat like a pig’s but with nostrils as delicately small as a salamander’s. His skin chameleon-like was the color and tone of my own, but it changed before my eyes, a golden light coming from within him, suffusing his entire being and making him glow pleasantly where his skin was thinnest, reminding me of the soft illumination of a chinese paper lantern. He wore on his head an acorn shell lined and shaped neatly in front with the hair-thin white parachute-seed filaments of dandelions mashed down and mixed with nectar, was barefoot and had on no shirt, a physique surprisingly developed and toned, and pulled halfway to his armpits was a kind of centurion skirt which also seemed like a diaper. I wanted to laugh and with a wave of my hand dismiss him, but I couldn’t because – I don’t know how – I felt he knew me intimately. Something in his bearing compelled me to regard him seriously.
He pulled himself atop the broad-domed cap of the large mushroom, pulling himself into the lotus position, and without moving his lips announced in a voice resembling my own: “I’m a homunculus. From alchemy within you successfully performed I was created. I sprang to life not out of any single part of you, but have arisen out of the essence of your wholeness, squeezed out of the apex of your totality. Out of the Heaven within you I dropped into this crude world. I’m the gold of your quintessence.”
Brushing himself off, removing the acorn shell from his head, shaking out his soft and frizzy chestnut-colored hair and then placing the acorn shell back on his head, he begged my pardon for how he was dressed. He told me he has better outfits. “In fact,” he said, “My entire appearance here is only an illusion suited to you presently. You should be grateful I’ve come to you in this form. If I arose before you in my full intensity and power you’d be blinded and knocked over, perhaps shattered into pieces. You couldn’t endure it. Your mortality is much too small and fragile a container. Believe me, it can get quite stuffy in there. For some time I’ve lived inside you, practicing incredible restraint not only to go unnoticed by you but to prevent hurting you. Often I’ve slipped out for some much needed fresh air and to stretch out my limbs.”
“Nonsense!” I exclaimed angrily, finding this hard to take from such a ludicrous looking little man. “I must be losing my mind. You’re only a figment of my imagination. I don’t believe in alchemy.”
“Ah,” he countered, springing to his feet and jumping down from the cap of the mushroom. “Remember what Marcel Duchamp of whom I know you’re quite fond once said: ‘If I have ever practiced alchemy, it was in the only way it can be done now, that is to say, without knowing it.’ Likewise, if you don’t believe in alchemy, that doesn’t mean you haven’t tapped into its sublime processes and operations. Presto! Here I stand: I can do no other. What more proof do you need? But I still don’t have a name, ” he said smirking. “Maybe you could help me. I was thinking how amusing it would be if you called me Junk Nugget.”
Unable to take anymore of this insolence and mockery, I lunged at him. I wanted to catch him and crush him between the palms of my hands. But when I swiped at him, Poof! He disappeared and I fell on my face. I pounded my fist on the ground and cursed so violently my face turned red. As I got back to my feet he reappeared behind me shaking his head, still grinning and calm, and pointed to an unusually grotesque mushroom which had just sprouted up where I pounded the ground. “A creation out of the energy of your rage,” he said. “And wouldn’t you know it? It’s poisonous too.” I stumbled back in shocked amazement at the sight, struggling to comprehend what was going on, when I tripped and fell into a pricker bush, which cut and scratched me all over. He told me the pricker bush sprang up behind me at the very moment I lost my temper and began cursing so violently. He told me it served me right I was the one who had tripped and fallen into it.
“Now are you beginning to understand?” he asked warmly. His demeanor toward me had suddenly turned gracious and sympathetic. “Look around you. From within you I’ve been directing your energies, materializing them, narrowing and pulling them like colored threads through dark openings, drawing them up into the sky and back down again, reconverting them to energy and light; but without you I wouldn’t exist, and needless to say neither would this enclosure and all that’s in it. Your guts and bowels have combined through me and come out as the soil beneath us. Your heart pumps and circulates sap in these plants and trees. Here in this enclosure when you have a beautiful thought, a flower blossoms. Your bones and whatever else hard and callous, melded in accumulation with even older things in you petrified and ancient, is the rock face, rising up and casting this shadow. And lastly your subconsciousness is the stream of water trickling over the rock face, fluid, always in motion, which collected into the pool at the bottom, deep and clear and with a surface like a mirror, carries in its reflection the truth of your reality.”
I stood knotted up with tension and unable to move, staring at the shimmering surface of the pool of water. I couldn’t help but wonder, “Is this some hallucinated variant of the mythical story of Echo and Narcissus I’ve been trapped into enacting?”
I asked him why he appeared to me now and not at some other time, and he replied: “I’ve stood by long enough watching you knock up against the bounds of language, straining for purity and perfection even as the worm turns in you. Once upon a time your stem dried up, snapped, and you fell from the Tree of Life, rolling and bouncing out of the Garden of Paradise, bruising badly along the way and splitting your face open against a rock. You’ve healed on the outside, but inwardly, deeper down, you remain damaged and suffer memory loss. Ever since you’ve been striving to return to that Original State, punishing yourself for your inability to do so and trying to forget by doing things too embarrassing to admit, from pathetic to desperate, silly to perverse. Rejecting organized religion and anything involving a monotheistic God who tyrannizes over humanity, you’ve been driven into the shadows and there have tried to achieve unity and transcendence through the occult and mystical, but in your honesty have never been able to believe in those abstruse and esoteric signs and symbols either which promise so much but yield so little; so now you pursue what you feel may make you whole again in what’s even more rare and strange, digging into yourself, heading further into obscurity, really only becoming more profoundly and immaculately empty. It’s sad to see how fixed in thought you’ve become, so narrowly self-determined, lacking that spark and thrill of spontaneity and risk which really breathes life into matter and animates it. You’ve become like an hourglass, each word you express like a grain of sand falling through your center. You sidle like a crab toward oblivion. I’ve been moved by your isolated attempts through art to create beyond yourself something durable and lasting, even despite the fact you’ll never escape your own mortality and the law of compensation.”
He didn’t really answer my question, but what he did say so struck me by its verity I was shaken to my core. Still I didn’t trust him enough to reveal what I was feeling. I tried to maintain my composure, but when I squeezed my eyelids shut to keep my tears from falling, the stream of water outside me swelled and surged over the rock face, cascading down, mist filling the air and wetting my face. I held onto my emotions for dear life as they rose up and swirled around inside me, gathering force as against a dam, until I couldn’t hold them in any longer; and when finally my eyelids were forced open and tears gushed out, streaming down my face, the water which had been roaring outside me gradually calmed and narrowed back down into a trickling stream. It was magic to me. Never before had I felt such a strong and direct connection with nature. I had achieved a state of equilibrium, a balance between inner and outer, a living and breathing harmony. I was so relieved and filled with joy I began to glow as the golden light from within him dimmed and flickered, traces of silver appearing at the corners of his eyes and around his mouth.
Surprisingly he was delighted by this transference of energy to me and the change it precipitated. “As you can see,” he said, “the law of compensation isn’t just a theory or an abstract notion. It operates in other areas of your life too, rippling throughout and returning to you in unforeseen ways, but don’t let it go to your head. You can no more control it with your conscious mind than the sail and rudder of a boat can control the larger overall direction of the wind and the heaving of the sea.”
As he spoke he continued to flicker, more silver breaking out like a rash around his ears and on his forehead. When he looked down and saw copper flecks appear like freckles on his belly, and he lifted his arms and saw them there too, he broke into a hearty chuckle. “Silence is golden,” he told me. “If Silence is like the sea, then in its depths are where the treasure is hidden. The breakers on the surface are but chatter. In the beginning wasn’t the Word or even the primal scream. Before the creation of the world was Silence, and after the world dies out or is destroyed, should that happen sooner or later, there will be Silence again.” As he pondered aloud, searching for the right combination of words to unlock the meaning he had in mind, I could tell he wasn’t satisfied. He turned away lost in thought, continuing to search, a couple times muttering, “No, that’s not it”, before giving up and letting out a sigh. “Out of the Word or the so-called Logos,” he finally said, “which in this crude world can no more be sustained in sublime elevation than a person literally leap from cloud to cloud, could only come words of increasingly diminishing value, like a river flowing from the sea, branches off inland and narrows into streams, most of which either dry up or form into stagnant, muddy pools. Words definitely lose their stature and power, their deep and abiding mystery and rich and illuminating aura, the further they stray from their origin. Speech is of Time, and Silence is of Eternity. If I opened my mouth and just let words pour out as any mortal might do, wagging my tongue, it wouldn’t be long before I turned as cold and hard as iron.”
He then closed his eyes, seeming to project his mind beyond time and space, and meditated, Silence filling him up from head to toe, the traces of silver and copper flecks on his skin becoming absorbed, until his body returned all over to a golden glow. I was amazed by his ability to regenerate, and I felt he didn’t do it at my expense. As the surge of energy which so brought me to a peak of exhilaration reversed its direction, slowly drained from my body and was absorbed back into his own, I no longer felt in danger of losing myself but that I was a participant in an ebb and flow of energy whose waves began far outside my field of vision, perhaps generated out of the harmony of the spheres, and concentrated in Silence were somehow narrowed down by him and woven out into this living tapestry around me which also acted as a cocoon.
At the moment I had this realization he opened his eyes wide, his face now positively radiant. He then snapped his fingers and a big soap bubble which would delight any child floated over the rock face and drifted down into the enclosure. It nearly touched the shimmering surface of the pool of water before catching a breeze and floating back up in the air, swirling around, softly illuminated by the rays of the setting sun now caught and reflected back by the rising moon, filling me with such peace and wonder I felt I was dreaming; and when seemingly guided by his own will the soap bubble floated back down and gently touched the palms of his outstretched hands, it instantly turned into a crystal ball the size of a marble.
He breathed on the little crystal ball, rubbed it with his little hands, then held it up. It gleamed and shone with a power and meaning only he seemed to comprehend, and to understand it I knew I’d need him to translate it into human terms. As he made clear to me, however, the time for words had passed. Smiling and staring wide-eyed in a kind of trance, he lowered the little crystal ball to the ground, sitting down, pulling his legs in and nestling it between the arches of his feet; then mysteriously pointing skyward with one index finger and touching the top of the little crystal ball with the other, he bowed his head deeply, his face no longer visible to me, and for some time he remained fixed in that position. I couldn’t take my eyes off him as the energy slowly drained from his body and was absorbed by the little crystal ball, while in turn I felt a new kind of energy enter my body. I gasped and nearly fainted when he finally looked up and I saw his face had turned into my own. He quickly looked away when I tried to make eye contact with him. Panicking I reached up and touched my face, dreading it had turned into his own. ”What’s going on here!” I cried. As I frantically felt around my face for recognizable features I noticed my hands had shrunken too. I then looked down and saw to my horror that my whole body was transforming and I was turning into him. I fell to my knees and crawled toward the pool of water, desperate now to see my own reflection, but before I could reach the edge, he stood up behind me, towering over me as I had towered over him before, and picking the little crystal ball out of the palm of his hand, pinching it between his thumb and index finger, he threw it over my head and it splashed into the pool of water.
As the little crystal ball slowly sank, the stream of water trickling over the rock face stopped, and I felt a strong tug on my insides as if from behind me he had yanked on an invisible cord. I was literally lifted off my hands and knees into the air, my limbs flailing every which way like a rag doll as I flew backwards several feet and dropped onto my backside, which really hurt but maybe was for my own good; for just as I landed the little crystal ball hit the very bottom of the pool of water, and – remarkably without an explosion – a tremendous flash of light lit up the entire enclosure. I was blinded, but the flash without in any way being destructive was so powerful and penetrating that it warmed and opened my heart and turned my otherwise murky and confused mind as clear as crystal. O sublime seed of alchemy which upon being planted at the right time and place instantly springs up and blossoms! I felt incredibly alive, as magnificent as a god, all my senses heightened; I no longer cared what form I had taken. When my eyesight returned, gradually fading back in, I was so happy I rolled over and jumped to my feet, did a cartwheel and the acorn shell fell off my head. When I looked down and saw it I laughed and clapped my hands, and picked it up and placed it back on my head. I then turned around and stepped back toward the pool of water, entranced by the golden glow which now emanated from it. Calm and still, its surface had become as shiny as glass, as rich as a jewel, a magic mirror, the warm golden glow carried within it softly illuminating the rock face and all the plants, trees and flowers around me, and even the unusually grotesque mushroom and pricker bush I had created. I was now proud of these personal reminders and the lesson they held, finding understanding and acceptance and patience and many other valuable faculties and attributes in the blossoming of my new-found creative mind. Looking down and seeing I had the same warm golden glow as emanated from the pool of water, I felt then, if I wanted to, I could with a wave of my hand shrink the moon into a cue ball for use in a game of pool, or snatch a rainbow out of the sky, reduce it in size, and make a jump-rope out of it. I could push a dream over the edge into nightmare, then turn the nightmare inside out and, elevating it, set it back free into dream. I could even change my own shape.
Rejoicing I snapped my fingers, and as if time stood still, reversed its direction and, hiccuping, overlapped itself, returning to the present, concentric ripples reappeared moving in reverse on the surface of the pool of water, and one soap bubble after another emerged where before the little crystal ball had splashed in, rising out of the vortex and pulling free, all of them floating around wondrously, marvelously swirling around, some expanding too much and bursting, some bumping into each other and merging like lovers, several of the more oddly shaped ones wandering off solitary, each in its own direction. One particularly inviting soap bubble, perfectly spherical and just the right size, drifted down so close to me that on a whim I leapt on top of it, realizing I could make myself as light as a human breath, and immediately appearing in the golden glow softly illuminating the enclosure, in accommodation of my desire, was a breeze in the form of a lovely woman, ethereal, the flowing of her long translucent gown generated from within, and moving beneath me, just as she began to fade back into invisibility, she gave the soap bubble I was straddling a gentle push. I floated up over the pool of water, giddy and delighted, tipping the acorn shell on my head to each soap bubble I passed as I ascended, until finally rising above the tops of the tall cypress trees surrounding the enclosure I saw out to the horizon – the moonlight glistening on the sea, the stars twinkling high above – and I felt the majesty and grandeur of nature.
Shining brighter than ever, rays of light escaping my body, close to bursting into a microcosmic sun, the soap bubble on which I was floating, like the one before it but this time unexpectedly to me, turned into a little crystal ball. I fell with it out of the sky, grabbing hold of it, the acorn shell flying off my head and catching on fire, which just as quickly went out in a curl of smoke. I pulled the little crystal ball into my chest, hugging it on my way down as it pulsated with all the colors of the spectrum; then intensifying into the purest white light, I merged with it in a fantastic blur and splashed into the pool of water. The concentric waves which rippled out from my point of entry, instead of hitting the surrounding edge of the pool of water and rebounding back, lifted off shimmering into the air, one after another, and formed into rings which undulated all around me. More and more lifted off and joined the others, whirling around, and formed into a funnel, into whose spinning walls all the light in the enclosure was absorbed, separating out into luminous white around the top where it opened to the night sky, all the colors of the spectrum in between, and glowing gold where it narrowed down below, swirling and glimmering around a black hole which pulled me in.
As I fell headlong into the black hole, an accretion of gold gleaming along its inner edge, as if lying in wait for me, twisted into a cord which looped around my ankle, tightening as I plummeted into dark space. As the golden cord uncoiled, spiraling behind me – the mouth of the black hole gradually widening – hidden stitches splitting – the funnel lost hold of its center, wobbling as it loosened, finally lifting off and dissipating, the entire enclosure above following, coming apart at the seams, all the frayed edges catching on fire, everything going up in smoke.
Energy surged down the golden cord, passing through my body and back out into space, vibrantly glowing concentric waves gathering and merging below me, and turned into a gold ring, which after I fell through it dissolved, fading into darkness. Lessening in intensity the energy continued to flow through my body and back out into space, concentric waves again gathering and merging below me, still lit up from within but now flickering, and turned into a silver ring, which after I fell through it also dissolved, fading into darkness. The same happened with copper and bronze, each ring manifesting below me significantly larger than the one above it, each one after I fell through it dissolving, fading into darkness, feeling myself all along the way growing larger and heavier, until finally, returned to human form with the cord spiraling behind me turning to a stream of water, I fell through the last and largest ring of all, that of cold, hard iron, having come full circle dropping out of Heaven and back into this crude world.
In my heart
Grew love of art,
But from my brain
Strange creatures came.
From Godhead huge forms of thought by their own weight break free as from the face of a mountain, slide and crumble down, falling and splashing as into the Sea. Nearby a human silhouette of a floating black substance which could be oil or volcanic ash is pulled and twisted out of shape by whorls of ripples, then obliterated by waves which leap and crash into each other. As the giant clumps of fragments fall from above, scattering underwater like cluster bombs, some whirling off alone like comets leaving behind dust-tails, others splitting off fist-shaped and streaming down to punch lifeforms to pulp, much smaller forms of thought which live in the loose and wavy folds of consciousness like camouflaged fish in a coral reef are startled out of their hiding places and shimmer and flash as they jerk and dart in panic around the ghost clouds slowly rising and drifting across the Sea floor.
. . .
Correlated in imagination to the eerie and bizarre creatures which haunt the darkest and deepest parts of the Sea – such as the Dragonfish and Angler, Lamprey and Hagfish, Bathysaurus ferox and Fang-tooth, the Tongue-eating louse and Barrel-eye, Giant Isopod and Giant Spider crab, the Piglet and Vampire squid – are the spawned hybrids begotten by collisions of protean forms, elusive and enigmatic entities, monstrous but thrilling in perversity, which lurk in the deepest and darkest parts of the human soul.
. . . . .
Often I wonder as an artist if I choose my own subject matter or if the subject matter chooses me. As with other of my images in the past as they developed, I came close at times to abandoning this phantasmagorical image and even to destroying it. I don’t begin an image intending it to turn out strange or weird. I retain the desire to make Beautiful Art, elevated and pure, even as an image under my concentrated gaze turns twisted and grotesque. I close my eyes, trembling in anticipation, reach out to touch the hem of the gown of the Goddess, only to open my eyes and find a Goblin leering back at me. Beauty clings as a residue to my art, lining its entrails. It exists in it not as a living presence but as a haunted memory. I swim in the God Spillage.
. . . . . . .
Only recently I discovered this remarkable insight by Carl Jung from his Commentary on “The Secret of the Golden Flower”:
“We think we can congratulate ourselves on having already reached such a pinnacle of clarity, imagining that we have left all these phantasmal gods far behind. But what we have left behind are only verbal specters, not the psychic facts that were responsible for the birth of the gods. We are still as much possessed today by autonomous psychic contents as if they were Olympians. Today they are called phobias, obsessions, and so forth; in a word, neurotic symptoms. The gods have become diseases; Zeus no longer rules Olympus but rather the solar plexus, and produces curious specimens for the doctor’s consulting room, or disorders the brains of politicians and journalists who unwittingly let loose psychic epidemics on the world.”
Drink in the lotus, Yodapillar. Breathe in its purity. Out of a mudhole it has grown. Now it floats, gently bobbing on the surface. “Mudhole? Slimy? My home this is!” Soon you will yourself blossom, emerging from a chrysalis, perhaps no longer in physical form. “Luminous beings are we… not this crude matter.” Eating the blossom, chewing on its petals, might speed up your transformation, temporarily boosting your power and expanding your vision, but after nibbling on the edge of the leaf you rear back, looking up while clasping the stem, and in reverence remember: Tat Tvam Asi.
Evelyn Podunk was miserable at the advent of her twilight years. Everyday reality had become a bore. She withdrew from all social interaction, isolating herself, because she saw Death grinning behind every face. She felt her own body had become a weatherbeaten bag of jangling bones dangling from a tree branch. To forget her condition she often looked up into the sky, losing herself in it for hours dreaming of her childhood.
As a girl Evelyn Podunk often climbed into a large antique chest in her parents’ bedroom, closed the lid, feeling warm and protected inside like a chick in an egg. She loved being in the tightly enclosed dark space, imagining it to be a birdhouse high in the sky with the keyhole being an opening slightly larger than her silhouette. She imagined having hatched recently and hopping out through the opening for the first time, positively frightened then unexpectedly thrilled after unfurling a pair of beautiful wings, fluttering up and landing on a tree branch.
In the beginning her parents were delighted by her playing and encouraged her. They gave her materials with which to make paper mache eggs. They laughed when she pulled over her head a large rubber glove to which she attached feathers, wrapped long lengths of tissue paper around her arms, tied over her nose and mouth a beak she had made out of cardboard and painted yellow, and ran around, singing and flapping her arms.
It was the best time of Evelyn’s life and she never wanted it to end. However she instinctively knew by being around adults that it couldn’t last. The older we become, the less we fly in the Sky Mind and the more we dwell in the Earth Body. Evelyn struggled mightily against the gravitational pull of terrestrial life. She loved her parents but couldn’t help but wonder if she came from elsewhere, if maybe she had dropped out of the sky.
. . . . . . .
While alone in her bedroom, she cut a hole in one of her largest paper mache eggs, then slipped a favorite doll inside, fitting the piece back in place and applying moist, pasty paper-strips over the curved seam and over the egg’s entire surface, smoothing it out. She so liked the result she did the same with several of her other large paper mache eggs, smoothing them out, so that when they were all finally dry they appeared untampered with and whole. She kissed the finished eggs, cradling them one by one in her arms, imagining at her touch each doll inside had come to life and started to grow wings. She felt like a protective mother and hid all the eggs under her bed, keeping them secret, because she felt if anyone knew, including her parents, the spell of her enchantment would be broken and her babies would never hatch. She planned on sneaking out and hiding all the eggs in the woods behind the house, burying each in a specially chosen place, covering each with dirt and leaves and twigs, but managed only to bury two before she stopped in fear that her parents had become suspicious of her behavior.
One evening when her parents returned home from a night out, walked upstairs and entered their bedroom, they found clothes from their closet neatly folded and arranged in a circle around the antique chest. In the chest Evelyn had made a large nest, weaving together long strips of cardboard and newspaper, tying in old socks and rags, and overtop she spread soft downy feathers from a cut open pillow and dry grass and leaves she had collected from outside. She was curled up asleep in the nest with all of her paper mache eggs around her, except for the two which remained buried in the woods behind the house.
Now her parents were seriously worried about Evelyn. After a long and intense discussion they agreed it would be best to find professional help for her. After a battery of tests and thorough evaluation, she was put into a Special Program in which her behavior was closely monitored and she was trained and guided into developing the more practical aspects of her mind.
. . . . . . .
Evelyn gradually succumbed to the ways of the world, doing what most everyone does, working at a job she hated while pretending not to mind it, maintaining a modest residence, paying bills and taxes, having opinions of current events, blending in as best she could. She was never believed when she said that during her childhood a seed had been planted in her and ever since had been growing. She believed the seed was planted in her that time as a girl she was curled up asleep in the nest she made in the antique chest, before her parents discovered her and woke her up. She felt the roots digging into her bowels and a branch scraping against the inside of her belly, the tips of the twigs sometimes tickling her ribs, causing her to giggle. She wasn’t necessarily uncomfortable or in pain, feeling what was in her body belonged there. By how she carried herself and behaved a rumor was spread by locals that she was either crazy or a witch. The more she tried to maintain her composure, insisting she was as normal as anyone else, occasionally breaking into a giggle, the more polarizing she was, the more mystique she had, the more curiously attractive she became. She dated in her late teens and twenties, had her share of boyfriends, was even married for a time in her thirties. But despite her allure she was unlucky in love. Something was always off when she became intimately involved. That she was never believed and always seemed to be hiding something led to arguments. Finally she tired of human relationships. By the time she reached fifty she resigned herself to being alone and no longer cared what anyone thought of her.
. . . . . . .
She staged phony ritualistic scenes to feed the rumormongers around town, imagining by so doing she was fattening up some lumbering beast for sacrifice. One time on a busy street corner she dropped to her knees, lifted up her hands and with theatrical zeal prayed aloud for fire to ignite in the pit of her stomach, for flames to lick and purify her innards, for heat to rise through her cold heart, warming it, and to thaw out her poor brain. Many persons couldn’t help but look at her; and they collectively gasped when she grabbed her stomach, groaning, then fell forward and, letting out a scream, began thrashing and rolling around as if she had just caught on fire. After about a minute of this, she sat up suddenly cheerful, wiping fake tears from her eyes, and exclaimed, “Good Heavens! My prayer has been answered! Ho Ha!” She jumped to her feet, grinning while massaging and shaking out her limbs, then curtsied and scampered away, again shouting “Ho Ha!”, leaving everyone who witnessed her bewildered.
Another time on a moonlit night in the center of town where a few restaurants and bars were still open, she arranged twelve large flat stones in a circle, dragging them into place, upon each one mounting a white tapered candle, lit all the wicks, then stepped into the circle of flickering flames and improvised a kind of chicken dance while chanting and squawking. Most passers-by glanced and continued on, but some lingered and couldn’t look away. When finally she exhausted herself, huffing and puffing, she twirled around after snuffing out each candle-flame, announcing, “One o’clock! Two o’clock!” and so on; and when she reached the last candle-flame, she twirled around and announced,” Midnight! End of the World!”, then snuffed it out and collapsed like a puppet whose strings had just been cut. After remaining still for about a minute she jumped to her feet, then curtsied and scampered away, right before disappearing around the corner turning and shouting through cupped hands, “Ho Ha!”
The next time Evelyn was spotted was during the day. She trudged into town with a handkerchief tied around her head and knotted under her chin, dragging a large burlap bag behind her by a long rope fastened around her waist. She deliberately and exaggeratedly talked gibberish at the top of her lungs while gesturing at the air, occasionally stopping to scribble words in a notebook. When each page was completely filled she tore it out of the notebook, crumpled it up, carefully wrapped tape around it, forming it into an egg shape, and shoved it into the burlap bag. She then checked the rope around her waist, making sure it was fastened above her hips, and continued trudging along, pulling the burlap bag behind her. “Crazy woman Podunk,” an old-timer shuffling by said to onlookers, shaking his head. “I knew her parents when she was younger. Fine people. What a shame.”
. . . . . . .
The last time anyone in town recalled seeing Evelyn Podunk she was living in the doorway of an abandoned old house. She slept there nightly in a large nest she made out of cardboard and other discarded materials she had collected in alleyways. Little did anyone know it was a replica of the nest she made inside the antique chest in her parents’ bedroom when she was a girl. Those who recall seeing her around this time said she was somber and withdrawn, no longer speaking a word, her eyes sometimes turned inward, sometimes looking far in the distance. She no longer staged phony ritualistic scenes and was occasionally spotted walking slowly through the streets, looking around as if she had lost something but was close to finding it.
Then she disappeared and was never seen again. It’s unknown if she went somewhere and curled up and died. People in town regarded her anyway as more a part of the natural landscape than a member of the community, and joked that she probably either melted into the gnarled roots of some knotty old tree or shape-shifted her way into the Afterlife, and there climbing up into the branches of the most wonderful tree she ever saw made another nest, but this time with such exquisite skill and craft that it rivaled a nest made by any bird on earth. Tall tales were spun about her which became part of local legend. Some said during her earthly life the branch growing in her whispered to her with a voice of rustling leaves, beckoning her to return to the woods, and that before she disappeared she ceased speaking only because her throat was all scratched up from coughing up bits of bark. Her earthly life, it was said, was but a long preparation for the revelation that the branch growing in her had always been a part of that wonderful tree in the Afterlife. Those who were more philosophical-minded and compassionate speculated that the roots of that wonderful tree were planted in the Collective Consciousness and everyone, whether they were aware of it or not, fed and nourished those roots and helped the tree to grow. Rare, however, was such a one as Evelyn Podunk who contained a seed from that otherworldly tree as it grew into a branch and even as it sprouted leaves carried it through the trials and tribulations of earthly life from youth to old age. In her last days on earth it was surmised Evelyn lay on her back deep in the woods, looking up into the sky and dreaming of her childhood, her agony dissolving into bliss as the branch finally broke through.
. . . . . . . . . .
The opening of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus:
“A tree ascended there. Oh pure transcendence!
Oh Orpheus sings! Oh tall tree in the ear!
And all things hushed. Yet even in that silence
a new beginning, beckoning, change appeared.”
I painted this satirical picture before I owned my first personal computer.
Like a moth around a lantern, the new age Super Hero, with a dollar sign on his chest and wings of paper money, flutters around, leaping from leaf to flower, fingering the keyboard – an extension of his body – while his attention is riveted to the glowing screen of Lady Lightning Bug. The more she arouses and excites him, text and images flashing on the screen, the more vigorously he fingers the keyboard, the more brightly she shines in the night.
I humbly apologize to those of you who find this image obscene, but isn’t there some truth to it? It’s a crude representation of the relation between commerce and computer technology, the strange courtship and mating ritual between these two entities, and also a comment on the self-gratifying and onanistic nature of the computer experience. Computer technology: which now pervades all aspects of life, even intimate areas. We’re continually fingering our devices, tapping on them and rubbing them, checking on them obsessively, our attention riveted to the glowing screens.
This oil painting on linen canvas, large for me at 30″x 40″, I completed in 2004. On the back of the pew on the bottom left I signed my name backwards.
Through the Rose Window, its thin circular gold frame glimmering, sunlight softly shines, illuminating the altar space within, which with soil-brown molding around its base has a floor like a foggy looking-glass reflection of the night sky, stem and leaf green brick walls held together with petal-paste mortar and, rising above it all like the aura of a fragrant blossom, a luminous apse. Higher overhead an abundance of thorns crowd in as a reminder of the burden of consciousness, the sting and pain of thought, the hardship and suffering of mortal existence. The rib vault appears of living flesh, tending to sienna and ochre in tone where dense and hard, turning roseate where the webbing thins out and is stretched tight. This rib vault is like some sublime creature’s wings about to spread open, following in hypostatic union the open arms of Jesus on the cross. As the heart is in the mind: so the Son is in the Father, the smaller Physical incarnation contained within the larger manifested and blossoming Abstract. The Rose Window represents the eye of God. The mind’s eye of Jesus below, however, is the picture’s vanishing point.
Sub Specie Aeternitatis, the bustle of human beings in this overpopulated world resembles a swarm of insects.
The Rosary Beetles with heads reminiscent of skulls gaze through dark sunglass eyes at Jesus on the cross. The greenish tint of their skin suggests poison and envy but also nature and growth, hope and renewal. It’s unclear whether these Beetles are parasites feeding off a Host or are a vital and integral part of this organic and alive altar space. Do they pray for a return to their original form, having in the past been fully human? However they came to be there they now possess exoskeletons, outer shells, each with its own design, an extra pair of arms grown out of their sides, antennae wiggling from their faces, and mandibles protruding from their stretched mouths. Connected to Jesus on the cross suspended at the very heart and center, monk and nun Beetles, Cardinal, Bishop and Pope are all strung together by one long golden cord, which vibrates and hums, here pulled taut, there slackened, loosely but neatly looping where it changes direction, uncannily never becoming knotted or tangled.
The following pencil drawings I made before I began the painting:
This little brush and ink drawing failed in its intention. I drew it around three years ago during a period of infatuation with a woman. When I finally got up my nerve and showed it to her, basically complete but still needing some shading and refinement, she seemed delighted and intrigued, her pretty face lingering over the details, a lovely sight to me, but she was also surprised and a little freaked out. I think she didn’t really believe I drew it for her. Due to her unsettled and indefinite reaction, a jumble of signs of which I couldn’t get a clear read, and also because I was blushing and tongue-tied, the drawing never exchanged hands. The encounter led in following days to some awkwardness and polite evasiveness. Ultimately the relationship I so desired with her never happened. Through time naturally my feelings for her have subsided. We haven’t crossed paths for some time, and I doubt we will again, so I don’t see why on this Valentine’s Day, instead of continuing to hide the drawing at the bottom of a drawer, neglected and forgotten, I shouldn’t bring it out and share it in the same sense that a love song may still touch and charm others despite the personal story behind it.
Words don’t come easily to me. If only they flowed through me like a river from the ocean, but for long stretches I turn so dry and barren I become mute. Out of ruins and rubble I push each rough and irregular sentence like a boulder up a hill, exhausting myself trying in a clearing at the top to create my own place of worship, my own Stonehenge. There’s not so much freedom in words as we’d like to believe. I feel crushed under the weight of all their possible combinations and meanings. So many words tumble forth out of the confusion of ideas and make sense only loosely or by chance. Commonly used phrases are pushed around like the upside-down cups in a shell game still played after the ball has been lost. Insignificant words multiply and thicken around more substantial words, creeping like vines, proliferating like kudzu. One must hack through a jungle of cliches. I doubt any word exists undiluted and in its original power. Not one word exists so absolute that it never comes down and gets itself mixed up in the crazy affairs of human beings, including the word “God”.
I made this small oil painting back in 2001. To this day I revolve around the idea of the ground-rooted figure, organic but not fully human.
. . . . . . .
On the crown of this figure’s head in his budding youth is a design of dark green curved lines, indicating the undeveloped petals folded tightly within. He bows slightly to the side and raises his hands to his face, mittened fists held against his forehead, but not in a gesture of weeping or despair. It slowly dawns on him he’s growing, not suffocating in a body bag, that though the lines on the crown of his head cut deep, his face isn’t covered in bandages.
The top of his green outer-covering retracts from his emerging head like a pleated turtleneck collar. Behind two lids tightly sealed his vision feels around like fingers running over inscrutable braille and passing on in search of some edge or opening leading out to light. He endures the deepening curved lines on the crown of his head, the small areas in between them lightening as they swell into protuberances, like an invisible branding iron being pressed into his skull. Bowing under the pressure and tilting forward, he lowers his hands, mittened fists held together under his nose like a praying boxer before a fight he knows he can’t win.
His roots, turning arterial, worm their way through the soil, branching out deeper down, nourishing and stabilizing his upward striving. The turtleneck-like collar from which extends his neck and head splits along its pleats and forms into little leaves. Body stiffening upright, he pulls his elbows together toward his belly and, like a living hieroglyph trying to simplify its configuration, he splays out his forearms. His hands, springing open, then split through his mitten-like coverings and emerge yellowish green, fresh and luminous, but almost immediately on exposure to the light and air the human side of his consciousness begins more fully to awaken, a red tide rising within, swirling around, blood mixing with the sap in his body, manifesting as stain and blush around the folds and creases of his skin.
He begins to experience the suffering of flesh. Pain shoots up his roots, traveling through his body and, sharpening on ascent, pierces the orbs in his head like two arrows. On impact his lids crack open. The punctures left on his orbs, two small dark holes, could be mistaken for pupils. He tilts his head up to look into the sky, but he’s blind, only able to sense through the pain in his wounds. When he turns the palms of his hands outward to receive the Holy Stigmata, however, nothing happens. He sticks out his tongue.
The dark matter synthesizing within him, gradually transforming, swells at its peak into a new organ, which finally cracks the shell of his skull, splitting through the crown of his head. Emerging formed into three leaflets, blushing flesh-flaps conjoined, is a sign from the Demiurge, a vaguely obscene but strangely alluring blossom which at its clenched tip, the compact juncture of its unfolding, alternately resembles aortic valve and anus. Swelling further and reddening around its edges it resembles an eroticized wound within which all the colors of the rainbow seem to be held in thrall to the possible eruption of blood and feces.
His face completes changing from yellowish green to a blend of beige and peach now beginning to flush scarlet and crimson. Lids opening wide, his two orbs bulge, the punctures stinging, the two small hollows snaking down through his body, as folds of skin roll away from the blossom engorged and swelling further out of his head. He throws his hands up in foreboding of his approaching fate, but soon overcome by nature’s indifference, drawing his tongue back into his mouth, he resigns himself to the overall progression.
As if punctuation marks have escaped from the world of the printed page, risen out of their black coverings and float free in the clear blue sky, clouds with a life of their own, gathering and drifting, stream on in search of a new identity. They explore the limits of their possibility, from their soft and fluffy whiteness blooming orangish red, glowing yellow, blushing traces of rose. They appear fruity like orange rinds and silky like flower petals, until in epiphany, like a transubstantiated exclamation point finally finding its place, they drift down, converging on the engorged and swelling blossom, and absorbing not only its fragrance, putrid and sweet, but the tragic vibes coming from deeper within, transform themselves into a radiant but subdued halo.
At his glorious peak, just when he could be taken for some obscure religious icon, he gives birth to his own death. The blossom bursts out of the crown of his head, flowering, which blows a hole through the clouds. His arms are thrown askew like a warped sun wheel. His two orbs on stems spring out, wobbling like ridiculous wands; and his petals finally released, raw, pink and red-veined, flop like tongues out of his split open face. Once the orgasmic seizure has subsided, color begins to drain from his body, his skin turning pale, his olive green outer-covering being overtaken by brown, and he collapses to the ground, falling across the blades of grass. Dying on his side he faces back toward the stages of his life like the curved end of parentheses.
Her nest is in the Void, which she leaves to practice black magic in the world, sniffing out base matter in those who are vulnerable and in emotional need. She lies through her teeth that what is most shameful and degraded in human nature she can transmute into gold, but of course she never fulfills her promise. She’s a daughter of the Father of Lies. Love forever eludes her, the procreative power, the life-giving light. She practices her craft rather with what has been cast off, percolated into poison, hate and anger the demonic spirits animating her concoctions. Shadows obey her and follow her around, conforming to her every move. They wrap like a cloak around her; the same shadows form into wings when she needs to fly. In shadows she obscures herself when she espies one who grovels and wallows in secrecy and isolation and who she knows couldn’t resist the medicine she has to offer and, after a taste, would bow down and worship her. But she’s patient and careful in her approach. She quietly circles around her prey from a distance and lingers; then so unassumingly that nothing seems out of the ordinary she emerges slowly into the dim, reflected light, a seductress mysterious and enchanting, and like a nightclub stripper rattles her bottles together.
The sound of the rattling summons a hissing snake from the depths of the Void. Transfixed the prey suddenly feels a tug from within, followed by a sharp sting, afterward being suffused with a tingly warmth. Pain is numbed, anxiety is neutralized, fear is left behind. But there’s a deceptive tradeoff, an infernal contract being entered into for this temporary release. The snake as if calling to the blood winds its way around bones, enters the ribcage, wraps itself around the heart, before slithering back down into the pelvis, throughout its slippery movements sapping and draining willpower and replacing natural desire with the monomaniacal fervor which possessed Ahab in his pursuit of the White Whale. The same is in the Inebriate’s pursuit of the ever elusive Golden Moment of Intoxication which through constantly repeated attempts to achieve it destroys both body and soul, which delights the Muse and sometimes sexually excites her. On her belly a round portal opens down into her womb and passes through to her backside, a portal revealing the Void, and out of it slithers the snake, its head curving upward, threateningly hovering, as the tail extending out of the front of the Muse stands wickedly erect. When the Muse raises her fiery glass in a toast, shuddering with pleasure, her pet companion loosens and slithers its tail gracefully around the Initiate’s shoulders like the arm of a sympathetic friend and treats him to some of the finest venom. The Muse can’t wait to see how he behaves under its influence. On the stage of humanity she hopes it inspires from him one of his greatest performances, operatic in scope, containing episodes of both tragedy and comedy, laden with drooling sentimentality and capitulating to drama punctuated by misguided and out of control fireworks.
To the sober this Muse is a femme fatale and a harpy, a dangerous chimera, but to those who fall under her spell she’s a saving grace, a Goddess like no other. With absolute contempt for moderation she goes to extremes with ease, appearing to thrive and grow strong on coarseness and vulgarity, insults, cruelty, lust and jealousy, and outbursts of violence. She drinks in all she can of the hate and anger in the world and stores the infusion for future use when she returns to work in her distillery, spitting fire into her furnace and coughing up spices to enrich her concoctions. She’s a genius at luring into her sphere of seduction those who thirst for the infinite and for oblivion and who stop at nothing to achieve the mystical union. She rewards with stronger doses those who go to hell in themselves and don’t give a damn about dragging others down with them. To one who has reached for the heights and fallen into the gutter, broken and having lost everything, she remains as relentless as ever, offering her hand and promising a return to glory. “I have a new drink for you, better than all those which brought you to your present condition. I have one which will heal you and make you whole again. I’ll lift you to the stars.” She destroys her victims coldly and methodically, in cycles which begin loose and casual but with each relapse becoming like a noose tightening around the neck. She regards each blackout she causes as her pride and joy, as a squeezed out basilisk egg to be hatched later, or all the blackouts together as the rarest of jewels, black pearls, which one by one she plucks out of each passed out and hardly breathing body and smuggles back to her nest in the Void. Her ultimate goal is to destroy and kill through slow poisoning as many as she can, and she likes to experiment with combinations. She doesn’t care about anyone you love, your friends, your family, children, your brothers and sisters, cousins, your Mom or Dad. She’d poison one and all. If she could she’d drown the whole world in alcohol.
I made this small oil painting on gessoed masonite panel back in 2000. I had almost given up making art. Frankly I was having an identity crisis. I was profoundly unhappy, lonely too truth be told, and I didn’t know what to do with myself. At that time I carefully hand-wrote thoughts and ideas in small notebooks, rewriting over and over what I thought were my better lines, in an attempt to spark my imagination and to become inspired, but it wasn’t working. From the outside I probably appeared a little mad in my socially detached obsessive melancholia. I ended up with a large quantity of fragments, a heap of them, which left me faced with an additional quandary, that if any overall meaning was to be revealed to me I must patiently fit together all these pieces of different puzzles which had all become mixed up in the same big box. But just the task of sorting out all the pieces was too much for me. I felt like the proverbial dog returning to its vomit, and soon I gave up. I thought to myself, “Truly to enter the Enchanted Realm of Art is granted only to the chosen few, and my application has been rejected.”
In my dejection I puttered around to take my mind off myself. Almost as an afterthought I began this picture, expecting it like my written efforts to go nowhere, but I didn’t care anymore. Maybe what’s best in us only emerges once we’ve ceased taking ourselves so seriously and trying so hard.
. . . . . . .
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word in my play-box was hollow, the concave letters fused cursively into one large magical toy, which I lifted above my head like a sacramental vessel. When I tilted it forward, sand poured out, and it kept coming. As I moved the Word around above my head and rotated it, I was slowly buried up to my armpits. I stopped before my head could be covered. I put the Word down and gave it a gentle push; it slid down the mound of sand, and I pulled my body free.
After shaking and brushing sand off myself, again I lifted the Word above my head, but this time water flowed out, which I showered all over the mound of sand as I walked slowly around it. Once the mound was saturated but not too wet, I packed the sand tight, patting it all over with my plastic shovel, and shaped it into a large cone, smoothing it all out with my bare hands. When I was finally done I stepped back and was well pleased, but it wasn’t yet time to rest. I walked thrice around the circumference to establish a magic circle, then walked backwards around it thrice to complete the magic circuit. Then I stepped into the zone of consecrated protection, reached over and stuck my hand down through the peak of the cone of sand, working my arm into where before I had been buried. I reached my arm in up to my shoulder, and I pulled out a handful of sand, which I tossed outside the magic circle; and I did this, thrusting my whole arm in and out, until a clear, narrow hole was created, smooth on the inside and reaching down into darkness.
Next I took a jar of soil I had saved from a garden of esoteric flowers, unscrewed the lid and poured it into the hole, followed by a sprinkling of grass-seed I took from my conjure bag. Then I took two pieces of fine burlap which from a distance appears as skin, the same used for scarecrows, and in them dolloped paste of writings from my past which out of despair and fury and self-hatred I had burned to ashes, mixed it with my piss and significant droplets of my blood, having crushed and mixed these ingredients with a pestle. I tied up the dollops of paste in each of these two pieces of burlap with thin white silken ribbon, kissed each for a send off, then sent both flying down the hole. Two roots of mandrake for my yearning followed, along with squirted out leakage from my self-absorption lathered over bits from broken toys which remind me of my youth and small bone chips and teeth from a skull I dug up in my obsession with death. For good measure I fired in a prickly Sweet Gum fruit, and as an anticlimax dropped in a crumpled up image of a hindu god. With gathered conviction then I plunged my arm back into the hole, I wiggled my thumb around, making space enough to snap my fingers thrice, and I made a wish.
Three days and three nights passed, and in that time when not curled up asleep and dreaming I sat in deep meditation, when suddenly startled I jumped up because coming from inside the hole I heard not only crunching, clicking and snapping, but a continuous low hum which at intervals broke into mumbling and gurgling before returning to the lulling of the low hum. In disbelief I turned away and stuck my fingers in my ears, rubbing inside, and I also rubbed my eyes. But when I looked again not only did I continue to hear the sounds, but a smooth mound, a curious tantalization, appeared like Mother Nature’s meatloaf or cake, soil seasoned with sand and coated lightly with clay, with a flat circular surface covered with grass. This grass-topped mound floated around the cone of sand like the satellite of a Mother Ship, no doubt emerging from the hole when I wasn’t looking. I had the impression if it flew outside the magic circle it would crumble and fall to the ground.
Then as if from an air cannon a beach ball shot out of the hole, flew high in the air, and landed on the small circular patch of grass, bouncing with backspin like a good shot in golf; but before it came to rest, it spun on its axis and then began moving on its own, rolling around and bouncing like the crazy uncle of the famous bouncing ball. Pursuing immediately was an anthropomorphic insect which scampered out from under the floating grass-topped mound, a leafy green mealy-mouthed creature with an oblong head, five pairs of arms and a pair of legs, with the color of its segments alternating between the azure of my aspiration to purity and perfection and the acrid yellow of my bitterness and waste. This creature seemed to have been lying in wait on the underside of the floating grass-topped mound, using the lull of its low hum as a seductively sustained base tone for its mumbling and gurgling to attract prey or maybe a playmate. Maybe it was lonely and desired a friend. Maybe it was a messenger from Beyond playing out in disguise a special wisdom for gifted natures, or maybe simply because the beach ball bounced across its path it now strove to grab hold of it. I had no clue what was its real aim and intention, whether profound or superficial, but my curiosity impelled me to move closer, until finally I gathered enough nerve to ask the creature its name, whereupon cryptically it replied: “Buggly Woo.”
I was left amazed and puzzled, not knowing if this was its name or only a reflex exclamation to ward me off, but whatever it was, once the creature uttered it, two freshly skinned figures as luminous as healthy blood cells were catapulted as if by some supernatural power out of the hole, both flying through the air like trapeze artists and nimbly landing on the small circular patch of grass. Though each appeared to wear its face around its center of gravity, these two figures didn’t seem wholly subject to gravity’s law. On landing both began dancing around and snapping their fingers, always in synch and with the confidence and grace of professional ballet dancers, each taking a turn spinning around and leaping over the back of the creature as it pursued the beach ball which rolled through legs like a croquet ball through wickets. Sometimes the beach ball just went crazy spinning in place before letting itself go. It seemed to be having fun, and it never got in the way. In the beginning was the Word, and now the Word was the ball. It always found space in which to roll and bounce even as the creature wheeled around in pursuit of it. A larger harmony seemed to preside over all, and I was overjoyed, transformed into a child again. I clapped my hands and also danced around; but it was by letting my enthusiasm get the best of me that I made my fatal mistake. I desired to participate directly in the scene, to dress my hand up into a puppet. I believed I had done so already I was so caught up in the scene, so wiggling my fingers I reached over and touched the grass, and that was enough to break the spell.
I must have been hit by a giant wave and knocked unconscious, because all I know when I came to my senses and looked around is that the cone of sand had been demolished. There was no longer a magic circle and only the suggestion of a mound remained. I was face down and soaking wet, with dirty white ribbon tangled in my hair and seaweed wrapped around my legs and neck. I had cuts on the palms of my hands which I must have received from desperately trying to hold onto the Word, wrested violently from me and carried away. My play-box and the magical illusion had been destroyed. “Not even a memento,” I grumbled. When I rolled over however I discovered I had been lying on a small panel which was partially covered with sand. When I flipped it over and wiped the sand away I was stunned – I gasped at the sight. It was the Dance of the Thimbly Whims.
A sheet of paper is a sacred temple. When not yet marked or written on it is pure; the space opens to infinity. The first mark, however, be it the start of a word or an image, introduces the possibility of corruption, but it is also the Archimedean point from which the whole world might be moved.
Outside the temple rages a chaos of germinal ideas, a swarm which by its own deafening noise drowns out all rhyme and reason. When one idea is singled out, smuggled in and cared for in silence, those ideas closest to it when they were all raging together outside are the first to become jealous and to turn against it. As the chosen idea grows strength and definition, developing its own character within the temple walls, jealousy spreads through the swarm, pulling it into a temporary alliance, and in waves it attacks. Repress and deny: lightning strikes. Backwash and bile: waters rise. A giant octopus, mistaking the sacred temple for a rival, pulls itself atop the dome, wraps its tentacles around it and, squeezing tightly, discharges ink through the oculus.
. . . . . . .
From confusion and indecision emerged this drawing. I’m witness to my own suffocation. Out of my blind spots as out of a spinneret these interwoven lines and forms were spun, the obsessive accumulation of detail filling the space and generating its own claustrophobically unsettled pattern.
From inability to find an idea that rises above all others and gives life, the mind plummeted below can become so densely tangled and clotted with detritus from false starts and abandoned ideas that vision no longer shines through.
This is a post-collapse concoction in a space cleared of rubble, a web stretched over the void, a drawing born of the soul of starless night. It initially came out of a creative block, a failure of vision, which I tried nonetheless to will myself out of from need to create. I wish I could create art out of all my personal failures. I’d fill a museum.
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”.
Where is your Spermatozoon? Where is the Fabulous Being who carries the rare possibility of your fertilization?
To reach you that Spermatozoon, flagellating its tail, must not only fight through others like itself, but unlike those others it must have wings to flap free of mortal spunk. It would have to be exceptional, a never before seen deviation, the seed of a god. But even then it may never reach you. Without clouds for cover and protection in the sky, it would likely dry up the closer it flew to you, eventually catch fire, then smoking fall spiraling back to earth.
Down below, sweat and dewdrops trickle down to the nesty brow of a swollen Bulb-Head about to split open. This Bulb-Head’s dome where a crack opens and begins to reveal its tender parts is aligned with the Sun Egg hanging above in the distant backround and with the Mystic Disc lodged below in the near foreground. The moon like a holy host swallowed remains whole and still glows within.
Hey, Diddle, Diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the cow and the little dog have vanished. A sheep dissolves, its innards pulled through its mouth, out across the Mystic Disc, lunar-surfaced vomit petrified to bone.
. . . . . . .
Bound to the landscape are two male figures, primal and general and of similar proportions, perhaps twin brothers. It’s a mystery how they came to be there. It could be that deeper underground they are conjoined. They could be the result of an alchemy experiment gone wrong.
Legend has it that their father, a demigod obsessed with his own image, grandiosely deluded himself into believing he was the Chosen One who could bring about the fertilization of the Sun Egg. High above the clouds, arriving after the long journey, he envisioned himself being caressed and stimulated by the wavy rays of fiery heat, pulled into an ecstatic swoon, dissolving in sweet oblivion. He envisioned a goddess beautiful and glorious, arrayed in gold and with the Sun Egg pulsating within her, appearing for him alone, smiling down on him, and waiting for him with open arms and longing in her eyes.
He couldn’t wait to be with her. Running as fast as he could, off a steep cliff he dove, catching his fall by unfurling and flapping his wings. After hovering and looking around, he took off on his long flight up to his beloved. For hours he flew, fluttering through pockets of still air, pushing through turbulence. Up and up he flew, until his wings began to tire and his limbs became heavy. But still he pushed on, never losing heart, doing everything he could to conserve energy. When the wind blew strong and steady, he held open his wings and glided upward in a spiral. He rode the currents. He was reinvigorated when he approached a group of fluffy white clouds, because they appeared to promise a place to catch his breath. But when he entered those clouds he immediately realized that such a promise was an illusion. Yet still he pushed on, never giving up, huffing and puffing as he flapped his wings, in not unlike the heave-ho rhythm of a sailor pulling a rope to hoist up an anchor.
Then the unexpected happened, so sudden that any shock was quickly absorbed by what was inevitable. Once he emerged and soared above the last and highest clouds, his wings burst into flames, and he tumbled out of the sky. He fell end over end, back down through each layer of clouds, leaving a corkscrew plume of smoke behind him. He whirled and spun with such violence and speed that he lost consciousness. He died as he fell, and when his burnt corpse finally hit the ground, charred beyond recognition, his guts splashed out of its smoking shell and his nuts split open, scattering seeds all around. Some of those seeds landed in moist cracks in the earth. Even of those seeds, most died. Of those that took root underground, embryos developed into fetuses, strange and hybrid, bound to the earth as they emerged human in form but not quite human in nature in the light of the Sun Egg they instinctively despise.
. . . . . . .
From the fallen demigod’s splattered remains, liquified guts flowed rippling with fire, a scorching stew which moved like lava and burned a crater in the earth. Pores opened and vital fluid was sucked underground not far from the catastrophe, most being diffused and cooled by surrounding dirt and rock while the remainder, still sizzling, oozed down into an enclosure not much larger than a heart, where it was contained, boiling and bubbling as if in a retort. Remarkably where this vital fluid began to distill was directly below where a couple of the scattered seeds had fallen next to each other and taken root.
From the build-up of intense pressure in the enclosure, new veins were forced into being, branching open in the lungs of the two growing figures, steam and vapor escaping through their nostrils and mouths, followed by smoke. For some time the figure on the left belched as much smoke into the air as his nearby brother.
But one day the smoke stopped coming for him and he was left exposed and vulnerable. The Sun Egg whose rays burned his skin and penetrated his flesh seemed about to set his bones on fire. As his skin loosened around his shoulders and chest, peeling away and revealing earth-blending layers, a sinewy and blood saturated cross-section, he feared at any moment he might collapse from within or catch fire and burn to ash. He thrashed around, but in vain because his body from the beginning had grown fused with the earth. When he inhaled deeply and then blew out to generate a protective cover of smoke overhead, he now only wheezed and coughed in sharp, angular bursts.
. . . . . . .
Moon white foam then began to bubble from his lips, which as it increased didn’t dribble off his chin, but as if in reverse slow-motion, it came out of his mouth in all directions, spreading with a life of its own over his face. When it soaked into his skin, absorbed into his bloodstream and reached his brain, it wasn’t long before he started to hallucinate.
Out of the shifting forms and colors that played on the back of his eyelids he saw himself of all things as a fat, warty toad, squatting on a flying saucer which flashed around in the sky and then settled, hovering, over a crowd of lesser toads hopping for cover below. He saw himself as their undisputed King, the fattest and therefore the grandest, with the most disgusting secretions, with tremendous bags under his eyes which had the irresistible pull of two black holes, and in his belly was a magnificent jewel.
He believed his vocal sac could inflate so large that when air-filled and he held his breath he could leap off the flying saucer, and safely float to the ground, or be carried up by the breezes. By pursing his lips and narrowing his croak’s vibrations he believed he could penetrate boulders and explode them, that if he so willed he could cause an earthquake, or by a single directed croak he could shatter the bones of an approaching enemy. On the creative side, by reducing its volume and subtly modulating its tone, bringing it down to an hypnotic drone, his croak he believed helped flowers to open, stimulated the roots of plants and trees, soothed and enhanced the well-being of all kinds of lifeforms, and if fully mastered could even cure diseases.
But the vapors of hallucination were soon exhausted by his brain, and in a sense – the vocal sac popping, the flying saucer evaporating – he fell back to earth like his father. Pale and sick, tumbling into sobriety without aid and transition, when he collided with reality he threw up, a narrow stream which at first could be mistaken for a darting out toad’s tongue. But the emission kept coming, hot and gooey, some spurting out of his nostrils and burning away his nose: It was the vital fluid which had been boiling and bubbling in the enclosure deep below, and though still burning with hidden fire it now forced its way up to fulfill its purpose, distilled and purified. When it landed on the surface and cooled it not only had the strength and elasticity of silk but also contained properties of a generative nature. It grew all around, fused with nerves and organically took shape, and thus became the Bulb-Head, which bears a resemblance to the demigod as he was before his downfall, a mocking reminder in retrograde form.
. . . . . . .
The son now resides in the mouth of his father whose substance, still throbbing with desire, strives to return him to the demigod he once was, fusing into an entity which one day may sprout new wings, pull free of the earth, so he can attempt again the long flight up to his beloved. But as yet the large glazed eyes which seem to stare up while also looking inward are the bulbous tips of antennae extended from the crown of the much smaller head within, transmitting data more by feel than by vision. The large fleshy ears serve also as an extension, amplifying sound by a kind of seashell resonance.
O Shroud of Turin, he doth protest from within that cave, grimly looking out, false messiah crowned by teeth, framed by hanging folds of skin-veil and flesh-curtains.
His brother back to the right may soon experience the same grueling process, fluid already like melted candle wax flowing from his mouth and down his neck. But for now, in a parody of his damned condition he protrudes from a chimney as from a stage-set volcano, his head cocked back, and since he has no fists to wave, black smoke spews out of his mouth, rising to soil the white clouds and to cover the Sun Egg in the Sky Womb.
The Guardian by the altar steps, eyes displaced and in blindness seeming to see, is the hybrid spawn of Deities past, an amalgam outcast of earth, sea, and sky.
In what deceptively appears to be an Aztec warrior headdress, a poisonous stinger may be hidden, or maybe it lurks behind the Guardian’s back, the tail having pushed itself free from underground, coiling up, ready to unravel and strike any who without question tries to pass. Maybe that’s what the incarnate Whimsy full of mischief and fear who seems about to point is tip-toeing toward, and attempting either to sneak around or grab hold of in a bold effort to yank out the stinger for its collection of rare and strange things.*
The head of the Guardian acts as pivot and transition, upper body attached through it to the lower, the whole entity both parasite and host of itself like Ouroboros, the mouth at the intersection stretching and contorting, held together and blossoming through constriction into a new kind of mouth, as if mocking any ordinary mouth as unfit for expression. What the eye sees in this region cannot be adequately explained.
Out of a nest of hair which atop the Guardian’s head flickers like flames, a serpent’s body rises like a King Cobra from a basket, but it emerges tail first, a dragon shorn of wings and limbs but whose tail continues to be whipped around with uncanny control and precision.
Above the Guardian’s temples, the brow noble but honestly less so than that of Neptune or Jupiter, horns uncoil which actually are lively and muscular tentacles becoming long and slender at their ends, the thin and sharp tips surprisingly having feeling as fine and keen as nerve endings. When relaxed they undulate freely like streamers which flutter in the wind; but when willfully directed by the mind of the Guardian from whose head they come, they move in a mesmerizing rhythm around the serpent’s whipping tail, rising upward in a bizarre and ritualistic celebration and waving and whirling around like some primitive dancer in a trance doing crazy arabesques to the accompaniment of music never before heard.
Passing down through the mouth and seemingly emitted from it, the lower body of the Guardian resembles human form. The pelvis and legs, hidden from view, are planted firmly like the trunk of a tree. Since the stream winding into the distance has run dry but some water has been absorbed, on the torso fungus grows in places, little abnormal growths, while the skin in other places is worn quite through, revealing a tight network of veins and arteries which are more like the intricate roots of certain plants and herbs with magical properties but which in large doses are sickening and even fatal.
The Guardian holds and plays the word “ALIENATED” like an accordion, which when pushed closed seems like a breath drawn inward, and when pulled open arches like a bridge, an exhalation, the overall effect taunting and seductive.
In the foreground at the top of the altar steps, having just been buzzing all around, impudent and irritating, a Fly lands on the side of the altar itself, the slightly curved and elevated, sky-facing word “MIND”, while along the length of the altar’s curved top step, traveling from left to right, a Snail with horns extended, a kind of alien creature in its own right leaving behind a slimy mucous trail, creeps toward the edge barely faster than the hands on a clock face.
*A little backround story and description of the incarnate Whimsy tiptoeing in from the right side, sneaking around behind the Guardian: As an adult having evolved human features it bears some resemblance to “The Ghost of a Flea” which William Blake depicted in his marvelous miniature painting. In its first incarnation this Whimsy lived as a flea within the lines of the big spiral on the chest and belly of King Ubu. Nocturnal in habit, it spent much of its youth exploring the hills and valleys of King Ubu’s body, the funky nooks and crannies, often sliding down into the crack of his rump for fun; and as the sun rose it climbed back up to spend its days sleeping under a warm and sweaty roll of King Ubu’s fat or in the greasy depth of his bellybutton. One evening, so the tall tale goes, while itching and scratching himself and unable to find relief, King Ubu discovered down in the wild tangle of his pubic hair the young Whimsy lying on its back with one leg crossed over the other like some kind of poet looking up and contemplating the stars. This droll display of mimicry so infuriated King Ubu that he yanked out a clump of his own hair to get at the young Whimsy, which he then pinched up by its pollen-ball producing kilt and flicked like a booger into the world.
Since that time the Whimsy has survived in curious ways. It has learned to disguise itself in adaptation to the absurdity of existence on the shadowy margins. Tusks, or misplaced fangs, now extend out of its shoulders and curve up toward its head, the tips arching and pointing forward. In appearance now a gnomish nosferatu, its digits have grown long and slender with sharp little fingernails; and its face like a sarcastic joke in search of a punchline peers and sneers out from between parted layers of what appears to be a hollowed out onion worn like a cross between a bonnet and an old-fashioned aviator hat. Pointing upward from the top of that head-covering, stem-like and comprised of organic filaments with a string coiling around them, twisting and tightening them to a point, is some kind of horn, which provides direction and guidance to the Whimsy like some kind of pataphysical compass needle or divining rod.
Carried in the heart of the artist is a golden thread, vital and alive, which moves through one work after another, coiling and twisting like a snake, connecting spaces and bridging gaps in the weaving of an unseen but intuitively perceived tapestry. The golden thread seems at times to break off and be lost, but it’s there, often deep within and on the nether side of consciousness, burrowing and seeking its next looping and connecting link, which once found may swell into a leviathan swimming in the deep or flare up into a dragon flying in the air before narrowing back down to the thinness of a hair.