Ten mythic portraits...

This section covers a body of work produced between 1995 and 2000, of large mythic portraits that progressively evolved a common motif, that of the juxtaposition and interplay of face and intuitive symbol.

 

Self Portrait

Oil on board, 210 mm x 300 mm, (1000 mm is about 3'3"), 1995.

My first 'real' oil painting effort, apart from two awkward attempts in 1991 and 1993. This time I had the guidance of a good friend and talented painter, Liz Sutherland. Rather 'overdone' I see now, after much staring at a small passport photograph of myself I liked that I worked from.

 

Grandfather Spirit

Oil on board, 730 mm x 550 mm, 1995.

Modelled after a portrait of Carl Jung, it seemed to turn out more like Charlton Heston! I was mainly interested in the gesture of the hands - something powerful in the combination of open hand and closed fist, and in both the protection and professing of where my 'woundedness' lay very much at that time: the right-hand side of my mouth (if seen as a mirror). More on this in the "About Us" part of this website.

I painted to create a connection with 'grandfather' , a general sense of benevolent, older male mentor-spirit. I never knew my physical grandfathers. And at this time especially, doing many sweatlodges and so on, I resonated deeply to the phrase of "the grandfathers", a sense of spiritual heritage, sensitivity and responsibility.

This was the first painting to show a combination of portrait and intuitive symbol, a series of which I then began to do in earnest, feeling this juxtaposition was particularly 'mine' to explore.

 

Pilgrim

Oil on canvas, 1375 mm x 780 mm, 1995.

This is an odd one, one that I've never been really comfortable with or proud of. Perhaps because I didn't 'cheat' , having no inspiring face photo to work from. Again the hand covers the lower face, this time reaching for evanescent threads of light that come from castle ruins higher up on the mountain.

Some associations with "Thus Sprake Zarathustra" by Nietzsche which I read in my early 20's. Coming down from up high on the mountain, in humble disguise, the worried look wondering if the thread of connection can be maintained. Symbols for me now evoking emotional potential (the left side) and the cosmic turning of higher 'wheels' (the right side).

Actually, it seems foolish and too cursory to offer 'interpretations' of the symbols I then started painting regularly on the surface of these 'mythic portrait' paintings. It is the tension of the 'unknown' that still attracts me to this exercise - the unknown intricacies in facial expression - the FACE! ( a keyword in my personal mythology) - and the unknown in intuitive symbols - and the strange play between the two.

 

Red Cloud (Mahpuia Luta)

Oil on board, 730 mm x 550 mm, 1996.

This is also known in a more personal sense as "Grief At The Loss of Deep Forms". The following is a poem I wrote at the time, which is inscribed on the back of the painting:

Meditation on Red Cloud's Symbol

Grace falls from heaven.
This healing grief.
My throat catches.
I cannot express the way
This crosses my heart.
The suffering that bleeds
Into the plains,
The rivulets that run into the earth.
They are channels,
Like the grooves of my forehead.
From the diamond centre
I am pierced like an arrow
To the depths of me.
What has happened to my people?

This portrait was inspired by a photo of Red Cloud, Oglala Sioux Chief, from the book "Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee - An Indian History of the American West" by Dee Brown (Pan Books, 1971). This painting has always hung in my bedroom or living room, although often surrounded also by 'lighter' images. In this man's expression, in what I read of his life and can feel of his spirit, I still find immense depth of heart and feeling, and yes, suffering. Authentic, valid, and appropriate suffering, a stoic, solid presense at the core of mysteries lost to vanquishing cultures and times.

In this painting I staring developing the practice of thin washes of colour that I would allow to run into tiny rivulets behind further washes. Here it evoked the tassles of buckskin clothing as well as carrying the feeling content. The similar motif in the symbol is modelled after the classic "thunderbird" designs of Native American cultures.


Satanta (White Bear)

Oil on board, 810 mm x 1200 mm, 1996.

This was done shortly after the previous painting, and is like a 'partner' to it. The photographic inspiration was taken from the same book mentioned above. In this Kiowa chief's lantern-jawed face (c. 1870) I found a similar evocation of grief as Red Cloud's, and yet also defiance and directness. The symbol grew from this sense of open-eyed strength and conviction.

I was surprised (and a little pained at the reflection) when later by chance I covered each half of the portrait's face in turn to reveal how distinctly different they are - the pain in his left side, so young-looking, the strength and 'age' in his right. I have become particularly sensitive to these nuances in people I meet and work with. The face is such a powerful mandala.

 

The Great God Pan

Oil on board, 855 mm x 1200 mm, 1996.

This is one half of another 'pair' of paintings, like Red Cloud and Satanta. Here the polarity seems to be 'Pagan / sexuality / liberation' and 'Christian / celibacy / conservation' or some such.

No prizes for guessing whose portrait I was inspired by to model the Great God Pan on - Mick Jagger of course, in a photo of him that I relished especially for his awesome big grin and casual vigour.

These two paintings - 'The Great God Pan' and the following one, 'Russian Priest' - had the fortune of being traded for a chance I had to participate in a wonderful "Men's Movement" workshop - Essentially Men (see Links). This confirmed their 'spirit' for me - reflections especially on 'maleness'. I painted both in a loose, exuberant style. 'Pan' was also inspired at the time by a Waterboy's song of similar name, on the album "Dream Harder" (though it was "The Glastonbury Song" that particularly haunted me).

 

Russian Priest

Oil on board, 855 mm x 1200 mm, 1996.

Yes, I actually did this one late in the year, so it's resemblance to Santa Claus/ Father Christmas is not unsurprising, though not intended. I was simply captured by a black and white photographic portrait of a 'Russian priest' in a library book I found, and wanted to explore this expression of kindness, humility, wisdom and humour in a painterly way, in a similar 'loose' style to what I'd done with 'Pan' (see above). I wanted to 'get away' with putting some bright primary colours in among the skin tones, and then the flame on the forehead (the Ajna chakra) came naturally as an afterthought.

I switched to gold for the symbol after previously only using silver, and that seemed to concur with a 'festive' and healthy, male, and vigourous spirit I was contacting.

 

The Castle Keep

Oil on board, 800 mm x 1200 mm, 1995.

This originally arose as a commissioned work (subsequently declined) - for a logo-style illustration for K.E.E.P - The 'Karuna Environmental Education Project', an initiative of two members of the rural community where I lived, Karuna Falls. The waterfall that gives the community its name can be seen in the background on the left. I was inspired by the word 'keep' (as were the two friends who came up with the acronym) - the dictionary definition offers several meanings, all of which I refer to in a poem I wrote after the painting was done:

Meditation on the Castle Keep Image

keep: v. to store, hold, or confine in a regular place.
2. to maintain, care for, tend. 3. to be faithful to or
abide by. n. 1. means of subsistence. 2. the strongest
room or main tower of a castle [OE cèpan, to observe].

Twelve stronghold stones surround my hands,
Another twelve within.
I am held by bonds of love to the land,
And keep it for my kin.

Ten fingers enfold this heart-shaped space,
From which ten fronds unfold.
This strongest room is yet the place,
Wherein new love I hold.

My feelings flow and make a moat,
To tend the tender fern.
Yet more than just what I emote,
Is what my heart may learn.

For though I may draw up the bridge at times,
I remain open to sky above.
If my heart's truth seems lost or obscured in rhymes,
It is to keep the faith for Love.

. . . . .

This painting is now severely faded and flaking, after four years or so being fastened to the chimney stack outside on our present house, facing the road. It's put in good service protecting our home.

And yes, a flaw in its design, the colours of the rainbow do go the other way. Oops.

 

Jesus & His Modern Magdalene

Oil on board, 1550 mm x 1200 mm, 1996.

This painting is available for purchase - contact me for details. Click here for a larger view on a pop-up window.

I ttok as inspiration for this painting a photograph out of a fashion magazine, changing the male figure into a something of a blend between Jesus and myself, and leaving the androgenous female figure sans skirt. What attracted me initially was the contrast between the 'heavenly' fall of light between them and the diamond of deep shadow right next to that. Overall the painting is a meditation of Christian upbringing and how that affects (affected me) in relationships to women. There is langour here, and also tension - 'what am I doing here? what can I do here?' I guess I wanted to give 'Jesus' a chance with Magdalene again.

This was a large scale work and I resisted any urge to work with small brushes, preferring to capture free feeling more than detail.


Adi Da Samraj Mandala

Oil on board, with brass nails and wire, 840 mm diameter, 2000.

This is a portrait of my partner's 'Sat-guru' Adi Da Samraj, done as a birthday present for her. Around the thick composite board support are embedded dozens of brass nails from which brass wire runs, in geometric 'string art' style, 'framing' the work in a halo effect that catches the light. The Mandala is centered on Adi Da's right eye.

The main consideration here was the semblance to Adi Da for how I see him, and how I hoped Karen would be pleased with my protrayal of him (she was). As well, it was a meditation for me on the mystery of Adi Da's nature. This work hangs in our living room as a 'murti' by which we are reminded of Adi Da's presence.

More on Adi Da can be found in the 'About Us' section, and in the 'Links>Metaphysical Community' section of this website.