Thursday, February 28, 2008

#3 of Top Ten: "Fire" (part I)

“Fire” 1994
Woodblock relief print
7 3/4 x 10 1/4”
Edition of 25

In telling about the print, “Fire”, I first have to give some background on the “Earthdiver” images that I’ve completed. “Fire” is part of what became an unintentional trio of prints that includes “Earthdiver” and “Inspiration”. I say unintentional because when I finished the “Earthdiver” print I felt the story of the figure in the bottom of the boat begged to be expanded upon. “Fire is the second image produced for the trio.

In 1993 I painted the first incarnation of the image influenced by the Earthdiver myth. That particular painting sold right out of my studio before the paint could dry (the only time that’s ever happened!) The sale was so sudden that I felt I still needed to work the image out. A few months later I created the “Earthdiver” print which eventually led to “Fire”.

The story of the Earthdiver is an ancient Native American creation/flood myth. After the inundation some surviving animals floating on a raft take turns diving to the bottom of the ocean. At the urging of one of their number (usually a bird) they attempt to retrieve some earth in order to create land. Many try and many fail until one creature, usually a small mammal, comes back half dead with a tiny bit of mud under it’s claws. This is sufficient material to create the landmass for them to recreate their world. My intention in the painting and later in the print was to anthropomorphize the creatures in the flood myth.

At the time I was thinking of the Earthdiver tale as a metaphor for the creative process. The struggle to dive the depths of the unconscious, scrape the subconscious and bring back some rich silt to grow one’s ideas on can be a difficult, tiring and sometimes fatal process. (Suddenly, I’m reminded of John Goodman running down a burning hallway yelling “I’ll show you the life of the MIND!) There are many ways the myth can be interpreted.

The figure at the bottom of the boat in “Earthdiver” represents the tired or dead creature that has failed in the first attempts to bring back the prima materia. In “Fire” there is, once again, a figure in the bottom of a leaky boat. We stare down his/her legs as if they were our own while a male figure crouches on the seat board manipulating a stick in an attempt to start a fire. The tunnel through which the boat travels is decorated in glyphs from various ages of Meso-American history. Each level is meant to represent one of the three worlds: celestial, earth and watery underworld.

As in most of my work, there are more questions posed than answers given in this image. That’s the way I like it. I like the viewer to fill in the blanks with his/her own experience and impressions. Where are we? Is the boat coming or going? Is the figure in the bottom of the boat dead or alive? What is the purpose of the fire? Are we witnessing a healing, a funeral rite or a quickening ceremony?
(to be continued)

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