Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Grotto #3 (the west-facing wall) & Macho Twee
While working on The Faun this past year I was poking around in the woodhouse, looking for something else, and found my zip-lock bag of sand from The Red Place. It might as well have been a bar of gold. I was making simulcra of the walls of Pan's grotto, using a nearby sandstone rockhouse, as we call such demi-caves hereabouts, for a model, and I needed all the textural enhancements I could get.
Bud & Bobby, cattle farmers who are leasing pasture here on the hill, gave me a roll of synthetic canvas used to stabilize road beds, and that seemed like a good construction worker sort of foundation for faux grotto walls devoted to Pan, a mythic persona known for his cojonistic attributes. (I'd gotten all enthused about construction workers, and their jackhammering in the depths of night, whilst researching Greek and Roman Art with the 3 Femmes Fatale in NYC ~ but that's another story.)
And I'd gotten a first hand look at the cave paintings in France with Steve, Laura Lee, & Garvin - much of the magic of those fabulous images comes from the mastery of substance and light - the lines of shadow that create the shapes of the animals, incised into the surface of the cave walls, leap into view with a shift of the light source - they're really not so much paintings as the first animated movies.
One of the nymphs who was working with me on the dance aspect of The Faun went with me to the grotto and took some pics with her phone. She printed them for me and I actually gridded them out before drawing on the canvas. (The image shows the selected portion of the grotto wall outlined with a red china marker.)
The painted caves that I visited were lesser known ones, and we were guided by Christine, a paleolithic archaeologist, and in one case, by an old farmer who owned the woods where the cave entrance was located. I was much interested in the resonant spaces of the caves, and it turned out that the archaeologist was too, so I did some singing in the caves, certainly a high point in my career of psycho-acoustic investigations, and confirming a theory, at least in my mind, that the dots of red ochre situated at certain points in some of the caves mark points of high resonance. As installation art goes, those caves are ahead of their time. Why they're called primitive art is a mystery to me.
Anyway - so many people visited Lascaux, one of the painted caves in the Dordogne, and breathed so many moldy spores with their damp hot breath onto the cave walls that the paintings got something like the white spots that grow on your throat when you have strep. (Which can be occasioned by too much cryptic singing - but that's another story.) To counter this the French ingeniously made a duplicate cave, with copies of the paintings, so that tourists could breathe on them to their hearts content. A number of textured acrylic "mediums" were specially made for this purpose, with various grits added to simulate the roughnesses of the cave walls, and these were what I used to make the shadow creating ridges of my grotto wall bas reliefs. Finding the zip-lock bag of sand from The Red Place was icing on the cake.
One of the oldest, if not THE oldest, evidence we have for metaphorical thought in our ancestors, is a grave, Neanderthal I think, where the interred was covered with red ochre and flowers, or perhaps herbs, or "plants" that happened to be flowering, if you're a stickler. If a language only has one color name, that name will be red, and the theory of that is that Red = Life - because of blood. Red is in a cluster of words held together by the force of passionate intensity evoked by seeing blood, which seldom comes into view without causing some excitement. People who hunt big animals with horns know all about this sort of thing, as do mid-wives.
The word "Grotto" begins, as far as we know, with the proto-indo-european (PIE) root Krau ~ which means something hidden, as in cryptic, crypt. The word grotesque means something seen in a cave. Pan, a Greek god, also got his name from the PIE deity Pehuson "guardian (?) of the herd" or in other words, the good shepherd, or perhaps just the billy goat. (The name origin story for Pan, that he amused "all the gods", because even as a baby he had hairy legs and an erection, and thus his name, Pan, means "All" is apocryphal (notice the cryp!) but like all deep myths also true. PIE scholars are still duking it out about time placement, but the current drift is that PIE was spoken some 5 to 10 thousand years ago. It's a language imagined by its effects on the ones that followed it, and English is one of those. Red hasn't changed all that much in 10 thousand years, the PIE root is "reudh-". I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that those cave painters made some sort of "r" sound when they asked someone to pass the ochre.
When people find out, usually because I announce it, that I'm supposedly an artist, one of the first questions I get is "What kind of artist are you?" or "What do you paint?". I feel a little self-conscious saying things like "I paint red." and that either raises more questions than it answers, or simply confirms the long held view that artists, if not insane, are headed that way- so I usually say I paint what I see around me... landscapes, still-lifes (still-lives?) and portraits - like this portrait of a rock-face in a faux installed grotto devoted to Pan (all).
I've decided to call my style "Macho Twee".
(The painting/bas relief is "life-size", about 45" x 50". acrylic and earth pigments on synthetic canvas, 2007)