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There are many parts of this complex painting that needs completion, The overall design is more or less finished, but many aesthetic and philosophical considerations are now posing questions.
Uranus covers Gaia
In this detail of the left corner of the painting, Gaia is painted as a female figure made of the earth and all the things that grow on the earth. This border merges into the sea on the right.
You can see the figure of Uranus covering over the upper part, reaching for the embrace, the unwelcome embrace.
When the war is over between the Titans and the Gods the awful 50 headed monster that Uranus rejected was given the task of guardian of the underworld, hence the many arms and many faces of the hekatonkheire beneath the primal Goddess.
Here you can see more of the transition from rock and vegetation into sea (Pontus). The figure between the face of gaia and uranus is another Titan given the job of keeping the earth and the sky separated.
Chaos is in the outer corners, from which the elemental forms of earth and sky begin the story.
Some colour has been introduced into the sky above the acropolis. Karen Cropper has brought to my attention a theory that there was no word for blue in ancient Greek. Homer’s wine dark sea etc…. She will elaborate one day.
I have reworked the face of Zeus using the face from a famous bronze sculpture. There is a cruelty of the lip that seems appropriate.
I have used a Roman mosaic as the source for Prometheus driving in a chariot drawn by sea horses.
The figure of Prometheus has been developed showing a cascade of fire and hot ash falling from his hand.
I am beginning to plot out a diagram that is rapidly becoming preposterously complicated. As it outlines the Greek’s mythic view of the world, I suppose that is not surprising.
Using a combination of sources including Ovid, to whom this painting is dedicated, Stephen Fry, Robert Graves, Homer and a life time of fascination with all things Greek, I am trying to assemble an image that reflects the mass of interwoven stories from antique origins that pictures some part of the mythic world of those brilliant people.
We find a world story, pieced together from many threads, containing a cornucopia (another Greek invention) of Titans, Gods, Elemental forces, Naiads, Dryads, Furies, Muses, Powers of night, darkness, doom, hubris and so on. I have come across the Hekatonkheires for the first time, so ugly to Ouranos that he thrust them back into Gaia’s womb. As I listen to the stories I have been scribbling on the board that may or may not end up being the painted surface.
Once again the painting is turning into a research document.
So we have the sleeping figure of Ovid at the top of the inner rectangle (I have begun by following the pattern of the earlier two panels, with 8×4 inner panel, and outer framing panels. I see him asleep in his lonely exile overlooking the wastes of the black sea on the northern borders the empire. Around him are the stories of the titans and the gods that he wove into his Metamorphosis.
Below in the lower part of the painting there is another dreamer. Homer sleeps the dream of the Trojan wars, of the Illiad and the Oddesey, and the world of man is linked to the Gods.
There must be reference to the city state, the polis, the development of the academies of philosophy, the mystical dionysian and orphic sects and the many connections that link this extraordinary flowering of culture to ancient lineages and the following military might of Rome.
I ask myself as I begin this picture what the mythic and spiritual world was like for a Greek.
I’ve had a lot of interruptions lately, and now the season of visitors and guest exhibitions begins, but gradually I have to have some long evening with the painting, and even some days lately.
You will see a lot of detail has changed, a lot of new calligraphy, much of the detail has been tidied and overpainted. I have returned to a favourite painting medium comprising of dammer varnish, stand oil and fine quality turps, and it has given more fluidity to the painting. I’ve been using liquin over the winter, but on the whole I dislike using oils that are manufactured by big companies. No one knows the formula.
Gradually, as I work, I am listening to Myths of Greece, the next panel that I am planning to begin. I have been listening to Ovid’s Metamorphosis, and Stephen Fry’s ‘Mythos’.
The next panel ‘the greek mythic dreamer’ is being prepared here,
A studio for the ceiling paintings has been created within the gallery
In the region of the arab costume I have begun adding arabic. Already I have added a trace of Hebrew, but this must be greatly increased.
The subtle traces of Egyptian influence has been augmented in the painting, as has the cuneiform alphabet decorating the rabbi’s head shawl. In this way I allude to the preceding myths of mesopotamia that became incorporated into the old testament.
I’m beginning to develop a frieze of events that describe the birth stories of these three religions. All agree on Adam and Eve, the trouble in the garden of eden and the subsequent outcasting. Cain and Abel fight, the first murder, and the flood where only Noah survives. So far, so good, but it wont all fit in.
Overall it is at this stage. Still much to do, especially the missing strip along the bottom.
I am at the stage now when I am adding text to the images. Each of the Semitic religions places great emphasis on the written word. Each believe that their sacred text has been divinely inspired, and contains instructions for living that every believer should follow. They are ‘doctrinaire’ religions that require obedience and belief.
This small image on one corner of the main panel shows an angel looking over the shoulder of a writer.
I am beginning to introduce Hebrew into the gown of the rabbi figure, Greek into the christian’s gown and Arabic into that of the Muslim. As I do so I am exploring the relationship between the three texts. I find, for example, that the Hebrew we are familiar with in Jewish texts developed in Babylon during the exiles starting in 587BC. Old Hebrew or Samaritan Hebrew has been included in the writing because it links the early Jews to a larger linguistic group that included the Phoenicians. It is thought that their spoken language was nearly identical.
This small area contains examples of the old Hebrew. This is almost identical with written Phoenician, and may have influenced, or been influenced by Greek.
In this same spirit I will add some cuneiform script to reference the fact that some of the ancient stories in the old testament, the Torah, are much older. The story of Noah, for example, has counterparts throughout Mesopotamia and many references has been found in cuneiform libraries that are much older than the hebrew texts.
The Christian has text written in Greek, because the earliest extant bibles were written in that language. I have imitated the text of the Codex Sinaiticus, now one of the treasures of the National Library. The Hebrew text is also included in this region because of the huge debt owed by the Christian sacred text to the Torah.
Likewise the Hebrew, and a little Greek, must be included in the robes of the Muslim, referencing the influences of both earlier roots.
Most of the elements of the picture are in place. There is more work to be done on the left of the picture, and I must add a strip to the bottom, part of which may obstruct the window. I am thinking of some kind of fretwork solution to this area.
I am planning to introduce calligraphy into the image now. The written word developed great importance in the Jewish world and I will emphasise this by covering the rabbi with hebrew, as he sleeps.
I have been preparing the overall image for this stage by introducing perturbations in the painted surface, breaking the flat surface so that it takes on the appearance of hanging cloth or folded paper in many parts of the picture.
On this undulated and twisted surface I will introduce the calligraphy – Hebrew, Greek and Arabic. I want to introduce Hebrew into the Christian area of text to reflect the fact that much of the Christian scriptures were taken over from the Jewish. The Arabic text likewise owes much to Jewish thought, so that must be reflected, together with some Greek influence.
Notice that Noah and his ark appear here. Not only do all the Semitic religions tell this same story, but so do many other ancient cultures of Mesopotamia. There appears to be archaeological evidence of great inundations in many parts of the region. Moses too is a figure spoken of in all three religions. He is the most mentioned figure in the Quran.
I have long been fascinated by the way the Christian scriptural tradition took its present form. There is a group of books by Charles Freeman, in particular one that describes the council of 381:
“In AD 381, Theodosius, emperor of the eastern Roman empire, issued a decree in which all his subjects were required to subscribe to a belief in the Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This edict defined Christian orthodoxy and brought to an end a lively and wide-ranging debate about the nature of the Godhead; all other interpretations were now declared heretical. Moreover, for the first time in a thousand years of Greco-Roman civilization free thought was unambiguously suppressed. Yet surprisingly this political revolution, intended to bring inner cohesion to an empire under threat from the outside, has been airbrushed from the historical record. Instead, it has been claimed that the Christian Church had reached a consensus on the Trinity which was promulgated at the Council of Constantinople in AD 381. In this groundbreaking new book, Freeman argues that Theodosius’s edict and the subsequent suppression of paganism not only brought an end to the diversity of religious and philosophical beliefs throughout the empire but created numerous theological problems for the Church, which have remained unsolved. The year AD 381, Freeman concludes, marked ‘a turning point which time forgot’.”
The codex Sinaiticus, the earliest version of the New Testament (plus a lot of the old) was written about the time of 381 council, and the many scratchings out and revisions that appear in its pages testifies to the malleable nature of Christian doctrine at this time.
I shall use this codex as part of the text that will be added to the image.
In all three of these Semitic religions there is a smell of sulphur in the air as well as perfume. All three believe in an end time characterised by violence, rapine, war, famine. Each of these family branches anticipate a violent future. Some of them look forward to a violent future, for for them it was the moment of rapture,
In this part of the painting I am representing a common thread in all three in welcoming a rapturous event when the ‘good’ are caught up to God.
At the same time the bad and the damned are cast down into darkness.
Listening to the news this last week has been good stimulus for these armageddon paintings.
What began as a medieval chasm into which the tormented souls were cast, I find myself painting towers burning and collapsing, and everywhere there are falling people.
I was once invited to a meeting of evangelical christians to hear a converted Jewess from the cathartic movement in Israel speak about her take on the world. She described the end of the world as occurring during a nuclear exchange. It was a chilly thing to hear.
On the other hand i’ve always enjoyed painting dramatic events. I remember engulfing Barmouth in a simultaneous tsunami and mud slide, probably in a period of pique. I am reminded of the paintings by ‘mad John Martin’ who specialised in extravogent (they have to be) paints of the apocalypse, one of which was in the news recently after being restored from a terrible flood.
I was brought up on these eschatological predictions, and mingled with extreme believers in my formative years. When most of my peers were listening to pop music I was singing hymns, and jolly good ones they were/ are.
Hell fire was almost casually preached at all our meetings. When you are in a world of believers, it is easy to believe in anything provided everyone else does. It is like a form of mesmerism.