Category: As the crow flies

Cameron took some pictures at the reception, here’s my favorite:















Photo by Cameron Hurdus

I thought it might be interesting to have the texts and some images from the exhibit posted here for people who couldn’t make it to the show.


The Alchemical Theatre

(20″ x 16″) Pieces of a demolished theatre, poplar, gold


Saddened by the demolition of the old Little Theatre I took pieces of the building, gilded them and mounted them in boxes. The ten pieces of the building help to preserve the memories of the many events that were rehearsed and performed in the building. The destruction of the old gives birth to the new.



The Aviator’s Dream

(48″ x 84″) Oil on canvas


There are three mythical events happening in this painting: the loss of Amelia Earhart, the fall of Icarus (his winged father Daedalus to the left), and the destruction of the World Trade Center. The ivy growing over poor Amelia suggests the passing of time, and possible reconciliation, while the rose alludes to the blood of Christ, the timeless love and healing offered by God.


As the Crow Flies

(dimensions vary) Oil on canvassed panel, 77 birch panels, amalgam leaf


The first step of the alchemical work is to locate pure examples of the elements, burning them to reduce them to their core constituents. This process is called the nigredo, because the material is reduced to black ash and dross, while the pure essence is distilled and separated. In alchemical symbolism black birds are one image describing this process. I have used them here to illustrate my spiritual journey, in which I have attempted to find my role within God and do away with the dregs of life in favor of trying to understand that universal mind: like the recreation of the prima materia this is ultimately impossible, but worth the journey.



(48″ x 84″) Oil on canvas


The painting alludes to the hermit in the desert, a mystical person in search of universal truth. In his circle, the hermit is surrounded by the four elements, air, earth, fire and water, while he has the pillars of duality on either side. His gesture to the earth and sky refer to the alchemical principle that what is here on earth must correspond to what is in the cosmos, while the staff reminds us that wherever God is in relation to the creation, there is a spiritual relationship between us and him; the third part of any duality. Look for the divine ratio.



(48″ x 84″) Oil on canvas


The stones in this painting are laid out on the ground in the shape of a cross, while there are two pieces of paper attached to the foreground megaliths. Sharp-eyed observers will see the names of the two prime manifestoes of the Rosicrucian order written on them. The objects on the rock suggest a modern date, but the setting is archaic – the suggestion is that the ideals of the reforming Christian mystics are true in the past and the future.


The Reluctant Death of Modernism

(59″ x 53″) Oil on Canvas


An allegorical painting about the end of the modern era. Andy Warhol’s soup can lies crushed and broken on the desert floor, while a pregnant woman contemplates her child, wondering what to expect.




Three Wishes

(18″ x 11″) Oil on oak panel

Holed stones have been used for thousands of years for sealing agreements, making promises and binding marriages. Looking through the hole in a stone is said to make it possible to see into the other world, usually invisible to mortals. The stones are also used for making wishes, so you are invited to make your wishes here.



(Dimensions vary) Oil on canvassed panel, clay cups, beeswax, string, electric motor, stone


Small cups show up repeatedly in British Neolithic gravesites and sacred spaces. I chose to make a mound of these roughly made grail cups as a cairn, suggesting that many people have come seeking the mystical grail, and left their personal grail behind, realizing that the true grail is a spiritual discovery, not a material object. The search dates back thousands of years and at heart it’s a search for union with God, looked for in every age and country.



Self-portrait with wafer

(29″ x 16″) Oil on canvas


The communion wafer is in the shape of the circular monad, the Pythagorean symbol of God.



Sleeping woman

(22″ x 14″)


The initiate sleeps before waking.



Singer (Study for a crucifixion)

(36″ x 24″)


The singer ululates at the death of Christ.


Invitation to a lynching

(65″ x 71″) Oil on canvas


What do you do with the crucifixion? This painting places you, the viewer, into the crowd watching as the death of the Christ takes place. Which person do you most resemble?

The models for the twenty-seven figures in the painting are all in it twice, except one. It took seven years to complete. After a year and a half of work it was removed from the stretcher bars and stored on a roll in a closet until this summer, when it was re-stretched and completed.


A Neolithic Wedding

(54″, 42″) Oil on canvassed panel


One third (the right hand panel) of a planned but never completed triptych, the painting shows a mother and daughter on their way to a wedding three thousand years ago. The two women are our ancestors, passing the open tomb of their own forebears. We owe everything we are to our ancestors, who survived through dangers that would kill modern humans in a moment. The other two panels were to show a father and son on the left side, and a shaman at centre, all set before a Neolithic chambered cairn. 

Hurrah! I finished painting crows, so apart from getting the eye hooks into the backs of the panels and a little touch up work to the painting the piece is hang-able.

There’s a lot of gold in this show.

I must paint the seated figure more tomorrow. There’s a healthy chunk of time available for work, so I’m looking forward to getting it done. I never did get past the first two layers of paint on him, and there are some very dodgy gold leaf areas on the main panel that I’d like to fix. I’d also like to add a few birds close to the figure, so they are emanating more from him.

I found about twelve more crow / raven photos that will be useful for the piece, so I’ve made a photoshop file combining them all onto one transparency, ready to paint on Monday morning. Everything seems to be in decent shape with this piece, but I’m a little concerned to be sure that I have enough birds going in the right direction to make the flock feel right. I want them to arch up and over, then return towards the big painting, so I need to have them face the right way. We also have the simple practical task of screwing hooks into each panel to hang them, but there are so many pieces that this will take a long time.

The big painting will need some gold leaf touchup too, so Monday is going to be all about gold again.

Gold is a very superficial goal for serious thinkers like the alchemists: the symbol has become misunderstood for the mystical search. I’m spending a lot of cash in order to purchase gold to make images that express the quest for the alchemists’ philosophical gold, which seems quite ironic really. 

There was a great deal of administrative stufff to take care of this morning that ate up most of my time, but this afternoon I got to the studio and got a good chunk of work done, particularly dedicated to the production of black birds on the completed panels. There are seventy six panels in total, of a great variety of sizes, and twenty one still need crows on them, but I’m increasingly worried about the birds being too similar. I’ve been making alterations to them as I paint them, making them individual, but I want to have a close look at the picture resources I have and see if I can find fifteen more pictures that will help to complete the composition. I’m seriously tempted to take what I have up to the gallery and lay it out on the floor so I can make sure my composition is working out ok. I can go upstairs to the balcony and see how the installation will take shape, and create the remaining birds accordingly.

I should be able to finish the painting work on this project on Monday if I can satisfy myself that the birds are individual enough to avoid a repetitive pattern.


Still more gilding today, finally completing this part of the project and giving us valuable experience. Having gilded so many panels we have learned what not to do next time. Sadly, because we have to be consistent we have had to continue with the methods we began with. In future I will be more cautious with the leaf, waiting for a little longer before applying it to the size. We found that if we applied it too soon it wouldn’t adhere properly, so painting the size onto fewer panels was better, enabling us to gild the entire area of panels before the glue went off. We found that using plenty of water was best when mopping the gold down onto the size, as it helped lubricate the brush and prevent it catching and dragging the leaf from the panel surface.

Next, paint the rest of the birds.

The process of getting the installation ready is beginning to heat up as the date comes closer. It’s beginning to feel as if we will never see the end of the gilding. Cameron and I continued to lay gold down onto the panels, and got a large number of the bigger ones done today, but we still have fifteen more pieces to do. I’m confident that we’ll get them finished. I’m a little more concerned that the Alchemy of Demolition piece really hasn’t gone further yet, but perhaps I’ll be able to make some progress with this now I’m feeling more relaxed about the Crows piece.

I need to get a pickup truck out to the home depot to pick up some plywood for the floor that will go beneath the gravel circle, and I have to scribe a circle on it and cut it out, not terribly hard, but time-consuming. 

I want to make a new piece that illustrates the microcosm and the macrocosm, with a donut suspended close to the ground by 360 pieces of string from a large disc that is hung from the ceiling. I’m also considering putting the bottle piece into the gallery in a piled mass, with lighting concealed within the pile.

I went through the large number of crow and raven images I shot over the last few months and isolated the birds from their backgrounds, then made a transparency and threw it onto my old overhead projector. This allowed me to make very fast sketchy paintings of the birds onto the gold, in the most rudimentary brushy style. Over the gold leaf there’s something strangely industrial about the silhouette images (I think Bret commented on this in an earlier post), they do remind me of stenciled graffitti. Anyhow, that’s this batch done, and I’m half way through the panels. I’m looking forward to getting the whole lot finished. I already bought all of Steve’s gold leaf at Continental, so I’m off to that sign painters’ store again on Monday, where Steve says I’m sure to find some more.

I painted crows onto many of the panels, but found that I quickly noticed repetition, so I need to prepare a new photoshop file of images to project onto the panels. Projection is an old painter’s trick for creating murals and large works – saves a ton of time laying out the work. It doesn’t help at all with the quality of painting, in fact I’d say it detracts a little, because using the projector tends to take out the idiosyncratic lengthening and shortening that define an artist’s style. However, for a large scale project like this, where the birds are simple black silhouettes against the gold, it’s a perfect tool. 

There’s still a long way to go. I will need to gild a pile of panels and paint thirty more birds before I have a huge flock for that big gallery wall. Now I’ve taken on the ten panels of the other project too, I’ll be even more glad to have help from my students. I’m also concerned that I need to have enough work for Vegas and the CLU show, so I really need to get to work.

As the Crow Flies xiii

The panels we prepared last Sunday and yesterday are dry enough to move, so I’m taking them home so I can work on them over the weekend. They’re pretty smelly because the size is a nasty material. I think I have about half the panels finished, so I’ll need to pick up more gold leaf and finish the bigger ones that we didn’t get to next week. For now, I have my work cut out for me getting the birds painted on these pieces. 

I wonder if I learn enough about alchemy I’ll be able to produce gold so that I can make my own gold leaf?