I worked on the legs of the twins in the Sun painting, building a decent first layer of skin tones over the rough sketch version – still pretty rough, but making sense of the structures of the feet and knees. The towels around their waists got two more layers, first a correction of the inaccurate drawing that had been there, then a mixed layer of dry-brushing and working on the highlights with some white.
I keep walking from the studio to my office but completely forgetting to get the reference shots of that wall in Avebury that I want to use for the wall behind the boys. I think it’s appropriate that a wall from within one of the greatest megalithic structures in the world should become part of an allegorical scene within an alchemical retort, because just as the retort is the container for the reduction and coagulation (solve et coagula) of the elements, Avebury is truly one of the environments that shaped my imagination as a young man, becoming a vessel for personal transformation.
I worked on the skeleton, adding a little raw sienna to warm areas of the bones and giving them a touch more variety on the surface, so there is a bit of vibration between the warm sandy brown and the cool blue edges of the bones.
In Valentin Tomberg’s great Meditations on the Tarot he describes the relationship of the alchemical twins as a matter of the interaction of heart and mind becoming one in intuition. I like this idea, although it’s a little distant from the alchemical symbolism of the card, which shows the twin (often seen as the king and queen) salt and sulphur emergent from the nigredo, being washed clean by the mercury falling from the sun.
Being influenced by Hatha and Kundalini yoga in my version of the card I decided to add the glow of the heart and third eye chakras to illustrate Tomberg’s idea.
The heart chakra – anahata – is thought to be the balance of male and female, the meeting place of the divine and material world, while the third eye chakra – ajna – is the location of transcending time and universal truth, beyond duality: universal mind .
I’ve also begun work on the legs of the boys, and I hope to get into more work on them tomorrow, but it looks as if administrative work is going to occupy a lot of my time during the day. Maybe I’ll get a shot at it in the evening. Right now I’m going to head out to the labyrinth to wait for dusk and light up a hundred candles so we can walk a candle lit labyrinth.
I had a little window of opportunity to fill this afternoon, so while Death dried behind me I set to work putting the finishing details onto Justice, including a delicate balance suspended from her hand. I decided to make a very finely weighted system of spheres instead of the more conventional scales because I am interested in expressing the idea of cosmic balance here. The fine line that comes from the heavens piercing her raised palm matches that which suspends the balanced spheres, suggesting that justice is an issue of vertical balance as well as horizontal balance, with the universal value above weighed with the human balance of dualities below. Of course the pierced hands and feet allude to the stigmata of the avatar Christ, whose mystical redemptive qualities express the heart of divine Justice, that although we fall short of the divine despite our desire for union with the deity, the divine can come to us and allow us access to it.
On her lapel I added a discrete pentagram, both as a reference to the stigmata and to the Pythagorean understanding of the number five, which includes the extraordinary ratio 1 : 1.62 upon each of the lines making up the symbol at their intersections. This “divine ratio” was thought of as one of the fingerprints of God on the universe by followers of Pythagoras, who were awed by the grace of the spirals created by its geometry, the relationship it has to the Fibonacci series, and its frequent appearance in nature, both on a cosmic scale (even galaxies conform to the ratio) and an earthly scale (shells, sunflowers, artichokes…). Incidentally, the balance and the horizon line are both upon the line of 1 : 1.62.
I liked the cloudy sky in the Temperance painting well enough to do the same thing in the Sun piece, laying down a patchy coat of blue, ragged off carefully to avoid all the gold – fiddly work because of all those curving edges. You’d think that it would be easy enough to simply paint over the whole surface, then wipe away the paint from the gilded surfaces, but there are a couple of problems with that approach: first the gold is so thin that rubbing it with a cloth will abrade the surface enough to fade it, letting the red gesso show through, which is what you see in old churches where gilded surfaces have been cleaned repeatedly and left un-restored; and second, the oil of the paint leaves a microscopic residue over the gold that dulls it, no matter how much you try to clean it.
I shot pictures of Jen as Fortitude. She wore a beautiful Edwardian dress picked out for her by Heather (one of my students who has an eye for fashion and loves to be involved with anything to do with clothes) and looked absolutely gorgeous, so I’m considerably happier with my progress on that project. I have photos of models for several of the cards now, so I’m ahead of the game and can proceed with painting without running out of reference materials.
I’ve laid out five decks of cards in the studio so I can compare them to each other, looking for compositional choices and trying to figure out the most common themes in the images. In most of the cards Fortitude is portrayed as a young woman either holding open the jaw of a beast – a lion or something like it – but in the Pierpont Morgan deck it’s a young man with a club swinging at the beast; a completely different image with a very different interpretation.
Looking forward through my plans for this day I realized that I would have almost no time for work in the studio unless I got into it right away, so after I ran and did my yoga I got straight to work on the Twins piece, which I am enjoying already. I had wondered if the boy on the left should have a hand in front of the one on the right and initially left it out, but then decided that the hand was important after all, so I redrew the forearm to raise the hand higher on the chest, over the heart. I see the painting as the moment that the elements are combining to make the stone, represented by the sun above, so I want to capture a moment of drama as the process is just beginning. His hand over the heart of the twin on the right will be causing a glow to emerge from his chest as the combination begins.
I began gessoing the sun, which will need multiple layers before I’m able to put down the red layer and finally gild it. It’s nice to be able to do this now instead of at the end, planning ahead properly is paying off! On the other hand, spontaneous creativity should be indulged too.
I’m going to Santa Barbara this afternoon to work on the tree and meet with Mitch and the Prop master, Garcia. I’m enjoying the process very much, wish I had more time to dedicate to it. Fortunately Lukas the Technical Director is very responsible and enjoying the work, so I don’t have to freak out about it.
Just heard from Letitia at the Simi Valley Mall (remember the Alchemy Tree project?). She wants me to produce another installation for Earth Day, so I have to meet her next week to see what the theme is this time. Looking forward to that.
I’ve been shooting photos for reference for new paintings, intending to continue building my own painted collection of tarot card trumps. I have reference shots for The Lovers, The Sun, and The Empress. I decided to reshoot the pictures I took of Jen for Strength, because I think I can do better. I’m not posting my reference shots here because I promised my models I wouldn’t. My son Ethan posed for both of the twins image on the Sun card, then I put them together in Photoshop. Christine posed for the Empress, and her sister for the Star. When I can get back into the studio more effectively I’m going to be BUSY.
Here’s a worrying thought: I painted two cards this year. Perhaps I can paint six cards a year if I’m lucky. There are twenty two major arcana in the tarot deck, so it will take at least three more years to get the whole lot done, and a couple of cards left over! Better get a move on.
I’ve been laying down lots of gesso today, preparing the tall canvases for painting and getting those spheres that Justice and Temperance are standing upon ready for gold. The two virtues have had at least four thick coats to get rid of the weave of the canvas. Once I no longer see the fabric beneath the paint I’ll put a final layer of red base down then gild them. I painted the background of Justice white, so now she’s a white figure emerging from a white background, which I’m thoroughly enjoying, since I’m often attracted to a very dark background half-concealing shadowy figures.
Tomorrow we’ll have the distinct pleasure of having a model in the studio who’s pregnant. I am completely delighted that she’s coming in, and looking forward to making some paintings of her. Fabulous! I’m interested in painting the alchemical Adam and Eve on those two tall panels.
I’m hoping that she’s return when her baby is born and model for us then, with new born. Awesome!
I’ve been working on giving Justice her sword and scales. The sword is a hefty broadsword behind her back, her scales hang suspended in the air below her hand. In the first swipe at the metal of the sword I laid down a pale blue layer that will serve as the base for the work that is to come. I began work on the scales, and for some reason I remembered John Dee’s monad, wondering if it was somehow linked with the image of Justice. This lead me into a line of research looking at relationships between the virtues and the planets, the gods they were connected to and the symbols thereof.
Justice has to be associated from Libra because of her scales.
Weird problems posting images, so I’ll have to wait until the server’s working properly to show what I’ve done.
In addition to working on the scales and sword I added a thick layer of gesso to the sphere, getting ready for the leaf. I think they will need an additional two or three layers, then a healthy sanding to get a nice surface for the gold to lie on.
I didn’t get much time in the studio today, being involved in preparation for the new semester, shows coming into the gallery and whatnot, but did get to work on Temperance when I got a spare hour this evening. I committed to not having the two figures in the lower half of the piece, and rejected the formulaic halving of the vertical plane by painting a fairly dense layer of that lovely Prussian Blue over it. I just love the capability that this pigment has of being so dark that it’s almost black, then dropping off with a little thinning out with a rag, or fingertip into a lovely rich blue on the edges of things, letting them fade into the darkness. Scrumptious! Anyway, I like this new look a lot more, and it’s coming close to completion now. It’s been a long saga making this piece, it seems.
I’m seriously considering gilding the sphere she’s standing on, even though this would be a total pain in the bum, having already painted so much of the surface. I’ll need to gesso the area, sand it without getting dust on the already painted surfaces, then gild to an edge that’s already painted.
You’ll notice the similarity between this piece and Amelia Beheads the Alchemical King. It’s the same model in both pieces: Caitlyn Carradine, the beautiful dancer and choreographer, grand-daughter of the famous actor John Carradine. She’s Amelia Earheart in this one as well, who better than a dancer to become an aviator angel?
Having done as much as I could to Amelia’s orb I moved back to Justice, who has been neglected of late, to build the surface of her face up a little. This is a wild improvement upon the sketched up noodling that I had earlier, so I’m pretty pleased with the progress I made this evening, although she clearly needs some fix-up work. I’ll fix errors in value balance later. I always encourage students to stop when they have something that looks good, don’t feel that you have to re-make the brush-strokes if they are good already. Sometimes I find myself doing it though! Curses resound!