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Here in the northern hemisphere, we’re moving to the darkest time of the year. I don’t have any white robes or giant megaliths on hand to get us through the solstice, but I thought I might at least cheer up the gloomy darkness with some festive decorations! As in years past, I put up my tree of life filled with animal life of the past and the present (see above). This really is my sacred tree: I believe that all Earth life is part of a larger cohesive gestalt (yet not in a stupid supernatural way–in a real and literal way). Looking at the world in review, I am not sure most people share this perspective, so we are going to be philosophizing more about our extended family in the coming year. For right now though, lets just enjoy the colored lights and the Christmas trilobite, Christmas basilosaurus, and Christmas aardvark.
I also decorated my favorite living tree–the ornamental cherry tree which lives in the back yard. Even without its flowers or leaves it is still so beautiful. I hope the shiny ornaments and toys add a bit of luster to it, but really I know its pulchritude is equally great at the end of January when it is naked even of ornaments.
Here are some Javanese masks which my grandfather bought in Indonesia in the 50s/60s. Indonesian culture is Muslim, but there is a deep foundation of Hinduism (the masks are heroes from the Mahabharata and folk heroes of medieval Indonesia). Decorating this uneasy syncretism up for Christmas is almost nonsensical–and yet look at how good the combination looks. Indeed, there might be another metaphor here. We always need to keep looking for beautiful new combinations.
Finally here is a picture of the chandelier festooned with presents and hung with a great green bulb. The present may be dark, but the seasons will go on shifting and there is always light, beauty, and generosity where you make it. I’m going to be in and out, here, as we wrap up 2016 and make some resolutions for 2017. I realize I have been an inconsistent blogger this year, but I have been doing the best I can to keep exploring the world on this space and that will continue as we go into next year. I treasure each and every one of you. Thank you for reading and have a happy solstice.
I’m sorry i didn’t write a post yesterday. I had a cold, and while I managed to stumble through my workday, I just fell asleep when I got home. I’ll keep today’s post short and sweet by concentrating on two things which everyone loves: turkeys and money. Turkeys are a personal favorite animal of mine–they are large beautiful galliform birds which I have written about at length. Now I don’t know nearly as much about money, but what I have heard makes me think I would like it. So, as an early Thanksgiving treat, here are some coins with turkeys on them.
The first two examples are quarters–from Louisiana of all places (my native West Virginia, a place filled with wildlife, got stuck with a bridge.)
The third example is apparentlyfrom Saba. At first, I thought Saba sounded made up–but then I noticed that the coin had “five” written on it in Dutch. Sure enough this is an island in the lesser Antilles, and you can totally buy something there for this amazing turkey coin.
The Otomi people are an indigenous Mesoamerican people of the Mexican Plateau. During the conquest of Mexico by the Spanish, the Otomi allied with the Spanish against the Aztecs (since the Aztecs were a hated upstart empire oppressing and enslaving them). Otomi populations practiced (and continue to practice) shamanism. The sacred spirit animals of the shaman’s spirit journey take a central position in the most characteristic artforms of the Otomi—which consists of exquisite embroidered animals in dazzling colors. This is the subject of today’s post because…well look at these textile artworks! I just innately love them. They are masterpieces. The colorful animals seem to come to extravagant life on the elaborately sewn panels.
In these embroidered medallions and picture squares, fantasy birds, fish, quadrupeds, and insects embroidered out of brilliant stripes swirl together among equally colorful flowers and vines. Most of the creatures seem to be based off of familiar domestic animals like burros, chickens, rabbits, turkeys, and bees—but the farm creatures are turning into each other and exchanging characteristics and identities. I am a bit surprised that Ferrebeekeeper has only just found out about Otomi art….
It isn’t like I went to the Mexican national art gallery and cherry-picked a few hallowed masterpieces from the walls either. Most of these beautiful examples were for sale on the internet by anonymous living artists and artisans whose work I like better than basically anything on sale right now in Chelsea for a thousand times more. I could have one of these amazing handmade artworks if I possessed…35 American dollars? How can such a beautiful thing cost less than a dvd of Fifty Shades of Grey? People who claim that the market is all-knowing should take note (and people who love beautiful art should be taking out their wallets).
Best wishes for a Merry Christmas! I am featuring my Christmas tree again, just in case anyone hasn’t seen it. Fortunately, I added a lot of new animals like an andrewsarchus, a basilosaurus, an arsinoitherium, and a priapulid worm. Of course my favorite animal, my little housecat Sepia is there too, at lower left, wondering why I am paying attention to a fake tree instead of playing with her. It seems like she might also be interested in a second dinner.
The year is wearing down fast and I am going to take a few days to paint and draw and relax, but there are a few more posts left for 2015 and then there will be a whole new thrilling year for blogging. Having you all as readers is the very best present possible. Let me know if you have any ideas or concerns. Happy holidays! I wish I could get everyone a miniature donkey, or a flying squid, or a walking catfish, but you will have to settle for more wacky eclectic content…and for my happiest and best wishes and warmest regards now and always.
The Precious Night Turkey (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, Mixed Media)
Longtime readers know that one of my favorite animals is the turkey. I am not alone. We Americans have a whole month dedicated to devotions of the magnificent bird: the turkey is literally at the center of our third (or second?) most important festival. However there is a distinctly Aztec aspect to the turkey’s key role in the holiday. The fowl is not just a sacred animal of autumn—it is a sacred sacrifice of the dying year.
I love turkeys. I love their appearance. I love their personalities. I love their furtive mastery of the eastern woodlands. I…uh…I love their flavor. A lot. This strikes me as a noteworthy juxtaposition of its own: a troubling aspect not of turkeys, but of humankind. Our kindness is always streaked through with appetite. Our admiration is dark and terrible.
Anyway, I figured I had better make an artwork to capture some of these mixed feelings (and as a personal devotion to the consecrated bird). Here is a picture of Chalchiuhtotolin, the jeweled night turkey of the Aztecs. You can revisit the post here—the deity is a trickster, a sacrifice, a shapeshifter. I made it with paper cutouts, markers, colored pencils, and rhinestones—in the artistic style of an alimentary schoolchild, er, I mean an “elementary” schoolchild. I wanted it to be like a Faberge jeweled egg, glistening in the purple night, but perhaps I should have made it more Aztec instead of Rococo.
Ominously, as I was pasting it all together I accidentally tore off the head (you can see the seam of where I glued it back if you blow up the work). It was an artistic mistake—but it works perfectly to capture the true ritualistic nature of November’s spirit animal.
I promised a Fourth of July post, but one of my old friends came back to New York for a weekend after a decade abroad, so there was catching up to do (plus eating cherries and watching decorative explosions in the sky) and I missed writing a post. The recollections of erstwhile times reminded me that this blog has changed quite a bit too–we used to feature a lot more posts about turkeys–magnificent American fowl which dominate the poultry-yard, the dinner table, and the month of November, I decided to present a retro-post of patriotic turkeys as a belated Independence celebration–the founders never really meant for Independence to be celebrated on the fourth–so maybe we can respect their wishes with these star-spangled red-white-and-blue birds. Happy July. It doesn’t get better than enjoying some decorative birds in summertime!
Any purists who are tutting disapprovingly about how turkeys should stay in their lane ought to be reassured that I will blog about them plenty when November rolls around. I’m really fond of the big galoots!
Well, it’s already Thanksgiving…2015 will be here before you know it. This year I’m staying in Brooklyn instead of going home to the fields and hardwood forests of Appalachia, but I’ll definitely miss visiting family, going hunting, and seeing all of the goodly farm creatures. I probably should have organized things better, but to be frank, organization is really not my métier. How does everybody do so well with all of these infernal lists, and applications, and invoices, and calendars, and spreadsheets? Anyway, to celebrate the holiday, here is a summertime watercolor picture of the family farm. The trees look a bit crooked and a bit too green…but they were crooked and extremely green in real world (plus I didn’t realize I was sitting on an anthill when I first chose the location—so I was painting faster and faster). Of course there was no wild turkey running through the painting–at least not that I could see—however they are supremely canny at blending in when they want to be (and I did find some feathers at the entrance to the forest). The snake, chipmunk, and skulking frog are likewise inventions, although they are definitely out there in the woods. I should really have painted an anthill: those guys were very much present!
I’m sorry I don’t have a November painting which show the beautiful browns, russets, and grays of the woodland. The wild turkey would look extremely good against such a backdrop! But the ants were bad enough—I don’t even want to think about watercolor in snow, sleet, and freezing rain…
Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers! I hope you enjoy your turkeys and have a lot to be thankful for. All of you foreign folk will have to make do with my best wishes and imagine how succulent the turkey and mashed potatoes taste. But wherever or whoever you are, you should know that I am most thankful for my readers! You are all the best!
Professional wrestling is a very peculiar concoction. It is a volatile mix of extreme athleticism, flamboyant theater, televised hype, steroids, advertising money, and ludicrous costumes. As you can imagine, this blend sometimes goes extraordinarily awry: professional wrestling can give birth to nightmare children. Keeping this in mind, let us journey back to the distant year of 1990. That autumn, during the weeks leading up to the World Wrestling Federation’s Survivor Series of 1990, wrestling producers stumbled upon a very…unusual…gimmick to drum up excitement for their title bout. A huge egg of indeterminate origin was placed in the middle of the arena. As the ripped, oiled, and be-sequined brawlers fought out their melodramatic matches, more and more hype was lavished upon this strange prop. What sort of wrestling sensation would hatch out of it?
Many animals lay eggs, so the possibilities were multitudinous and potentially thrilling. What if the giant egg turned out to be a horrifying serpent man or some sort of warrior dinosaur? Since professional wrestling has never been troubled by reality, the egg could even have contained a mythological being like a roc, a griffin, or a baby Godzilla. On Thanksgiving of 1990, the egg hatched and the answer was revealed.
When the egg blew open, out of it leapt…the Gobbledy Gooker–a hapless chump clad in an extraordinarily ugly turkey costume. Not only did the Gooker [ed. Can we even write that word on a family-friendly blog?] look horrid–he did not even wrestle. He capered around the ring and then danced with announcer “Mean” Gene Okerlund to the minstrel hit “Turkey in the Straw”. Understandably, the Hartford audience hooted in derision. It is actually painful to hear “Rowdy“ Roddy Piper (the brilliant lead thespian of the dark allegorical sci-fi masterpiece “They Live”) shouting out canned enthusiasm for the bad gimmick. The Gobbledy Gooker appeared in a few more mercifully brief promotional spots and then was canned for good…
…or was he? Within the hallowed halls of professional wrestling, ethereal voices began to whisper about the Gobbledy Gooker. What terrible decisions led to the egg and the turkey costume? Who was beneath the patchy feathers? It turns out that the Gobbledy Gooker was a wrestling persona of Hector Guerrero, famed scion of Los Guerreros (arguably the world’s greatest multigenerational dynasty of professional wrestlers). Perhaps it is appropriate that a Mexican-American played the sacred turkey figure–since turkeys were first domesticated by the glorious pyramid civilizations of Mesoamerica.
Our culture has a raw appetite for spectacle. And the awfulness of the Gobbledy Gooker fulfilled some primal need. Soon the Gobbledy Gooker was back—albeit sometimes spelled as the Gobbly Gooker. In the 2000s the giant turkey (still played by Guerrero) competed in Wrestlemania X-Seven, a contest between over-the-top gimmick characters (sadly he lost in the second round). He also lent his name to the Gooker Award for the worst wrestling gimmicks. In recent years, he has become a sort of campy mascot of World Wrestling (although his already nebulous turkey identity has blurred a bit further). He even starred in a video about wacky office misadventures at WW headquarters!
Last Thanksgiving (2013), the Gobbledy Gooker stepped out of retirement and “appeared backstage on WWE Smackdown at a ‘post Thanksgiving party’ thrown by Smackdown General Manager Vickie Guerrero.” Will the Gobbledy Gooker reemerge this Thanksgiving as a magnificent and dismaying symbol of our gluttony, our strength, our vainglory? Keep your eyes peeled to find out…
One of the greatest still life painters of all time was Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin (1699-1779). Chardin spent almost his entire life in Paris creating still life paintings of common kitchen and household items (and occasionally painting domestic scenes of maids, servants, and children). In an age dominated by Rococo excess and opulence, his works exalt the simple beauty of quotidian subjects. Additionally, he painted very slowly and turned out only 4 or 5 pieces a year. Chardin is one of Marcel Proust’s favorite artists and anyone who has read “Remembrance of Things Past” will recall long lyrical passages praising paintings such as “The Ray” (one of the Louvre’s prized masterpiece–which Proust saw often). Proust found a kindred spirit in Chardin—someone who found transcendent beauty, grandeur, and meaning within daily life. Chardin’s exquisite little works make a large aesthetic point about the nature of beauty and of truth—which are as often found in the servant’s little room as in the viscount’s vasty palace. A little hanging duck is as lovely as the goddess of the dawn.
I have chosen to show three paintings of fowl by Chardin (ranging from least, at the top, to best at the bottom). All are kitchen paintings of dead birds about to be plucked and cooked. The first is a simple brace of gamefowl hanging in the kitchen. The second work shows a splendid duck with one cream colored wing extended, the last is a magnificent turkey amidst copper pots and vegetables. Each of these paintings have a deep sense of longing: the melancholy of the dead birds is somewhat abated by the viewer’s hunger and by the wistful nostalgia created by a limited palette of grays and browns (with a few little flourishes of pink, orange, and yellow). Their very simplicity makes them rich and complex (although Chardin’s incomparable brushwork certainly is anything but simple).
The nymphs, clowns, and jeweled mistresses of 18th century French art seem to come from a world unimaginable—a world which even today’s jaded pop stars and sybaritic billionaires would find decadent. Chardin’s art however comes from some eternal place—a kitchen which we have all walked into in childhood. There in the plain light we are confronted with humble pots and pans and perhaps a bird or fish—but we are also confronted with the absolute beauty of the everyday world.