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623, comes the dragon

Joe's Daily Drawing

1998, Year 1
No. 29 Aug 21

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623, comes the dragon

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   by Joe, Gallery Daguerre at Art Quarter  


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Now let's have a look at this one ... Here again all those animals ... Remember the lively birds from yesterday's choice? Now look at this little dragon, isn't he cute? Those pigeons bill and coo, sitting on the hero's hat, who in turn doesn't seem to notice all these beasts. Did you discover that dangerous red snake winding along the hero's neck?

This hero isn't what you would think of a hero normally. No Sylvester Stallone type. Even not a Crocodile Dundee type. Or Indiana Jones or James Bond, you name it. Modern movies are full of heroes. Our soul seems to be in need of heroes. This guy is not a real hero at all. He is reluctant. He does not look into the world eager to leave his imprint, he looks inwardly.

He is not afraid of the snake, it looks as if he does not notice her, but doesn't he know she's there? Same with the dragon - you could look in such a way while your dog jumps around eager to go out for a walk: You know it and you are willing to follow but there's something you still have to contemplate, so your attention is withdrawn. This snake is dangerous all right, but she seems to manipulate the hero's head, aims at the forehead as if to kiss him with her tongue, her motion is a caressing one, like a loving mother blessing her child.

There are a lot of snakes in my paintings, and I talked about the critical situation when the first one appeared under somewhat cumbersome circumstances at length in my speech On observing the creative process (see Daily Drawing 22: 226, all those animals). Snakes are very important animals to mankind, a snake appears in a leading role in the bible as we all know, and modern feminist theologists have found that she represented the female goddess prevalent before the times of male centered monotheistic religions.

As such, the snake is not evil but wise, and you can still read this from the biblical scenes of Eden. The snake was associated with the goddess as the holy animal, and this was quite natural. To let you follow, I have to begin far back, though. Women give birth to new life, which is a mystery of highest rank to this day, so it is near at hand that the divine power was associated with the female.

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Women menstruate in the rhythm of the moon, and in former times, they did so synchronous with the moon. This fact is known from ancient literature, but was challenged by modern scientists as it is evidently not true. But modern women found out that this is due to the artificial light available nowadays. Every woman can easily switch back to synchronization by simulating moonlight with a bedroom lamp. My wife has an American book from the early eighties in her library called "Lunaception" elaborating this mechanism to a contraception method. And indeed synchronisation works within one to three months.

Now the moon is the perfect example of a cyclic change. He grows, diminishes, dies and is born again. Three days he stays in the underworld, and here you got the magic formula known from our Lord Jesus. But this formula is much older than Jesus, it is used in conjunction with many rituals associated with death and rebirth, which is very important to agricultural societies being dependent on the fertility of the earth. The seed is buried (alive) in the earth, rests there for some time and rises anew to ripen and die again. So here you got the cycles of life very clearly spoken out, but they were noticed even before there were any farming cultures.

The moon is extremely reliable in his cyclic appearance, and as such he was guarantor to the perseverance of life. But the cycles of the moon also implied the idea of rebirth, and snakes are the animals to symbolize this idea. They slough regularly, seem to die and live anew after the procedure. Snakes were even thought of to live forever. No wonder that snakes were associated with the moon and the goddess. I did not know all this when I painted the first snakes, but some years later I read of these new insights gained recently from archeology.

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I did know of the Crete sculpture of a priestess with gored skirt, bare breasts, presenting a snake in each of her hands. This picture must have been published widely when creators of fashion featured bare breasts for a season in the seventies or eighties. I will most probably have seen it at that occasion. Of course, it was shown as a curiosity, nobody knew what that meant.

Rebirth proper is believed in widely except in Judaic-Christian societies. There are two clues indicating that Jesus and his disciples were accustomed to this idea, but these were apparently overlooked at the big clean-up after the council in Nicea 333, when it was declared that rebirth is superstition, presumably from political reasons. There was considerable amount of research in the field of rebirth in the second part of this century, I remember having read an American scientific book titled "20 Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation".

C.G. Jung, the noted Swiss psychotherapist, has collected lots of examples proving the power of ancient images in the soul of modern man, appearing mostly in dreams, but also in works of art and even in everyday actions. Images work like magic, you don't have to know anything about them, you just feel the power and let it do. Man's work is decorated with images very often, sometimes reduced to ornaments, but they are images nevertheless. We are surrounded by images, we produce images, and even the industry knows how important the image is, here referred to as logo.

As a therapist, Jung was not interested in images as sales instrument but as healing force. The soul, according to him, produces these images with the intent to direct the person to its goal which is individuation as he called it, a kind of wholeness. He holds that each person has an individual goal which is not to be neglected lest the person will eventually become ill. For an image to be powerful and effective, it is necessary that there is a certain amount of enigma.

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C.G. Jung stresses the difference between sign and symbol, frequently confused by modern man, meaning a sign when using the term symbol, i.e. computer symbols. A sign is identical to what it stands for, say a road sign. A symbol can by no means be exhausted by an explanation, for example the cross symbol of christianity.

Such a symbol works even if you don't know anything about it, remember Christopher Columbus showing the cross to the Indians, depicted in quite a number of paintings, or the famous painting of Salvador Dalí "The Temptation of St. Anthony", done for a Hollywood competition, Anthony showing the cross to the frightening creatures threatening him.

Artists then, being visual artist or any other, movies being explicitly mentioned already, produce images working in the souls of the consumers. We all are so much in need of these images, that the movie industry can make millions and even billions exploiting this need. Of course, to be commercially successful, you can't drill very deep. Painters are, in contrast, expected to deliver deep images. Their work ought to last centuries.

There were and are, of course, painters delivering shallow works reaping huge fortunes with them. On the long run only those images survive that have this depth not to be exhausted by essays and time. You all know examples of the great masters like Leonardo's "Mona Lisa". Many works of Picasso are of this kind, and after half a century of existence you can witness the broad masses getting ready for the power of Picasso's enigmatic paintings. I have seen posters of most irritating portraits pinned at secretary's office walls.

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With my paintings, I was always reluctant to interpret them. I felt the power and hesitated to apply inappropriate words to them. Once I did say something, though, on the occasion of the opening of the museum show 1983. But the power and impact of the woodcut talked about has risen ever since whereas the thoughts I explored there don't excite me that much any more.

Well, if you could say it in words you would not have to paint it. But, words can be used to open eyes. I hope I did succeed a little.


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