My newest piece, The Saffron Gatherers is inspired from an ancient fresco painting known by the same name.
It is 40x30 inches, using drawing, painting, inkjet transfers and many, many layers of acrylic medium to create a distressed, encaustic-like effect.
I was interested in recreating, but not duplicating, the figure of one youthful saffron gatherer, who I have taken to calling “My Girl".
The Beautiful Frescos of Thera
Ancient Thera was occupied by the same people who lived on Crete, a people we call the Minoans.
The Pompeii of the Aegean
Around 1600 BCE, Thera blew its top.
It Was Kind of a Big Deal.
Although it may not have destroyed the Minoan civilization, it probably weakened it to the extent that they were eventually taken over by the mainland Greek civilization of Mycenae. It may have even caused a volcanic winter that reached as far away as China.
Actually, there were a series of eruptions before the caldera collapsed. One of the first eruptions blew ash into the air and covered Akrotiri, which is why the fresco have been preserved.
The Frescos of Akrotiki
Minoan Art- The Stuff of Dreams
As I said, the paintings from the Minoan civilization have sparked our collective imagination and inspired not only archeologists, but poets, artists, spiritualists, and pseudo-sociologists. It captures our imagination with such fervor, that it has led to a fair amount irresponsible scholarship. There has been wild speculations as to the beliefs, values and societal structure of the Minoans. Laymen and scholars alike have projected their fantasies of a peaceful, woman-centered society onto the vestiges of this long-past civilization-- a sort of ancient Age of Aquarius.
And Who Can Blame Them?
How much of this wishful thinking is actually true?
No one knows.
Yet, there is something truly unique about the art from the Minoans that cannot be denied.
Most art during that period, such as the ancient Egyptians or the Babylonians, was beautiful, but schematic and completely formalized.
The art produced for these and other civilizations were “instruments of propaganda... To serve either the reputation of the immortals or the reputation after death of their earthly representatives”*
In contrast, “the freedom of movement and the sense of vitality which emanates from Minoan art, an art which is the creation of a less rigid society... adapted to a habitat in which motion contrast and sudden change predominate.." **
In short, the art of the Minoans is often winsome, spontaneous, individualistic, and even funny.
Painting the Murals
First, let’s talk about some of the conventions in the paintings of Thera. Because of the technology and pigments available at the time, they had a limited amount of colors to work with, only black,red, blue and yellow ochre. They got the most out of this limited palette by juxtaposing colors, along with only a bit of mixing. There was no use of green that is discernible.
Then, let’s talk about how they signified the identities of the figures.
People of different ages had different hairstyles. Mature men and women have long, luxuriant black hair. Maturity is also expressed by a double chin and rolls of flesh on the stomach (very realistic!)
Young adults have short, curly hair.
Children had shorn heads, which is indicated by a blue scalp. As they grow a little bit older, little sections of hair would be allowed to grow. So, they have little pigtails (or, what in the 1980’s we used to call rat-tails) coming out at sort of odd intervals.
Boys are often portrayed nude, while the girls are always clothed.
The Story of The Saffron Gatherers
The Saffron Gatherers is in a building called Xeste 3, and wraps around the walls of a room on the second floor called Room 3a. The north wall shows a majestic female figure seated on a dias. She is dressed magnificently and has a snake going up her back and over her hair. She is accompanied by what seems to be a Griffin. In front of her, a young woman and a monkey (monkeys are depicted doing human things on Thera- what fun!) pour crocuses out in offering to the woman. (This figure has been identified as the Goddess of Nature, the Potnia.)
But my image does not concern this scene. My girl is on the east wall.
She is one of the most famous figures from this archeological complex, and is often the image that is used on the cover of books or magazines devoted to art from the Minoan period.
The next figure is who I depict, and that seems to be so loved by people around the world.
I love the fact that in the same room that depicts a Goddess, there is also a scene where an older girl is telling a younger girl to hurry up.
I was interested in recreating, but not duplicating, this lovely, young gamine.
When drawing from some source material, a typical technique for an artist is to use a grid.
After creating a grid for the original image, you simply make a corresponding grid on the blank art substrate or page. This helps your eye to “map” where points are in the original image, and to objectively observe the shapes.
The rhythm of the original fresco is beautiful and I wanted to capture it, so I added diagonal lines that help describe the general shape and movement of the figure, and create a kind of underpinning, or ley lines.
The frescoes of Thera did not come intact. They were unearthed in tiny pieces, and methodically reassembled off-site, like a puzzle. When I see an image of The Saffron Gatherers, I'm viewing a heavily distressed image. I have no wish to "clean it up" and reproduce what I think it originally looked like. The fresco's partial destruction and the passage of time add to its appeal for me.
The next series of steps was to create layer after layer of effects, attempting to express this aesthetic of distressed beauty.
An Amalgamation of Elements
I got playful with the imagery with some additions.
At the top of the panel, I painted in a blue strip. I thought it would be either a blue sky, or a glimpse of the sea. This is a way to express that My Girl lived on an island. She would have been surrounded by sea and sky (this is Santorini, after all!) Borrowing from a different Thera fresco, the mural from Room 5 in The West House, I painted dancing dolphins.
I find it fascinating how the lively elements of My Girl, the dancing dolphins and saffron flowers, create a striking contrast with the immense destruction from this catastrophic event.
One of my finishing touches was to take the powdery crumbs of a bright orange pastel and sprinkle it various places, to signify the saffron. I doubt they would willingly disperse the precious crop so wastefully, but I felt it would be another whimsical element, adding to the magical atmosphere of my imaginings.
The Tiny Book of Thera
At the time of this entry, the book is a work in progress. If you click HERE, you can see a short blog entry about the book, and see a video of me flipping through the pages.
In the future, I may start another large work based on some of the images in the book- who knows?
* Christos Doumas, The Wall Paintings of Thera, (Kapon Editions, 1992) Pg 22
A while ago, I took an amazing journey to visit prehistoric cave paintings in the Dordogne Valley in France. Not only did I and my companions get personalized tours of the caves, we also got to create art to express and process the what we experienced.
The artmaking was facilitated by Kirah Van Sickle. She had us make tiny, handmade books, which we adorned using stencils, watercolor pencils, collage, and monotypes.
This way of making art was so fun, and such an effective form of expression that I decided to continue this playful practice and make books as a sort of “sketchbook”, a place to experiment and work out my thoughts.
I started one to accompany my journey through creating The Saffron Gatherers.
I found myself working on the book and the larger piece simultaneously, each aiding the other.
At the time of this entry, the book is a work in progress! In the future, I may start another large piece inspired by some of the pages of this book.
I just got back from my Dream Vacation That is Not a Vacation.
My journey into the caves.
With the guidance of Dr. Carol Aalbers, we had special, personalized tours in multiple caves containing Paleolithic paintings.
But we didn’t just go visit the caves. We then took time to process what we experienced together using art, movement, and dream exploration.
I toured five caves, plus a rock shelter.
I realize that I am an artist who blogs, not a travel blogger, so I will simply tell you which caves I visited, then talk about the impact they had on me.
By the way- photography is not allowed inside the caves, so I am showing images I have pulled off websites devoted to the caves.
Lascaux Cave is one of the most impressive and famous Paleolithic art caves in the world. Its so famous that it had to be closed to the public- the breath of so many visitors deteriorated the paintings. So, several replicas have been made. Lascaux is the only cave I saw on this trip that was a replica.
Although the replica is truly impressive, being in the actual caves is incomparable.
Below are the four real caves I got to see.
A Profound Experience
Imagine going underground into a cave. The atmosphere is totally different than the world above. It’s cool, it’s dark, it’s damp. You shuffle along with your tour companions, contemporary human beings with backpacks and rain jackets.
Now, imagine not just hand prints, but mysterious graphic signs, dots, and beautiful, elegant drawings.
For me, it was an extraordinary, almost mystical experience.
In between the days saw the caves, we would stay at our B&B and make art. The artmaking was facilitated by Kirah Van Sickle. She guided me through art processes using materials that I am not used to, using colors I wouldn’t normally choose, in a format I’ve never done before.
First, I created two small paintings on paper, using stencils, little sponge rollers, watercolor pencils, collage, and something called a gelli plate, which is a way to make monotypes.
Then, we folded up large pieces of paper to make little tiny 3x3 inch books, which we then adorned, using the same materials.
The materials and approach was entirely different than what I normally do, and it brought me away from my routine- and my artistic tricks! I was forced to become more imaginative and loose, and it was a lot of fun.
The Essence of Art
Why do art? Why do I do what I do?
I struggle with making art I describe as "performative," by which I mean, result-oriented. I can easily slide into the territory of doing something for the sake of approval.
So, there’s a tension, because on the one hand, I want to do artwork that’s good quality and appeals to people. But on the other hand, I want to make art that purely authentic and comes from my heart.
Going into those caves and seeing work from artists/shamans from tens of thousands of years ago really brought me into direct connection with the fundamental drive humans have to dream, to communicate, to create and express ourselves. It reminds me that this is my primary missive, sales and accolades be damned.
Are there ways that I could present finished work that features my drawing? Does it have to be anything other than what it simply is?
This trip was a profound experience, and I feel very different. My hope is that this difference will continue to grow in my heart and mind, and that it will inform my artmaking from this time forward.
Now, off to make some art!
Ah, the life of an artist.
One boat is Film Noir, the other boat is Archeology.
One boat is public-facing promotion, the other is private art practice.
One boat is a confident beating of the drum, the other is diffident exploration.
Meanwhile, I was carving out an hour here or there to do some deeply challenging experimentation in the studio.
Like a lot of things, posting on social media is easier the more you do it, and the less you do it, well... the less you do it.
Social Media- a blessing and a curse.
Having a social media presence is practically a must for an artist these days.
I have long since came to terms with the fact that I am not, and probably never will be, a social media sensation.
But you know folks, I just can't seem to make myself do it.
Despite of, or maybe because of, having to appear confident for all the shows I've been having, I have been particularly reluctant to show my process like I normally would.
What I need to do, is start afresh.
A Social Media "Sabbatical"
Fortunately, I am old enough that I do remember those times. Bringing back a bit of that peace and privacy may be exactly what I need.
Libraries aren't just for books!
I’m very excited to say that I have been invited to participate in the Lake Oswego Reads program.
In addition to being an author, Wilson is the former Executive Director for Dream of Wild Health, an Indigenous non-profit farm, and the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance, a national coalition of tribes and organizations working to create sovereign food systems for Native people. Wilson is a Mdewakanton descendant, enrolled on the Rosebud Reservation.
The Seed Keeper
This dense, multi-layered story is about Rosalee Ironwing Meister, a Native American Dakota woman, and her quest to become whole. Interwoven into the story is the recounting of her ancestors’ struggle to survive the “Indian Wars,” relocations, boarding schools, and the collective trauma caused by these events. Throughout the book, the theme of seeds, traditions being handed down, and the evolution of farming techniques binds it all together.
My inspiration and interpretation
In this piece, I integrate several objects and moments in time into a single image.
The books protagonist, Rosalie Ironwing is a loner. She has had a tumultuous and insecure young life.
When John dies, she goes on a quest to make peace with her past, and in so doing regains contact with her family and her heritage.
I see the envelope, the pouches, and even the old white farmhouse as being safe places for seeds and souls to rest and incubate. From that place of rest, growth is possible.
Creating an encaustic-like effect
The technique I used to make this piece is part of a new method of artmaking for me. I wished to create an encaustic-like effect by using layers of different types of acrylic media.
Encaustic is painting with hot wax. It is an ancient painting medium that has seen a rebirth since the 1990's. Because it is wax, it has a beautiful, foggy opacity. The wax can be applied and fused in layers, so there are often multiple images peeking through, creating depth.
First, I drew and painted the main image. Then I covered it with Golden Clear Leveling Gel, then Golden Heavy Matte Gel. Then I drew the house/envelope. I added more color and detail to it. Then, using a scumbling technique, I intensified the white snow in the center of the image by adding titanium white and pearlescent silver. Many of the effects and details cannot be properly seen in a photograph, because there is depth iridescence and a wee bit of sparkle.
But ADD is also closely associated with having a creative mind. Artistic mind, attention deficit disorder, who knows where one ends and the other begins?
Distracted Mind, Artistic Mind
My mind is not organized. Information comes in the form of so many scraps of paper, fluttering about in the wind. Projects or professions that involve any complexity seems like an insurmountable undertaking.
But, I recently learned something sort of fun about my mind, and how it likes to organize itself.
I was trying to develop some sort of regular, consistent, doable habit in regards to posting on social media about my art. “Everyone” was buzzing about social media.
You know, “Everyone," don’t you? “Everyone” says:
And so on, and so on. All that resulted from this was a panicky sense of dread.
Enter, the Mind Map
Here is all is. I spent hours on this silly thing.
I tried to impress my friends by sharing it with them, but they didn’t even want to LOOK at it, and who could blame them? It seems overly elaborate and faintly ridiculous now, but the one most important thing is also true: now I know.
Now I know. Social media is no longer confusing to me. I may need a reminder of the specifics, but the tiny scraps of paper have settled down into an orderly pattern. Now I understand.
As I just wrote about in my post “Evolve or Die,” I revealed that I am starting on a new body of work, inspired by archeology and deep history. It’s really exciting, and really scary. For the first time in many years, I genuinely have no idea what I am doing. It will be an adventure into the unknown.
I am an avid consumer of archeology media and entertainment. Over the years, I have absently absorbed scraps of information. Over time, these bits of information started to formulate themselves into a loose, fluttery vision of the world.
I became filled with the desire to understand these little scraps in context, in an order, like maybe a mind map… or maybe… a time-line.
Enter, the Time-line
Fueled with this new obsession, I knew that I was not going to be able to commence on my new journey of art-making without tackling this. I took a large roll of paper, rolled it out on my wall and tacked in down.
I decided on a very general form: seven areas of the planet, drawn with seven horizontal lines. The time demarcations will be the vertical axis. But, I am still not sure what time periods I am going to depict, and where they will land. So, I started to write bits of information I find intriguing on bits of rice paper, and started to tape them up at various places. Everything at this point is in flux and movable.
I feel like a mad scientist.
Enter, the Mad Scientist
I have recently learned from The Google that there is a thing called “The Crazy Wall.” It’s a meme, stemming from the media’s dramatic use of an “evidence board” real detectives use to solve crimes. It was used to most dramatic effect in the 2001 movie *“A Beautiful Mind.”
For the first time in a long while, I am creating something that I have no real intention of putting on display or trying to sell. Somehow, I just know I need to do this. I need to capture and contain what I know, but cannot yet use. Something that simply comes out of my beautiful mind.
My beautiful, inefficient, scattered, forgetful, creative, artistic mind.
A video of me about to dive into the time-line.
*Please note that A Beautiful Mind is a movie about schizophrenia, not about a mild case of neurodivergence, like I have. I am using the evidence board in the movie as a symbol for the way I process information, and is not intended to make light of schizophrenia or mental illness and its effects.
A series on how film noir inspires my art- Final Entry!
So, Why Noir?
Being an artist may look like fun, but it is tough.
Putting yourself out there for others to see is perennially disquieting. In order to make it all worth it, the subject and method has to be captivating.
I am compelled to tell a story with my art. No matter if it is based on Shakespeare, mythology, or film noir, I am driven to explore and share the landscape of my imagination.
For now, I am entirely caught up in the dark labyrinth of film noir.
But who knows what future stories my art will tell?
Need more noir?
Check out The Film Noir Foundation, which restores films noir and shows them at their film festivals.
It's founder, the Czar of Noir, Eddie Muller, is also a host on TCM's Noir Alley, which shows films noir every Saturday night and Sunday mornings.
Why Noir? is a series! Read 'em all.
A series on how film noir inspires my art- Entry #9
The themes are universal and can be ascribed to any individual. So, I can change the outer identities of my characters, and it can still be noir.
The scenes in my artwork are presented without irony and are imbued with an immediacy which invites the viewer to experience the scene as a contemporary moment.
The adaptability of film noir characters allows me to enlarge the limits of my understanding and expression.
Why Noir? is a series! Read 'em all.
A series on how film noir inspires my art- Entry #8
When we are engrossed in a mystery novel, the complicated plot tangles we must unravel keep us entranced.
The characters in noir are caught in a web of intrigue and moral ambiguity. Their exploits involve daring and danger, plot twists and betrayals. They usually believe they can manipulate a situation to their advantage over another.
The dream I weave in my paintings is a version of myself who is, in a word: clever.
Very unlike who I really am.
Like getting into a good novel or movie, my paintings invite you to take time and decipher what is being presented.
Why Noir? is a series! Read 'em all.
A series on how film noir inspires my art- Entry #7
A long time ago, a wise friend counseled me, saying “Romance is about NOT being fulfilled, it’s about longing.”
The characters in film noir practice a lot of bad behavior. They smoke and drink, lie, cheat, extort and manipulate.
You could say I vicariously through my own art.
Why Noir? is a series! Read 'em all.
Take a Closer Look.
Here is an intimate, in depth glimpse into my thoughts, inspiration and artistic process.
Not seeing what you're looking for? My previous blog on blogspot can be found HERE.