Part of me is reluctant to share this new artwork, which I finished maybe two or three weeks ago, part of me just wants to be done. I've been avoiding writing this here post for weeks.
Where to start with this piece? Hmm, I really don't know. I'm not sure where ideas come from, or why they won't leave me alone until I create some sort of related artwork. I can only guess. This idea came pretty much fully formed, a flaming skeleton dragon deal with a jig-saw blade sunset, and appeared there in my mind's eye sometime last December while I was out walking through the snow. Winter months are the dead months, after-all, when old ghosts and memories come to visit.
I started to think that the idea came to visit because I have a couple of prints hanging around by Northern Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer, specifically his Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and Death, Knight and the Devil. I've always loved them beautiful and disturbing skeletal forms.
It wasn't until I'd already started drawing and was well into my own skeleton above that I realized what probably really caused me to be open to my skeletal idea... The rest of this paragraph may come off as morbid, but I'll just write this out quickly and you can judge however ya wanna for yourself. Earlier this last winter, maybe late November or early December, I was walking through the snow and there was a dead coyote on a mountain trail I use regularly. It had either starved or frozen earlier the night before, I guessed. I'd catch myself thinking on and getting really bummed about that coyote over the next few weeks. Ya see, I'd seen (living) coyote briefly a couple of times earlier that fall, on that same trail, and I kept wondering... A few summers back I'd also seen four coyote pups mature and grow in that canyon, our paths crossing regularly at one point. Was this one of them? Anyway, I stopped myself from thinking on that coyote, but I started my skeletal artwork here above late last December, not long after.
I don't know how I feel about this piece. I mean, I think I did an excellent job with it (if I do say so myself!) and I still love to look at it (that's always a good sign, considering how much time I put into my artwork), but I am just not sure... A whole lot of really crappy things happened in my world while I was working on this artwork. The first significant thing that happened was my beautiful burd buddy, Louie, passed away. I almost abandoned this piece after that happened, but I decided to work through it. Not long after, my little 17 year old puppy, GirlScout, passed away. I was so close to being done with this artwork at that point I decided to just finish. But all that does make me feel weird about this artwork, makes me wonder about it, makes me want to write this post and be completely done with it, makes me feel reluctant to share it.
Not to dwell... but hey, this artwork is about scary old death after-all... Another freaky thing happened to me about a month ago during that same time I was wrapping this artwork up. I was out walking in some heavy rain, like normally happens in the spring, and I took a pretty bad slip and fall in the mud. I felt my (previously injured) knee stretching, I felt my hip straining, and as I limped the mile+ back to my car I kept thinking about these bones in this here image. These brittle bones. I kept on thinking about how much worse my fall could have been, about how grateful I am that I wasn't hurt worse, about all of the other muddy trails I'd walked on over the years. Different muddy trails with huge drops down the mountain where a slip like that would have been the end for me.
I don't know what it all means, probably nothing at all. I just don't know... maybe we should ask Mr. Natural!
We don't like to talk about death these days. Even though violence and death are celebrated in our culture (how many murders did you see on TV this year?), it's not something we like to talk about. I get it, I don't like to talk about it either. And yet, it is something that happens to everybody and everything. I just don't know...
I was too young when I saw death for the first time. I wasn't prepared at all. Maybe everybody feels that way, whether they're just a kid or 100 years old. Probably. I was still a kid of 18 when I saw death pass me by and take my good friend, Ben, who I watched die in slow motion in front of me from a rare genetic disease over the five or six years that I knew him. I wasn't prepared, I didn't understand. I still don't understand it, but I was able to make peace with it eventually. Seeing that changed me and, because I like who I am a whole lot, I guess I'm able to appreciate that and every other bitter pill I've had to swallow over the years. That event, and others, transformed me. Made me into something new. Helped make me into who I am now.
Death doesn't scare me anymore. I mean, I want us all to live our very best lives for a long long time, and I can't stand it when the people I love go away. Plus, there are many ways we can go out that I'd like to avoid for sure. But I don't find the thought of death to be scary, really. Someday this body, this vehicle, will return to the earth, decay, and become something else. My mind or spirit or whatever will exit the vehicle and become something else too. Seems pretty obvious to me, and that ain't scary. Transformation.
After my friend Ben died, one of the things I found myself doing regularly was going out into wild places. I felt like being out with trees and animals and mountains was a way I could find peace. Outside! Don't get me wrong, nature is a pretty brutal place, and I don't think that it cares much about me personally (ha! even though it provides me with everything I need to live happily). I could be out there dying on some muddy trail and "nature" wouldn't think much about it at all. I'm not a religious person, but there is something divine living out there in the wild places. That's my church. I mean, the divine exists in the city too, but there also seems to be too many distractions in a city for me to get a clear signal. The divine lives in the person reading this post right now, I know that. When I saw my friend die, I took to the hills. I'd lost all faith at that point, never an atheist or anything (I'd already had too many strange and unexplainable experiences in my life at that point. It's always seemed like I draw weird experiences to myself), but I was very agnostic thinking we could never know. But I had already had these experiences, ya see, and the mystic in me knew I had to go out there. I was following the example of every mystic I knew about. I'm not comparing myself to them by any means, but I knew Moses went up into them there mountains, Buddha went out to sit with the trees, Pythagoras lived in a cave, Jesus went out into the wilderness, and so many other examples. I've always had a mystic's heart. Well, I went out there and now I know what I know. I went out there and I found an experiential knowledge, my own personal knowledge, and I'll bet if you dedicate the time and are committed you'll find something true for yourself too. Transformation! It's nothing to be scared of.
Don't get me wrong at all, life is a wonderful gift. All of it! When I saw death for the first time I understood with certainty how little time I had. I saw how precious being alive is. It made me appreciate how much I wanted to accomplish with the time I do have. I don't have any time to waste. Even though I ain't scared, it's like Jim Morrison said (Ha!): "No eternal reward will forgive us now for wasting the dawn."
As I worked on my artwork (above) I thought about J.R.R. Tolkien and his writing a bit. I was introduced to The Hobbit when I was 9 or 10, and immediately read the Lord of the Rings after that. My Grandma Roberts knew I was a fantasy nerd so she'd regularly mail me books she thought I'd like. I tried to read the Silmarillion too (I bought that one as a kid myself), but I was too young and couldn't appreciate it at all at the time. Tolkien is probably the only person I can say this about really, but the older I've gotten (I'm an old man now, blah!), the more I appreciate him as a creative person. And the Silmarillion is probably my favorite book written by him. In the Silmarillion (and other posthumous publications), Tolkien talks about death as a gift. The Gift of Men. A gift even the immortal gods will yearn for in time. In Tolkien's writing that gift was twisted by the first Dark Lord, Morgoth, and human beings were taught to fear death. Later in the story, Sauron took that fear of death and convinced human beings to wage war on heaven itself, insisting on immortality for themselves. This act, perhaps humanities greatest sin in Tolkien's writing, provoked the destruction of their human world in a flood and shortened the survivors lives even more, to the 60-90 years we get today. This is fiction I know, but fiction often tells the truth. We make bad choices when we are afraid.
Transformation. What weird times we live in, the whole world seems whack-a-do and these times are nothing like I thought they'd be. What rough beast..? I know enough about history to see a pattern here, but like Mark Twain said: "History doesn't repeat itself, but it often rhymes." I hear the rhythm, I see a pattern, but I am still surprised. Weird times... ecological problems, a phony democracy, a false republic that doesn't even pretend to represent the people anymore, more banking collapses, media sell-outs, government/corporate scraping and tracking, artificial intelligence. And that's just today's good news! Weird weird times. The old days, ways, and expectations are dying. Something new is waiting to be born, let's midwife properly.
Maybe I'll end this post with William Butler Yeats famous poem, The Second Coming (below). Now that I've finished writing this post it suits my mood, hahaha! Plus, it'll be nice to have easily on-hand when my current 21st Century mood strikes again.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?