For those of you who missed the 30×30 show last July, you now have a second chance! The remaining originals, including St. John here (currently my FB avatar) are going to be back on the wall. There will also be prints, prints, prints.
Check it out!
As promised, I’m writing about Herne the Hunter today. He is a deity with which I have a close affinity, so naturally I wanted to include him in my portraits of Death Deities. I decided to take another look at some of the information available and the effect it had on my work.
Herne is said to have been a royal hunter in the time of Edward II of England, the early 1300’s. While hunting in the woods around Windsor Castle, Edward was attacked by a stag and Herne threw himself in front of the king. None of Edwards other woodsmen would heal Herne out of jealousy. It was finally a dark rider who agreed to help and cut the horns off the stag and tied them to Herne’s head. He was healed, but lost all his prowess as a hunter. In despair at the loss of his skill, he ran into the forest, wearing the antlers and was later found hanging from an oak tree. When Edward’s retainers tried to recover the body, it had disappeared. The tree is known as Herne’s Oak and is mentioned in Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor. Since that time, Herne the Hunter has reappeared in the Windsor Great Park many times, most recently in the 1970’s.
What is interesting though is the possibility that the story goes back even further. H and C are interchangeable between the Indo-European languages and therefore Hern can become Cern and applied to Cernunnos, a horned deity depicted on the Gundestrup Cauldron, dated between 200 BC and 300 AD. So here we have a horned deity sharing Herne’s name a thousand years before the reign of Edward II.
So, you may ask, what does this have to do with Death Deities? Well, obviously Herne symbolizes sacrifice. He first put himself in harms way to protect his king, and then hung himself on the oak. (Parallels abound with Odin and Jesus.) After Herne’s disappearance, he was seen as the leader of the Wild Hunt, a spectral phenomenon throughout Northern Europe usually occurring in winter and presaging some sort of disaster. Herne and Cernunnos are seen as the Holly King and Oak King respectively, by modern pagans, and they symbolize the cycle of death and rebirth in nature. If we link Herne with Odin (who was widely revered in Anglo-Saxon Britain) we see a god who escorts the dead to the afterlife. And I’m just skimming over the surface. A great resource is Eric L. Fitch’s book: ‘In Search of Herne the Hunter’. If you’re interested in this mythical figure at all, I highly recommend it.
And finally, we come to the drawing I did for the show. A friend was surprised when she saw how young Herne is. Traditionally he is depicted as an older man, middle aged at least. His beard is long and his hair longer. But in the story of Herne, he is human and eventually becomes the ghostly, horned hunter. So he was young once, maybe even at his death. There is also the fact that this telling of the tale is one of the more recent versions (in a historical context) and therefore younger.
However one chooses to look at it, the image in the drawing is what I saw in my mind’s eye. And perhaps that is how Herne wished to appear. This time.
You can’t draw portraits of death deities without reflecting on the issue of mortality, or at least I can’t. I took the gallery owner’s challenge; to go beyond sugar skulls for the Day of the Dead show, and started looking at death deities and their lore. What I found were some interesting similarities, some major differences, and some great stories. What I was hoping for, as the title of this post suggests, is to shed some light on these characters/archetypes/beings, and thereby illuminate the subject of death as transformation, a natural process that all living things share. I’m not trying to say that death is good, but neither am I declaring it bad. It simply is.
There are five pieces in the show, each subject from a different religion/culture: Irish, English, Norse, Greek, and Egyptian. Starting with the Irish, because I promised to post more pictures of the Raven, is the Morrigan. In the notes for the show, this is what I wrote:
One of the Celtic ‘triple goddesses’, a deity with multiple aspects, that of Maiden, Mother, and Crone. She is linked with cattle, and therefore fertility. She is also associated with rivers and lakes, the water being seen as a sign of rebirth. The Morrigan is also known as a battle goddess, but not by wielding a sword. Her power is in her ability to enchant or curse. She can clear a battlefield with a poem. She can transform into a raven, flying above the warriors, choosing who will die. She can be seen at a river ford, washing clothes and armor before battle, symbolizing the washing and anointing of the body after death and preparing it for the next life.
This is a greatly condensed description of her attributes, and with a bit of searching you can find good information about her on the web. One of the sources I found was:
They covered the basics of the Morrigan, etymology of her name, where she appears in the legends and myths, etc. Check it out.
The painting shows the transformation of the Morrigan into the raven and perhaps the other way as well. I did a couple of new things with the artwork. In the knot, I came back with thin lines of gouache (Prussian Green and Alizarin Crimson) on top of the watercolor, trying to emulate the iridescence of the black feathers. It’s very subtle and doesn’t show very well in my photograph. I’ll have to see if I can get the art scanned after the show comes down. And there is no black here. It’s all a mix of Indigo, Prussian Green, and Alizarin Crimson. The background behind the knot is Indigo gouache.
The human figure was initially left white, and then I changed her pose. I had to define her new edges with watercolor and then a thin wash of white gouache over all. Her face I struggled with. I was using the gouache and the colors kept looking too intense, so I kept reworking it, blending and adding. What I should have done was paint the face in watercolor completely, and then done my white wash over that. If there’s a next time…
Next post, Herne the Hunter.
The print show is up, the ink put away, and the proofs are in the flat file. Actually, that was almost two weeks ago. I haven’t been completely idle, though. The next show at Avanti opens October 10th. That’s just over two weeks away. And again, none of the art for that show is finished. Complicating things a bit is the show I’m doing this weekend, the Emerald Spiral Fall Expo. I will be manning my wife’s booth as well as selling my own work. It will be a fun, long day.
The show in October is themed on Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Curator Wendy Keen said she was hoping to go beyond sugar candy skulls and dancing skeletons and I am happy to oblige. The main piece is one that I thought I had posted work on before, but I can only find the line art.
The first layers of color were laid down right before a show in May and I started work on painting the knot at the show. Then the 30×30 work started, and the printmaking, and life. So the poor raven sat and waited. But things happen in their own time, and the Day of the Dead show is the right time for my friend here.
The concept for this piece changed significantly since the line art was scanned. In the beginning it was just an exercise in outrageous knot-work. That by itself, however, did not seem to be enough. I tried different ideas for putting the raven in context (though never atop a bust of Pallas) and eventually it chose the Morrigan, a Celtic goddess of death and transformation. I say it chose because it did not entirely feel like my decision. In art school my teachers always told me to ‘Listen to your art. It will tell you what it needs.” This wasn’t so much a matter of my listening, but rather being dragged along by giant talons.
As scavengers, ravens frequented the battlefields of our early history, and were seen by the Celts as the Morrigan incarnate, freeing the souls of the fallen. It is in this guise that this raven spoke to me.
Things have progressed some since this picture was taken. The white space behind the knot-work will be filled in with indigo, a preview of which you can see in the beak, and there’s some subtle coloring to the knot as well. I’ll take more pictures and post as soon as I can.
The last print is done. It will be delivered to the gallery for framing on Tuesday. This one of Slepnir, Odin’s eight legged horse, was a special challenge because I decided to do a reduction print. For those unfamiliar with this technique, please forgive me if I geek out a bit. It is a way to make a multi color relief print using only one block. But it’s also kind of like working without a net because there is little room for error. First you carve away everything you want to appear as white, then print the first color.
The next step is to carve away everything that you want to appear as the first color. In this case, I wanted only the background to be the Naples Yellow-like color, so I carved away all of the background. Well, almost all. There’s some lettering above the horse’s back that I carved around, but it doesn’t show in the next picture because I didn’t ink it during printing.
Lastly, I carved away everything I wanted to stay as the dark yellow. I then printed the third color, a mixed dark brown. The coverage on the final run was the toughest. There was either not enough ink, or the ink was too stiff, or not enough pressure, or too much ink and it plugged up the small spaces, but no matter what, I couldn’t get a good clean impression. Again, I don’t think it’s too bad and the majority of the prints will be useable, but it was exasperating.
And now a bit of a test. I took some video of the printing process and will attempt to post it here. I’m just following directions on how to post this, I really have no idea what I’m doing, so I hope it actually works.
All this and Tom Waits on the radio. Yeah. Life is good.
Most people wouldn’t have a clue as to what the title of this post refers to. Even if they were given the hint ‘mythology’. That’s because the mythology we are usually taught in school (if at all) is from the Egyptian era, and/or from Greece and Rome. The mythology I’m working with here is Norse and while there may be some similarities (how many cultures have a war god[dess] or a love god[dess], etc.) the stories are very different and rich with symbolism.
The Norns are a trio of goddesses conceptually aligned with the Greek Fates and I’ve depicted them in a similar fashion. Urd, what has become, is spinning the yarn of our existence. It is what we are. Verdandi, what will become, is measuring out the yarn. This is not a fatalistic viewpoint, but one of potential. She simply measures and our actions guide her hands. Skuld, what should become, cuts the yarn. Again, she does not decide our fate. It is up to us to determine how to use the time we have.
The Norns, who live at a well among the roots of Yggdrasill, the Norse World Tree, are also said to weave these threads into a tapestry and to carve the runes for peoples lives into Yggdrasill’s trunk.
Fenrir was a giant wolf and one of the sons of Loki, the god of transformation, trickery, and chaos.
It was foretold that Fenrir would slay Odin at Ragnarok, the final battle. So the gods tried to trick Fenrir into being bound by magic cords, saying that they were only testing the strength of the cords, and they would release him as soon as the cords were tested. Fenrir, who was no fool, didn’t trust the gods.
So he asked for one of them to put their hand in his mouth as surety of his release. Only Tyr, the great warrior, was willing to do this, knowing full well that Fenrir would not be released. For this, he lost his right hand, and he is considered to be the embodiment of willing sacrifice.
Heavy stuff, huh? Here’s a sneak peek at the next block to lighten the mood. The sketches for it are under all the shavings. It will be of Slepnir, Odin’s eight legged horse, Because who wouldn’t want one of those?
August was busy. Get the new web-site operational. Create art and a story for a small show. Get prints and framing for another small show. Both of those flew by. Sorry for not announcing them. Oh yes. There’s also the next show at Avanti, a printmaking extravaganza. “Would you like to be in it?” they asked. “Sure! Why not.” I replied.
I’ve done printmaking in the past, mumbldy-mumble years ago, and I remember it being very freeing as a technique, but not without its challenges. And because I seem to be genetically disinclined to do things the easy way, I decided to go back to my Norse roots and take a look at the myths and legends from that side of my family.
First up were Hugin and Munin, Odin’s ravens. He would send them out across the land (and worlds) and they would report back to him what all they had seen. I laid the designs down quickly enough, but there they sat.
And now for a change of perspective…
Hello to all reading this blog, I’m Levi Cain; Kevin’s son & a recent graduate of high school. For all ya’ll wondering why I’m writing the remainder of his blogpost, it’s kinda simple; the art opening my dad mentioned previously is in less than twelve days, and he doesn’t have any finished pieces for it… yet. (Lets not mention the fact that they will need to be framed as well, shall we?)
As I sit here writing this he is calmly working away at solving this current issue and panicking as well. A little bit of an oxymoron, I know, but it’s the truth. The work itself, despite a certain lack of completion, is coming along quite nicely.
Here’s the WIP of the print block for Munin:
The show opening for Avanti will be on Friday the 12th of this month at 6:00 PM.
One More Thing…
My dad has finally gotten his website (with store!) up and running. Granted, it’s still in the beta phase right now, so feel free to contact him should you be encountering any problems with it.
I wanted to do a post-a-day this month to highlight the 30×30 show, but life intervened. Now the show is ending. The last day is Friday, August 1st. If you haven’t seen it yet…well, you know.
Here are a few more images I wanted to share.
The Modern Madonna is hopefully self explanatory. She is taken from the Book of Kells, folio 7v. The baby Jesus has been moved from her lap to an official AAP approved car seat, while Mary texts on her smart-phone and gets a refill in her ubiquitous cup with green logo. My intent here is not to be snarky, but to make an observation. If the Madonna and Child happened today, this is probably what it would look like. This is a well established artistic device. Look at many of the famous biblical paintings and you will see ancient Judeans, Greeks, or Romans dressed in medieval European clothing.
Adam and Eve. OK. Maybe I am being a bit snarky here. In this design of my own making, Adam’s hair is being pulled by the serpent, while Eve looks on with resignation. I’m no expert, but I don’t think Eve had too high of an opinion of her man.
The Dudes shows a couple of guys derived from illuminated initials in the Book of Kells. They are just for fun, but deserve some closer attention. Their beards contain the words of the title and their clothing is based on Jeff Bridges costumes in ‘The Big Lebowski”. It was my wife’s idea, for which I am, as always, eternally grateful.
These, and all the other pieces in this show will be on my new web-site, coming very soon, as will be select prints available for purchase.
I got to thinking about iconic images. What are they? What do they mean? What makes them iconic? If we look up the definition we find that iconic is a: “widely recognized and well-established” and b: “widely known and acknowledged especially for distinctive excellence” (Merriam-Webster Online). According to my 1951 Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary, iconic means: “Relating to or resembling an icon or an image of any kind…” There is no inference of quality in the older definition.
Do a Google image search of “iconic art” and you will find a fascinating collection of work, much of it derivative. Andy Warhol is well represented, but there may be more interpretations than actual Warhols. The Girl With the Pearl Earring seems to have surpassed the Mona Lisa, and yet you have to scroll more than half way down the initial set of images before you find the Vermeer painting by itself, rather than as a comparison to someone else’s take on it. This is just the internet at work. A closer look at the sources of the top hits shows effective search engine optimization, not necessarily great art. We have accepted this kind of search from an algorithm where in the past it would have been conducted by art directors or curators.
So what do I post today? Why three derivative works, of course. But if I was going to look at iconic imagery from the present to the distant (and not so distant) past, then I had to use these images.
The blue police box will be recognizable to many as the T.A.R.D.I.S. from the long running Dr. Who TV series. The series itself has achieved iconic status, at least in my mind, and I don’t consider myself a real fan. If I had not done the T.A.R.D.I.S., my geeky family would have disowned me.
St. John is indeed a portrait of St. John the Evangelist. The basis of the art is St. John’s portrait in the Book of Kells, an illuminated Irish manuscript from the 9th century. Follow this link to the Trinity College web site and scroll down to folio 291v. You can zoom in on the portrait and compare it to mine. And what’s with the high contrast and bright colors in my version? It’s from the 1967 portrait of John Lennon by Richard Avedon. Two iconic images in one.
Nothing says ‘iconic image’ to me more than Andy Warhol’s 1962 Campbell’s Soup Cans. This work helped to define the pop-art movement which is, as I see it, the foundation of pop-culture today. And it doesn’t seem too far a stretch to compare it to the results of my Google image search. If Andy Warhol were still alive, might he not pose a Barbie doll to look like a Vermeer painting?
What are we doing? We take ordinary, everyday objects and change them in ways that make us look at them (and ourselves) differently. Isn’t that what art is supposed to do?
The last two of my i-knot series a couple sharing i-pod and a hipster. The couple I saw walking down the street one day, holding hands and sharing their ear buds. I think it was all the more sweet because they were kind of grunge-y and hard-core looking, sharing this moment in public. It doesn’t matter if they were listening to acid or emo, it was still cute.
The hipster is the man in question. I had originally drawn him more generically with a much more structured knot. In the redraw I realized he was leaning against a wall with one foot propped up and I saw him as ‘the hipster’.
In a recent Seattle Times article someone wrote of hip young men with “ironic mustaches”. What does that mean? Is that like John Waters? I don’t know. I drew my hipster with no mustache at all, just the beard, his curly hair tousled over his forehead, and heavy horn-rimmed glasses. He’s wearing a sweater with the sleeves pulled up, tight purple jeans, and green Chuck Taylors.
So I ask again, have you seen this man? I know I have, or a variation thereof. And I want to make clear that I’m not dissing hipsters, but lampooning a stereotype. Maybe I’ll do the Aging-Ponytailed-Beerbellied-Hippie-Artist next. Er…that would be me.
It all comes back to creating images that are easily, if not instantly, recognizable in a pop-culture context. Giving the viewer a frame of reference, a chunk of solid ground to stand on while looking at this art. Why? Because the technique I use is not a common one and I want my viewers to have something they can relate to. There were many people at the gallery opening who were totally unfamiliar with Celtic art, but they knew a flying monkey when they saw one.