From November 2011 to March 2013, my studio was largely inaccessible during a construction and renovation project. The silver lining was to devote the extra time intensifying my shamanic studies. I meditated and journeyed daily.
What I saw and experienced in shamanic reality during those spiritual exercises, deeply troubled and terribly fascinated me at the same time. No longer am I surprised that encounters with the transcendent, the numinous, appear as a "mysterium tremendum y fascinans" (Rudolf Otto). Every shamanic journey I engage is a mystery. I am always eager, and I have learned the importance of ever being vigilant, apprehensive.
I discovered during this period that upon closer inspection the underworld and other spiritual realms shockingly are fraying, wearing away, becoming threadbare ... but, not from overuse, quite the opposite actually, from lack of care. Why am I surprised by this? When we have seriously abused and neglected our deteriorating physical world, what would I expect to find on the spiritual plane.
One of the most ancient and principal laws of the Multi-verse is that of Correspondence: As above, so below; as within, so without; as the universe, so the soul. And, I'm here to tell you it's all falling apart and its all related and yes its all about us ... surprise! Embodying the guiding principle that all is related, synchronous can be life- and world-changing. When I say "I'm here to tell you", I literally mean part of my life's mission, my choice for this lifetime's work, is to be a "messenger".
I have been a seeker of meaning my entire life. In my first vision quest 18 years ago I was called to be an artist; I didn't realize how integrated that was to become with my shamanic practice, embarked upon in the late 1970's. I had growing suspicion, but the relationship clarified during the 2013 vision quest. Now while continuing to be a seeker, I know that I am also "a seer and a sayer."
I struggled deeply to accept this.
Who would want to be called to that? I mean really, ... look at the history of so-called "visionaries", artists or otherwise. The news did not come joyously to me; in fact,
after the initial adrenalin rush, I sank into a two month long black pit of despair.
Several weeks later in the fall after the vision quest, while visiting for lunch, a very dear Quaker friend asked "I'd rather really like to hear about your vision quest", instead of our chit-chat. She is one of only two friends to have been willing to go there. It was a most amazing and light filled conversation, very empowering.
She was able to translate without judgment my pagan words and experiences into her devout and admirably embodied Christian faith. For example, regarding my meeting the Great Spirit embodied as a living flame floating on the water, she quietly, simply replied, "You were touched by the Holy Spirit."
When I relayed the deep relationship of my art making and my shamanic path, with great compassion she said as we locked eyes, "So you've chosen to be a prophet; that will be a lonely life." My eyes welled with tears and I hope I didn't look as shocked as I felt. While the intimacy of our conversation was indelible and buoyant, the profound truth of that one statement haunted me for months. I wasn't sure I could handle that truth.
But I cannot deny it, hard as I might try to or want to deny it. After months of soul searching and puzzling through the riddles of my vision quest, I now accept that these drawings are prophecies. They are spiritual maps, a record of my shamanic journeys and visions and they are a wake-up call for me, for you, for the world. They and what they represent are deeply disturbing to and frankly sadden me.
Just the same the beauty and richness of the work is compelling to me. I cannot separate their context however from their text because as they say without it they are only a pretext. They are also an extension of my ten-year long project to relay an over-arching vision that we have never left the garden; that this land we occupy is holy land (in all its dimensions) and we are its stewards; that we are divine creations and co-creators of our realities as well.
When I had the seed of an idea that served to eventually source this current work, I had no idea how profoundly it would impact my process and my work. The first semester of graduate school, I traveled to northwestern India for nearly a month, arranged around various holy sites and festivals. Included was a day in the rain forest and the 9th century Hindu temples of Khajuraho.
The temples are encrusted from vast base to towering spires with sculptures and friezes depicting mythology, history, and nature as well as scenes from daily culture and life at their time, including an evocative kama sutra. I returned home wondering how Western culture would be different if we had celebrated sex instead of demonizing it. I returned home with a deeper respect for and understanding of the necessary embodiment of the relationship between all things. I returned home with a mission to create t he holy out of the profane.
if you believe that a picture is worth a thousand words, then i have some stories to share with you.
I returned home and I created in the winter 2005, "Khajuraho", a series of digital "paintings" queering the landscape, "drawings" of visionary temples and holy lands sourced from publicly available homosexual erotica.
Over the past ten years, I have "painted" digitally several series of prints depicting visionary canyon lands that may be found in other dimensions, on other worlds, under Arctic permafrost, at the bottom of Lake Vostok in Antarctica. Similarly, as I was called to visit southern Utah, I started visualizing rainbow amphitheaters, ancient river bed canyons, meteorite dug chasms, and bizarre rock formations during my journey work. I was about to be seeing this same landscape in everyday reality.
With this series, I have inspired by the works of Dellenbaugh, Egloffstein, and Mollhausen, the artists mentioned earlier not the law firm, chosen to draw in the style of an etching and have played with the more gentle pastel colors of hand-tinted plates of the 19th century. This work is more personal-sized, approximating an antique travelogue or folio seemed appropriate. Accordingly, I selected 16 x 20 in. Sunset Cotton Etching paper for printing the series. It is a more traditional fine art paper; the slightly textured surface resembles the papers used for generations on the etching presses seen in classical intaglio printing.
Robert Allerton Parker, in a 1927 essay "The Watercolors of Thomas Moran" included in the 1958 book Thomas Moran: Explorer in Search of Beauty (p. 78), described Moran as a pioneer who "went forth in search of beauty as others were in search of copper, gold and oil. He was creative because he awakened the American consciousness to the permanent value of those wide, measureless expanses of wilderness, of sky and mountain and extravagances of Nature, as natural resources of beauty to be prized and conserved...."
While I'm certainly no Thomas Moran, my intent, none the less, is similarly to awaken the consciousness of my work's viewers to the equal value of the expanses of liminal space for spiritual sustenance through meditation, ritual, prayer, or ecstatic journeys as our world's revered landscapes. An intimate relationship with whatever one call's infinite consciousness and the inter-dimensional territories it occupies is in need of our care and attention...as much care and attention as our own lives demand, and as much care and attention as our neglected and abused Earth craves. As above, so below. As within, so without. As the universe, so the soul.
In March 2013 while preparing for a trip to explore southern Utah, alongside reading various contemporary travelogues, I researched John Wesley Powell's two explorations of the Colorado River's environs. First I discovered the photography from the 2nd trip in 1871, the mesmerizing images captured by E.O. Beaman, James Fennemore, and John K. Hillers. Most notably however, I found the photographs and art work of Frederick Samuel Dellenbaugh, the official artist invited by Powell to accompany the explorers.
Yale University's Beinecke Rare Books & Manuscript Library has over 800 photographic prints, relief halftones, postcards, negatives, tintypes and pen and ink drawings from Dellenbaugh's personal collection; they have digitized most of the collection and made that treasure trove available to the public online. When Powell finally wrote an account of his expeditions down the Colorado River, however, he chose the paintings and sketches of the politically powerful and popular Thomas Moran, not Dellenbaugh's work, to accompany the text even though Moran had never traversed the river. Dellenbaugh published his work in a personal travelogue, The Romance of the Colorado River in 1902 and his account of traveling with Powell, A Canyon Voyage, in 1908.
My research also led me to discover the etchings and sketches from a similar earlier scientific expedition led by Joseph Christmas Ives. The Germans Heinrich Balduin Mollhausen, a topographer, and F. W. von Egloffstein, an artist, accompanied Ives' team in 1857 exploring the Grand Canyon from the southwest. Their sketches and engravings were published as part of Ives' official "Report upon the Colorado River of the West" delivered to Congress in 1861.
I was particularly enchanted by Egloffstein's sketches depicting eight panoramic scenes, such as "Big Canyon at Mouth of Diamond River" and "Black Canyon", as plated for the report by J. J. Young. The two large maps Egloffstein produced for the report are equally exquisite. The USGS digitized the report in 2002. It is available online form Google as a free e-book.
Mollhausen's drawings had equal impact, particularly as they were reprinted as etchings in his own travelogue, Trips to the Rocky Mountains of North America up to the High Plateau of New Mexico, also published in 1861, upon his return to Germany. The romantic pastel colorization, exemplified in "The End of Navigability of the Colorado River" or "Diamond Creek" as plated by Henry Leutemann, charmed me.