(click on any thumbnail for an enlarged image.)
A few years ago I began a series of drawings and paintings that aspired to be allegorical. For want of a better title I began referring to them as “the Apes series,” which, while inadequate, was at least descriptive, as all of them depict humans and other apes in juxtapositions that some viewers have found mysterious and perplexing, prompting various requests, and even demands, that I offer some explanation. I have always been a bit ambivalent about verbal explanations of visual ideas, but frequent earnest requests for such from people who really do want to understand have convinced me that I should make an attempt. Also key in this was my friend Karen, who has worked to persuade me that “people want a way in”, if only it would be offered.
Over the last quarter-century, my work had come, by accident or design, to be about the Human Condition, about the self-awareness and self-consciousnes that we have come to believe make us uniquely separate from the rest of existence. Gradually, through reading and through conversation with wiser minds than my own, I have come to question that assumption of uniqueness that has been so central to my, and Our, species-centric view of the universe. Recent revelations in animal intelligence suggest that certain things like problem-solving and tool-making may not, after all, be uniquely human abilities. And, at the very core of things, we are all formed of stardust, of the residue of the very beginnings of the universe.
I wanted to make a series of images that explored not simply what it is to be human, but what it is to EXIST.
On a trip to the Denver zoo, I photographed a silverback gorilla, whose pose suggested that he was in conversation with an unseen other.
Indulging a lifelong fascination with gorillas, I decided to place myself into the conversation. As I was doing the drawings that were to serve as studies for the eventual painting, I realized that, try as these two personages might to communicate, the evolutionary divide was too wide and too ancient to allow any but the most rudimentary connection.
So… I devised the ape/woman goddess, who possesses the genetic memory to bridge the evolutionary divide, and placed her into the conversation as moderator and facilitator.
Somewhere during the early stages of this painting, I made a visit to the Sistene Chapel at the Vatican, where I was struck by the Sybils around the edges of Michelangelo’s ceiling, and by the grand classical setting of Raphael’s School of Athens. I employed some friends to pose as human sybils, and a female orangutan to complement them. What began as classical arches became somewhat more Oriental in design, and the marble stairway more modest and less sweeping, but the echoes are there.
In the archways are depicted an early stone hand ax (Pleistocene, I think) and an attempted image of DNA. In the center arch, behind the head of the goddess, is a sort of starburst image, implying energy.
The figures in the foreground are male, and all the others female. I do not know what to make of this, but I’m sure others will find significance there.
This was the first, tentative introduction to this series. I will address the other images in subsequent blogs. Here are some previews of coming attractions:
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