signs and the soul

You only have to listen to Hamlet’s poem “To be or not to be” by Lawrence Olivier to occupy the feelings of a man caught in one of life’s riddles. A riddle like a lymric should be spoken out loud, expressed, or lost forever inside. Yet lately when I hear Hamlet’s words my mind actually wanders to an encaustic painting I did some years ago. Perhaps you have a connection that comes to mind yourself. My own piece started to assemble it’s self after my daily shower. Hair would gather around the rim of the drain of my claw foot tub. I’d then pat each clean rounded form dry and add it to a collection. And they collected, the days, the months, the years. It was a ritual, a talisman, and also a promise that some day they would be of use and I would know what to do with them.

It takes time for thoughts and experiences to make sense. It is necessary to be patient with ourselves if we feel truly stuck. For some reason I was unable to do art at the time… This was a first step. All this hair that I wanted to manage to do something with, to not just disappear into nothing and go nowhere found its voice in a wax painting. A piece about waiting. Waiting beyond what seemed reasonable or sane. And that is perhaps why we need metaphors that help with the practice of waiting, to come to terms with it. To define ourselves in contrast to the world we are waiting for, something that has a drum beat of its own and yet we long for.

The souls metaphors abound, the knot is a good starting point. Like brushing a messy nest out of ones hair, or carefully unwinding necklaces that have somehow gotten thrown into a jumble. These drawings are also then about recognizing a project and beginning the painstaking process of sorting. It can be meditative, a practice as elemental as woolgathering. Like Celtic knots unfurling ecstatically, songs and stories are told, and the important work of connecting is awakened.

The Scottish author and artist Scott Kilgour thought about this kind of work a good deal and called it interlace or knotwork. Here these continuous line drawings were meant to describe a melody when super imposed upon the strings of a musical instrument. With each knot a chord was played, transforming the place where the song was sung. This pre-medieval interlace looks kindly on the humble knot as song and transformation story. In the lineage of art the continuous line drawing is also the first optical illusion of a third dimension on a two dimensional surface. Notice how the line weaves in front and behind itself creating the experience of fore and back ground. It wasn’t until 1420 that Brunelleschi would create the law of perspective we are so familiar with in painting and photography. His was one of several epic transitions that seperated the east from west.

Another came just before this during the Iconoclast controversy in 726 when literal depictions of people were banned in Constantinople. While in Rome the Iconophiles pushed further to celebrate specific powerful individuals. Slowly ornament and mosaic disappeared throughout Europe and by the 15th century artists like Brunelleschi were focused on the figure in space. Yet this was only the beginning! Braque and Picasso revisited the great divide with cubism. Here again perspectives shifted towards new forms; orphism, surrealism, futurism. The percussive sounds of the telegraph, telephone, train, and automobile setting the tempo for reinventing our own rythms.

















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