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Saturday, May 31, 2014

THE MAKING OF PROMETHEUS UNCHAINED

 
prometheus unchained
 
Last day of Ruth Schowalter's prompt, make something and tell about the making. This one has been swirling in my head for some time, without any ideas of how to accomplish it. It's the theme that stays with me. I feel like Prometheus is an important figure in Greek mythology for our time. In Aeschylus' play, Prometheus Bound, Prometheus is chained to a rock by the order of Zeus as punishment for giving fire to the humans, a pitiful lot. The humans had degenerated to a place where they couldn't get along with each other. They were killing each other toward extinction. The gods believed the human experiment failed, let them die out. Prometheus, the god of foresight, gave fire to the humans, seeing the humans would evolve reason from fire. With reason, the pathetic humans with their bewildering forebrains could pick themselves up and survive as a species. Zeus knew that with reason the gods would become irrelevant to humanity. Prometheus committed a grave act against the gods. He stayed chained to the rock for several millennia patiently, knowing a day was coming when Zeus would need an answer to a question only Prometheus could provide: Who was plotting to overthrow Zeus? That time came in the mid 19th Century with the discovery of electricity, the new fire. The second fire, electricity, is forecast to take us into intuition, the next step in our collective evolution of the soul. Electricity changed everything. We went from riding horses and wagons to the internal combustion engine with the assist of electricity. Our lamps are no longer fueled by whale oil. We are no longer subject to day and night. We have electric light to function round the clock. A wonderful Hungarian film concerning electricity, comes to mind, My Twentieth Century, released 1989. Painting and writing started changing radically after electricity. Literally from one generation to the next, from Rodin to Brancusi. The range of possibilities for the human mind expanded with the discovery of electricity. Cell phones run on electricity. Mary Shelley's story, Frankenstein, was originally titled Prometheus Unbound. Her husband Percy wrote about Prometheus Unbound. It's the story of the doctor regenerating life using electricity. They and some others of the time recognized electricity the new fire was released to humanity at a critical moment in our collective evolution. They had classical educations. They recognized the new fire that would save us, regenerate us and take us one giant step closer to our ultimate goal, collective enlightenment, would change everything. We are truly in the end of the world. All that went before is gone, unto our ways of thinking, illustrated in the Modern period in all the art forms.  
 
prometheus unchained
 
The object that serves what I think of as Prometheus' head, a relief of his head with a 1/3 profile, is a chunk of cement I found at a building site. Somebody stacking cinderblocks dropped a wad of cement, it dried and became a rock in landscape. I saw found art, picked it up, brought it home, left it on the ground outside to let rain, sun and weather in general clean it. I saw if often through the years it was on the ground just outside my door. Had no idea what to do with it, but it screamed potential. The wooden post I found at a building site, a treated 6x6, a left over left to burn with the scraps. It was in excellent condition and finely cut at both ends. It stayed in the shed I stored found wood in to keep it dry. The flat rock between the post and Prometheus' reclining head I picked up so long ago I don't remember. I had it sitting with an old chunk of tree trunk remains at the root I found in the woods, about the size of a jagged basketball. I have a few of them around, sitting on a flat rock to inhibit rotting, and a few decorative rocks sitting in hollows. This rock was in the hollow of one. I liked it for being almost square and flat on both sides. The chain with hook I found, again so long ago I don't remember where or when. It ended up hanging from a nail in the shed that is now the donkey shed. Didn't know what to do with it. Hanging on the nail I knew where it was. I had used another chunk of cement I'd been keeping several years to paint blue and suggest a still splash. I saw in this piece of cement something more like burning coals in a fireplace than water. It suggested to me a head of curly red hair too. Insight went zing and I saw Prometheus a red-headed Irishman with fire for hair. I picked up the chunk from the ground and brought it in the house, studied it, examined its peaks and hollows, saw it could also be painted to look like a small island of rock and greenery. But it works better as fire. As fire, it feels, again, like catching a split second in the changing shape of a symbol of change. Wasn't the old testament prophecy about the next destruction of the world after water would by fire, the message in the rainbow. Electricity put an end to even traditional belief systems. Traditional cultures going away all over the world is the nature of our time.
 
prometheus unchained
 
Examining the cement, I found it had a face, a bit of a profile, only the suggestion; I wanted no more than a suggestion. I soaked the cement chunk in a mix of latex paint and water three days and nights, letting it dry by day and soaking it at night. It made good primer for the oil paint. I used three oranges from yellow to red and painted the whole thing orange with yellow highlights and reddish trenches. Overnight the different shades of orange faded into a brilliant pastel orange that glows. The ridges still have traces of yellow. I've thought about touching with a brush to make more variety in the hair, but like it so much when I look at it, I don't want to mess it up. Since I had determined Prometheus to be Irish with orange hair, I painted the face pink. Killed the whole thing. It looked like a caricature, like Brenda Starr, 40s comic strip hot dog reporter, or Irish Barbie. I realized Prometheus is not necessarily white. That the Greeks are Balkan white doesn't mean the gods are necessarily white. The gods were about all of humanity, not just one culture. Hindu gods and goddesses are the same as the Greek with different names. The gods are aspects of our human nature. Who's to say Prometheus is not black? The original humans were black. It took a very long time to evolve races. Of course Prometheus was black. A duh moment. I'm recalling a show I saw years ago at that old church in Amsterdam that is now a museum. It was a show of bronze Buddhas from all over Asia. I saw that the Buddha's face had the features of whatever country it was from. A Chinese Buddha had Chinese features. A Buddha from Java had Javanese features, unto Tibet and Nepal where the people look very different from the east Asians. I saw then in my mind's eye how interesting it is that Jesuses tend to be white in Western Civ. In Mexico he looks like a Mexican. Moses in our Western Civ tradition is automatically believed to be white. He was black. He was from south of Egypt. South of Egypt is Nubia, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania. Black people come from south of Egypt. The Pharaohs were black. Sculptures I see of Egyptian faces from Pharaoh times have Negro features. I remember when Isaac Hayes album Black Moses was new, it was like a shock to everybody, white and black, a possibility that Moses could be black. It was like saying Charlie Brown was black.
 
prometheus unchained
 
I was glad to have a layer of pink to paint the brown onto, for lightness. Brown is a difficult color. I took some burnt sienna and gave it life with some yellow ochre. I was looking for the golden dark honey I see in black skin. I wanted it not just brown, but a golden brown. I think I came close enough. There is no one tone in "black" skin. I feel like the ochre gave it life without drawing attention to itself. The part that is the face has an indented place where an eye would be. The mouth looks like it could be wide open laughing when the light falls in one way. Light falls another way, it looks like a benign smile. The eye looks closed or open determined by the angle of the light. I used no paint to bring out the features. I thought about darkening inside the mouth, but the shadow already did that in a more living way. The only part I felt was mine to do was be sure the brown had life in it. I like that he looks alternately like laughing or smiling. It gives him the visage of someone happy to see what he sees. God of foresight, he sees our bright future ahead that we develop by way of intuition. The hate in the world has to be burned off first, which is what wars are for. There is still a lot of hate, so we have more war in near future. The wars are part of the fire next time that burns off the hate in the air between us. It concerns me a great deal that so much hate has brewed in America over the last 30+ years it will need burning off. It is coming up to the surface to feed a fire. I can't imagine what it will be or what will set it off, but I can imagine it will not be pretty. The school shootings are homeland terrorism, coming from the cancer of hate within. Terrorism is the nature of war now, surprise attacks on civilians back and forth between government and anti-government militarists. It looks to me like a terrorist version of civil war that is happening today in America. Prometheus, the fire next time, the god of foresight who gives us fire, a step at a time, to advance our soul evolution, has become for me deeply significant in this time we're in, on the cusp of the new world, the Age of Aquarius. I wanted to make something I would like to see commemorating Prometheus, a big sculpture in a public space. I can't afford to do that, and I don't want to do the fund raising it would require to make it happen. I compromise by making a small one, a maquette. It was made of all found things lying about in my world. All were in place waiting, like Prometheus on the rock, silently knowing without knowing a time would come the human would see that all these parts belong together. Basic elements, wood, rock, iron, cement and pigment. In the way past lives draw us to the people of our lives, these parts were drawn together by a future lifetime. I chose to call it unchained instead of unbound. Unchained has an immediacy about it, a this moment now. Unbound has only a classical association. It could be by duct tape, rope, handcuffs, anything. Unchained is specific. I hear in my head the band Van Halen, one of their more dynamic songs, Unchained. This is Prometheus now, unchained. Of the gods, he is our true friend.     

prometheus unchained
 
 
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2 comments:

  1. What an amazing artist you are Tj...and thank your for the lengthy explanation of your art. With out it I would never have understood it the way I do now and learned a great deal along the way...again I thank you for the art lesson...I dearly love this piece and if I could afford it would make an offer to purchase it but like you am not affluent and so will enjoy it via the internet...

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  2. Tj, there are art grants available to enlarge projects from a maquette to create a global statement in a size and place appropriate. If I didn't have your thinking and focus and understanding behind it, I would never understand it. It's profound. Thank you.

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