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Pearls from artists* # 562

“Shadow,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 26” x 20,” in progress

*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

Jung observed that complexes could affect groups of people en masse. He saw that certain moments seemed to be expressions of a collective shadow, a bursting forth of a mass psychosis; the repressed side of a whole group coming alive; a tribal Mr. Hyde. He saw this madness first-hand in Germany in the 1930s and wrote about it. But every era carries some measure of collective shadow.

One could argue that no moment in time has seen more of the reality of human darkness than ours. Having witnessed the Holocaust and faced the threat of nuclear war in the twentieth century, and now facing the environmental impact of fossil fuels and plastics in the twenty-first century, we are undoubtedly aware of more of humanity’s potential for destruction than any of our ancestors ever were. Such a view does not come from a moralizing stance. Our era has made forced witnesses of us all.

The shadow is about where we put the Devil – where do we allow darkness to be housed? Racism and bigotry offer the relief of foisting our group’s shadow onto another whom we view as lesser. Doing so enables us not to look at or feel our shadow, and not see our own worst selves. But this collective shadow of our modern culture is also bigger and wider than group-to-group projections. There are culture-wide or civilization expressions of the collective shadow.

Jung saw the widespread loss of connection to the inner life and to a lived spirituality as one of the primary illnesses of our time. He observed that people were no longer animated by the traditional religions… For Jung, this meant that we’ve lost the old way but not yet found the new, and are sitting in a spiritual vacuum.

Into that vacuum, without our awareness, has slipped our fascination with human technology. Observe people closely today and you’ll notice that we have an almost magical faith in our devices. People see their computers and phones as all-knowing and expect them to function perfectly all the time, and view pharmaceuticals as magic cure-alls. Where we used to put God, we now have put technology. Where spirit was, we have unconsciously placed human genius.

Gary Bobroff in Carl Jung: Knowledge in a Nutshell

Comments are welcome!

Q: What art project(s) are you working on currently? What is your inspiration or motivation for this? (Question from artamour)  

Source material for “The Champ”
Source material for “The Champ” (my first “Bolivianos” pastel painting) and “Avenger”

A: While traveling in Bolivia in 2017, I visited a mask exhibition at the National Museum of Ethnography and Folklore in La Paz.  The masks were presented against black walls, spot-lit, and looked eerily like 3D versions of my Black Paintings, the series I was working on at the time.  I immediately knew I had stumbled upon a gift.  To date I have completed seventeen pastel paintings in the Bolivianos series.  One awaits finishing touches, another is in progress, and I am planning the next two, one large and one small pastel painting.

The following text is from my “Bolivianos” artist’s statement.

My long-standing fascination with traditional masks took a leap forward in the spring of 2017 when I visited the National Museum of Ethnography and Folklore in La Paz, Bolivia.  One particular exhibition on view, with more than fifty festival masks, was completely spell-binding.

The masks were old and had been crafted in Oruro, a former tin-mining center about 140 miles south of La Paz on the cold Altiplano (elevation 12,000’).  Depicting important figures from Bolivian folklore traditions, the masks were created for use in Carnival celebrations that happen each year in late February or early March. 

Carnival in Oruro revolves around three great dances.  The dance of “The Incas” records the conquest and death of Atahualpa, the Inca emperor when the Spanish arrived in 1532.  “The Morenada” dance was once assumed to represent black slaves who worked in the mines, but the truth is more complicated (and uncertain) since only mitayo Indians were permitted to do this work.  The dance of “The Diablada” depicts Saint Michael fighting against Lucifer and the seven deadly sins.  The latter were originally disguised in seven different masks derived from medieval Christian symbols and mostly devoid of pre-Columbian elements (except for totemic animals that became attached to Christianity after the Conquest).  Typically, in these dances the cock represents Pride, the dog Envy, the pig Greed, the female devil Lust, etc.

The exhibition in La Paz was stunning and dramatic.  Each mask was meticulously installed against a dark black wall and strategically spotlighted so that it became alive.  The whole effect was uncanny.  The masks looked like 3D versions of my “Black Paintings,” a pastel paintings series I have been creating for ten years.  This experience was a gift… I could hardly believe my good fortune!

Knowing I was looking at the birth of a new series – I said as much to my companions as I  remained behind while they explored other parts of the museum – I spent considerable time composing photographs.  Consequently, I have enough reference material to create new pastel paintings in the studio for several years. The series, entitled “Bolivianos,” is arguably my strongest and most striking work to date.

Comments are welcome!

Q: What is the one painting that you never want to sell?

"No Cure for Insomnia," pastel on sandpaper, 58" x 38"

“No Cure for Insomnia,” pastel on sandpaper, 58″ x 38″

A:  There are two:  “Myth Meets Dream” and “No Cure for Insomnia.”  Both are part of my “Domestic Threats” series and were breakthroughs at the time I made them.  They are relatively early works – the first from 1993, the latter from 1999 – and were important in my artistic development. 

“Myth Meets Dream” is the earliest pastel painting in which I depict Mexican figures.  It includes two brightly painted, carved wooden animals from Oaxaca sent to me in 1992 by my sister-in-law.  I have spoken about them before.  These figures were the beginning of my ongoing fascination with Mexico. 

“No Cure for Insomnia” includes a rare self-portrait and is set in my late aunt’s sixth-floor walkup on West 13th Street, where I lived when I moved to New York in 1997.  My four years there were very productive.  

Comments are welcome!  

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