Spoiler Alert! >> Below is my artist statement and intention for this painting. But first, I encourage you to really take a look at this art piece, and see for yourself what it means to you, how it affects you, what it conjures up for you-- before reading what I have written below.
"Moment of Truth" ARTIST STATEMENT: This is my exploration of the dark masculine. These days, so many speak of the return of the goddess and praise her dark feminine qualities (i.e. Kali Ma, Isis, Aditi, Black Madonna, Hecate, etc.); and one day, I wondered, what is her counterpart? What is the dark masculine, seen through that same kind of archetypal lens? Who are the dark gods? The hidden gods? The wrathful gods? Those healing ignorance with a lightning bolt kind of gods? I knew of a couple of them, but I wanted to know more. I really wanted more transformative life experience with this universal shadow aspect that came in the form of "masculine," to balance out my spiritual repertoire, so to speak -- I wanted to take some names! -- and I wanted to get to know some of them as intimately as I could.
Alongside a lot of reading, I conducted part of my research by asking everyone around me what the dark masculine is, pretty much just like that, pretty open-ended. I wanted to see what those words conjured up for people. A lot of folks thought of man's follies, of war and domination, of greed and anger, and the sexual exploitation of women. I also asked people what kind of man, or symbol of a man could help heal these afflictions. What did man need to do to address these gloomy propensities and tend to them effectively? As I dove further and further into my investigation of this theme, I realized that this painting needed to display a few critical components: one, that man's shadow exists and needs healing, two, that healing is indeed taking place, and three, what forces bring about that healing? The first was already implied by the second, and once I came across the description of a couple characters from our collective unconscious who could help with that healing, I began to paint.
I will also add that as my focus narrowed, and my research expanded, my personal life experience quickly pointed to some very specific aspects of mans' shadow that impacted my own world in a pretty personal way; and yet, it was really important to me to create a visual environment that could potentially hold and reflect a wide array of experiences of what those shadows might be--to maintain some crucial metaphor--so that it would have the broadest impact.
With all this in mind, my brush first landed on a simple and noble man with dark features. One who, in this beautiful and wild jungle of life, finally chooses to take his destiny into his own hands--no longer a victim of his own afflictions, addictions, and vices. This is the moment, that Moment of Truth, in which he stands in the silent center of his own storm, and wields the mudra of Garuda (look at his hands), invoking within himself the Warrior of Outrageous. When I read Shambhala, The Sacred Path of the Warrior (by Chögyam Trungpa), I was metaphysically struck by the description of this beneficent being, the Garuda: half man, half eagle, who was born fully grown and soars into outer space, beyond any limits. It is said that when he was first born, his golden light was so effulgent that the gods mistook him for the sun.
The Warrior of Outrageous moves beyond hope and fear. It does not mean to be unreasonable, or even wild. This Outrageousness is about true warriorship, in which nothing can truly obstruct one's own unique essential nature. When this kind of awareness is sustained, there becomes a loss of anxiety about life, and there are no more comparisons. You no longer care about how far you'll get, or if you should hold back, because you are giving all you have to the world by truly living it. You feel limitless in your capacity to handle anything with exceptional grace. That is what is so outrageous, because that is not an easy state of mind to accomplish, or at the very least maintain when things don't go your way. It takes an immense amount of courage. But the Buddha believed everyone can achieve this way of being. The aim is to be at ease with our perfectly imperfect perfecting beauty, exactly as we are, knowing we are exactly where we are meant to be.
I was also struck by the Mahakala (from Tibetan Buddhist and Hindu traditions), whose name in Sanskrit translates to "beyond time" (or death). He is jet black with some serious fangs and claws, and a crown of skulls around his head. He reflects to us nothing but our shadow (our shit!) until we finally face it, accept it, and learn from it. At his core is nothing but love and benevolence, but he comes at your unconscious mind mess with a kind of focus and determination that can be pretty frightening if you haven't made friends with him before. If you try to run away, that just makes things worse. He is a very shamanic creature. The fruits of his wisdom can only be received with unflinching eyes. He is often a guardian of temples in India. To face him before entering the sacred is to face what all our anxieties stem from--our fear of death--and surrender to the realization of that ultimate reality. I incorporated his crown of skulls as a halo around the the dark man's head, with white feathers radiating out from in between them, to illustrate that this man has just now fully embodied the Mahakala as well.
Surrounding the masculine archetypes in this painting are feminine ones, and one might ask why. The main focus of this piece is about the dark masculine and healing its shadow aspects, but this process is impossible without certain elements of the feminine. Each does not exist without the other, for all occurs in our world as a magnificent dance of the contrasting yin and yang--masculine and feminine--creating friction, harmony, and balance.
Above the Garuda is the universal Mother, who made Her appearance very quietly and unplanned. Of course, She is beyond planning, She is everywhere and for all time--beyond time. I was laying out some initial lines on the canvas after roughing in the man and the Garuda, and there She was, represented by the dark vast and starry reaches of space. See if you can find her breasts and hips (remember those ancient Neolithic stone carvings of the goddess?); and, well, I couldn't help painting a nebula spiraling out from Her infinite heart. Her arms are outstretched, over the top of the canvas, as if to say that no matter what scene could be playing out below, She always has us in Her eternal embrace.
To each side of our leading man are the Nagas, perhaps the most controversial characters of all in our story here. In Hinduism, they are mortal enemies of the Garuda, who is the slayer of Nagas. They are typically half woman, half snake or fish--sometimes dragon, or all snake. As dragon, in Chinese Buddhism, they rule the subterranean water worlds of our earth, which I interpret as a most powerful symbol of the strength of our collective unconscious, which could lead us all to many a strange fate, if left unchecked. In most Buddhist texts they are depicted as angelic creatures, in Hindu ones as demonic ones. By some accounts they supposedly only wreak havoc on the human race if they have been mistreated. And then, of course, in European lore we have the sirens of the sea, with their sinuous sultry songs.
I drew my inspiration from Buddhist sculpture by painting the Nagas with a traditional cobra headdress and a hint of blue wings (see them?). You cannot, however, see whether they have a snake or fish body below the torso. You'll just have to wonder. These magical beings appear as if they were brass statues come to life. After all the stories I read, I had this sense that the Nagas are neither angelic nor demonic, they simply represent a relationship to the subconscious; and, depending on this relationship, our life can play out quite terribly or beautifully. I imagined that perhaps the Nagas in this painting represented a poor expression of the mans' sexual self, for a good part of his life, which lead him to confusion and deceit many a time, but finally things are taking a turn for the better. Here, the Nagas are neutral observers of the man's transformation from the chaos and whims of his desires to a place of peace and clarity of passion--no more a slave to lust, or hiding his true nature. The Nagas are brimming slightly with tears; they are filled with a deep joy and wonder at the sight of this great metamorphosis, knowing how much he has suffered; and now, to witness this moment where he steps into his true power--a magnificent sight to behold.
There is so much more I could say about this piece--how it deeply affected and manifested in my life in ways beyond synchronistic. It was pretty synchro-mystical really, as all my paintings seem to have become. It has very special relationships with two other paintings that the universe apparently prescribed to me to complete before this one so that I would come to it with the right frame of mind. There is a lot in here about forgiveness, too, rising above any kind of betrayal, whether self-inflicted or caused by another. And then, of course, most everyone sees Jesus in there. He's someone who was able to subdue his shadows, I'd say. My friend said once, "Hey, it's 'Jesus goes to Peru.' " I like that... And, oh yes, those are ginger flowers, symbolic of strength and passion, nestled in between the leaves of the luscious monstera deliciosa--that's right--monstera deliciosa!--I don't think we need to look that up to garner a small smile.
I also had a special ritual I did each day before sitting down to paint, to help guide my creative process. A new ritual is born for me with each new painting, in order to bring it to life. That's how myth becomes animated in our everyday, through ritual, in taking those base notes of human experience and putting them to work. They always make an impact.
Ultimately, I don't have to tell you any of the things I just told you about this piece. That's why it's art, after all. But hey, I love this stuff. I love the symbology, the philosophy, the underlying structure of existence, the universal, the archetypal. We can learn so much from story. And I love sharing my creative process stories with you, too. And well, just maybe all this imagery, imbued with so much meaning and intention, will have some affect on your life in a profound way. Maybe it will crystallize an experience you had similar to the man in this painting, and could act as a reminder to embody the Outrageous in every moment thereafter. In any event, I hope it will inspire you in some way to contemplate what the dark masculine means to you, and how it manifests in your own life.