I love California’s weather for its kindness to roses – here you can grow plants that will bloom almost all year round, and I’ve often bragged about them to my father on the telephone as he looks out over his rain-swept English garden. Egyptian followers of Horus used the rose as the symbol of the deity, then the Greeks adopted it to denote silence, associating it with their Harpocrates, who kept silent the indiscretions of Aphrodite; Romans painted roses on their walls and ceilings in token of the god, considering that anything spoken beneath these images would be kept private: it’s where the saying “sub rosa” comes from.
Renaissance philosophers reviving Hermetic ideas adopted the symbol for the same reasons, keeping secret their devotion to neo-platonic philosophy in a period that saw violent swings of religious tolerance that endangered their lives, consequently the image worked its way throughout the Western Mystery tradition, denoting the Rosicrucians’ mystical secrecy and devotion to anonymously benefiting mankind through healing practices learned in the study of alchemy.
The classical five petalled rose has been used as an allegorical symbol of the five wounds of the crucified Christ, whose hands, feet and side were pierced during his torture and death. Pythagoreans saw the pentagram as the geometric representation of divine perfection, in part because the intersection of each of the lines in the pentagram is found at 1 : 1.62, the divine ratio.
In alchemy the rose garden is used as an allegory of the perfection of the work, or as a symbol of secrecy, with a rose garden showing up in alchemical texts as the ultimate goal of completion. In my Sun card within the walls of the alembic the blackening of the nigredo surrounds the twins, while a rose garden appears outside as an allegory of the hope to come as the work of re-combining the salt and sulphur continues. I’ve painted the first layer of greens and the white base for the rose flowers – don’t be surprised to see these turn red very soon; the white has to go down first when painting a bright red, because red pigment is so transparent that any colour beneath it will show through, altering and darkening it.
I decided to make a brief post about painting the background of the Golden Bowl. It took quite a while, because there were a lot of fiddly bits that needed attention to soften the edges into each other. If you don’t soften the edges of a background they will “jump” and bring whatever that edge is to the front of the painting. It’s an illusion caused by the focus of our eyes – if you look a tree up close it’s crisp, high contrast and colourful, while that same tree at half a mile distance will look blurry, muted and grey. We can use this effect in painting by making the things we want to pop forward more defined, sharp-edged and rich in colour, while those things (like edges) that we want to drop back into the background are softened. A very handy trick.
Here are a few tips for the lazy painter who really doesn’t like cleaning up and wants to save money.
Wash your brushes in hot soap and water, not turpentine, wash your hands at the same time. Great for your brushes, keeps them soft. DON’T USE TURPENTINE!
Better yet, don’t bother washing your brushes at all. As long as they are under water nothing’s going to happen to them anyway, so keep a flat metal tray with a half inch of water in it at all times, and let your brushes rest in it. I clean my brushes once a month these days. (In hot soap and water, not turps – so much better) I bought my enamel tray at the local 99 cent discount store for a buck.
Use Windsor and Newton’s Brush Restorer. Great product! it’s saved me hundreds of dollars in saved brushes that I have rescued from the students’ discards at the end of semester.
Never buy pre-made canvases. Paint on bits of plywood with canvas stretched onto them.
I started drawing The Golden Bowl painting directly onto the canvas which is not my usual practice, but I’m impatient to make stuff! I’m quite excited about the piece. It’s unusually small compared to the rest of my work, but I really like the symbolism embedded in the piece. There will ultimately be five figures in the painting. Here’s the sketch right now, only two people in it so far, and they’re both modeled by the same person!
As I was drawing the piece I realized that there was something familiar about the image, so I did some digging in my alchemical books and found this etching. The female figure with the bowl is nature, holding a vessel containing the maturing lapis. The image is from the R.C. Theophilus Schweighardt’s 1604 work “Speculum Sophicum Rhodostauroticum”, a text almost as significant as the Fama and the Confessio.
No, I don’t have an original copy of the book. Adam McLean has a text only version of it on his site here.
I roughed in the tattoo on Lynn’s arm. It’s very basic right now and will get some added colour, then a layer of skin tone over the top of it to drop it back into the arm properly. Right now it’s too bright and sitting too high on the surface, so it needs some help to recede.
It’s the seal of Martin Luther. There’s more about him, and why I’m interested in him here.
In this picture you can also see the newly darkened shirts of the men at the top and left. They were pulling focus from the centre of the crowd.
Here’s the finished piece, shot from the front.
Today I sold my red haired mermaid painting to Jean Amador, a well known Southern California architect designing environmentally friendly buildings, making use of clever lighting and spatial arrangements to cool them without wasting power.
I’ll miss my maiden, but she’ll be in a good home with people who love her, surrounded by water and reflections.
1. Distillery Collective painter Gary Palmer is the guy on the left with his hand on the dread-locked woman (his sister Tracey).
2.Gallery owner Bert Green is the bald, goateed guy who looks very pleased with himself with an axe on his shoulder standing before the cross.
3.Los Angeles painter Christophe Cassidy is the guard with the rifle on his hip to the right of the cross.
4.Light sculpture artist and burner Sean Sobczak is Jesus.
5.Skinny Puppy singer Nivek Ogre is the guy on the right of the three main figures in the foreground.
6.Music Video and horror movie director Bob Sexton is both of the crucified thieves (not suitable for children).
7.The amazing dancer Lisa Lock is the ululating woman on the bottom left of the canvas.
Gorgeous Amy Moon, rock star hair guru Lynn Hyndman (my muse, who I have painted so many times) and dinosaur wizard John Scott Lucas are also in the piece.
Looking at the painting after such a long time is a vivid reminder of the passing of time. It really captures a time in my life that was quite dramatic and transformational. I had recently crashed my car and started to take painting really seriously as my dharma.
Here’s the sketch of the crucifixion. I noticed a couple of things worth commenting on. First, clearly at the time I made the initial drawing I had not researched the acacia – in this early version the tree was going to to be an olive. Second, I had intended to pose as the centurian myself, although my old friend John Scott Lucas took that role in the finished work.
You can see the wave composition clearly at this early stage, with the tilting of the crowd toward the upper right corner and the curve of the tree with its foliage as the foam.