Monday, October 1, 2012

The Riders

When I started painting the horse series I’d been living in Sevilla for a couple of years and by then I was totally immersed in the medieval aspects of life not only in Sevilla but the other great cities of Andalucia, Cordoba and Granada.

It was still possible, twenty years ago, to see and dream about how the three great monotheistic religions came to flower in this region. It’s a place that looks like a moonscape, fertile only for olives, vines and figs in the summer, where you can find your car covered in red dust blown in by the Saharan Sirocco and the Pillars of Hercules are just down the road. Africa is right there with you.

You could hear Islam and the Muezzin calling when the Gitanos sang saetas, or love songs, to the resting Catholic Virgins during Holy Week. You could see something of the Cabbala as the priests poured and mumbled over vessels in the Catholic Mass. And the relics room in the Cathedral, still open twenty years ago, displayed the most bizarre and politically incorrect artefacts in Christendom - John the Baptist’s head in a bottle, thorns from the true crown of Jesus, nails and torture instruments.

Then there were the ornate, dark and crumbling palaces where lived desiccated aristocrats. The portly, oiled, moustachiod gentlemen going to their clubs for coffee and brandy in the mornings to talk about bulls and torreros. The cursed and stolen Indian gold decorating the churches. The gloom, the dirt, the grime. The humble people who lost the civil war. The beggar who knelt in a street like a furnace all day for alms. The smell of shit that sometimes seeped into the street from the poor drainage system. The hot sun combined with the adrenaline that comes from seeing the blood of a valiant bull dying on the golden sands of the Maestranza.

Then there were the torture chambers of the Inquistion found under an old food market, and you realised that for a few hundred years women had been standing on the bones of poor Jews, and people thought to be Jews, haggling over rotten fish.

I remember the Elders of the Gitanos who kidnapped a friend and I one lunchtime and sang love songs to us into the night, all of us fueled by ranks of fino bottles. All the while rapping the rhythm with their knuckles on the table and sometimes dancing like torreros in the Plaza de Toros. And there were other times when you’d wait most of the night for these famous old men to sing and make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. But if there was nothing doing and they didn’t feel like it then walking thru the quiet, crooked streets disappointed. The nights always seemed to be so short.

Everywhere there were huge doors built for enormous black carriages with black curtains or men in armour on horseback to pass through, sometimes with huge hands hanging like Islam warnings, but really just door knockers.
There was a tiny window into a garden long past high up the wall of the bathroom in a friend’s ancient apartment. Down below the palm trees and plants were large and dark and sinister, the stonework was black, the walls were seeping water and mould, it was without life or sun, but it was very cool, quiet and privileged and totally fascinating.

Also at this time the first Gulf war was immanent and there were thousands of people  marching and singing in the streets. For Saddam Hussein and against the Americans. Typical lyrics were “oh Saddam, you’re a bastard, but you’re one of us”, firmly sticking to their Islamic past, 500 years before.

There were so many images and feelings from somewhere not belonging to this lifetime, it often felt that they were intruding from an older collective memory that had been layered over for centuries as our mutual demons were tamed.

Dovetailing into what I was seeing was reading CJ Jung,  and suddenly his view of  a part of  Alchemist ideas made sense of  this arcane science. What he wrote was that the less materialistic of the old Alchemists had been endeavouring to turn their base humanity into something more illustrious. They were just using the metaphor of base metal and gold as this is what greedy Kings understood, and that they were really pre-Freudians in a medieval sort of way.

Then there were the Gnostics who believe that there was a switch, sometime in the distant past, from the True God to Abraxas, who is really the Devil, and it is he whom everyone erroneously worships. This is the explanation for plagues, disasters, cruelty, wars, famines and all other things that didn’t happen in the Garden of Eden.

This appealed to my idea about underground, often heretical,  thought amongst humans that hadn’t necessarily been expressed in a visual way, except as demons, hell, torture and fire. Lessons in the way not to go.

All this I wanted to put into these paintings. The horses on the carousel I used as a metaphor for the great spinning round of the mysterious world.
The Scintillating Flames
The keeper of the flames that will engulf us all eventually in a great conflagration. Our fascination with fire and destruction seems to be driving humanity towards it’s end, it’s as though we wish to finish in a blaze of pain and passion even as we dread it.
The Red Dragon
The Dragon is the guardian of buried treasure, at dawn he stands waiting to be challenged for The Pearl. The Pearl has always been seen as our human wisdom, but in ancient times the Dragon was a separate force, roaming around the lands avoiding St George and causing trouble. Now it’s possible to see that we have to do battle with our unconscious, The Dragon, to attain understanding, The Pearl.
The Goat
The occult figure of The Goat encompasses both  good and evil. With the wings of an eagle, the body of an hermaphrodite and the caduceus of Hermes, he is the Herald of the Gods. He sits firmly on the chaos of the world.
The Alchemical Tree
The Tree of Life combines the mysteries of life and womanhood, secrets of creation denied to men. By understanding these mysteries the Alchemists sought to free the human spirit from it’s earthly fetters, and hence from women.
The Green Lion
The greatest dread of man is to look into himself and for the unconscious to become conscious. As the Lion eats the sun which travels to his belly, so the journey to his own inner world is illuminated.
The Guardian Angel
The Angel is cautious and weighs heavily, always in control of it’s human partner. Nobody can escape from the conscience on their backs.
The Blue Eagle
An image from middle eastern mythology, the bow and arrow represent fixation, the Blue Eagle is a king. He is pure and simple and fixated with doing good by violent means, no matter the consequences.
The Green Man
The Green Man led the Beltane Fire orgies on the night of April 30th , leading on to the maypole danced by young virgins the next day. Carrying the horn of plenty as a wish for the coming years harvest he symbolises sexual potency.
The Searcher
The Angels sing the searcher on his endless journey to find his destiny. Through green valleys and across dry plains this archetype, seen throughout human history, wanders restlessly and alone.
The Peacock
From the middle east comes The peacock, a fallen, devil angel now pardoned, who’s penance is to carry souls into the next world. There is no grace or charm in his work and his dreadful cry tells of another passing, but it is redemption of a sort and he does it proudly.
Abraxas
He who in the monotheistic world is worshipped as God is really a false God, more akin to the Devil. According to the Gnostics, at some ancient date Abraxas pushed the Good God out and now rules the roost, thus explaining wars, famines, evil, cruelty and sickness.
But really we worship more the side of us that is Abraxas as this is considered strong, realistic and human. We don’t worship goodness.
The Avatar 
This enigmatic Avatar passes as the sigh of a warrior angel. He travels with the wind and enters quietly always ready to do battle for the mind and the ideas of the future.

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