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or reasons beyond my fathoming, my internet connection at home is not working properly. Until I get Optimum to come out and fix it at some time I am not at the office, I will have to type with my thumbs…so I will keep this post pithy and petite!

I just attended the opening night for the EFA studios in Midtown Manhattan to check out what my artistic colleagues are up to (and, of course, to see if there was any fodder for Ferrebeekeeper). There were many fine works (I especially liked the dark schematic paintings of Akira Ikezoe which looked like Rube Goldberg in Neraka) but perhaps the finest works of craft were also the most relevant to this blog.

The magnificent Renaissance pigeon portraits at the top and the bottom of this post were painted by Amy Hill. Hill paints directly from the works of Northern European Renaissance masters to create works with the style of Memling, Archimbaldo, Van Eyck, and Cranach. She combines this finery with quotidian elements and images from contemporary society or nature: in these cases., pigeons. Although I love the refined lordly raiment of these birds (and Ms. Hill said she worked forever on that filigree ruff and it still haunts her dreams) I think the finest aspects of these strange portraits are the beaks and eyes. There is something crazy and moving about the wild eye of that top pigeon. More importantly though the bill of the bottom bird is beautifully organic and sensitive. It looks like a hand–a tool which is simultaneously nimble & strong as well as sensitive yet adroit..which I suppose is exactly what pigeon beaks are to their owners.

Thanks again to Amy Hill for letting me photograph her lovely works. I hope she has a very successful show!

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This is Rudolf IV of Austria (1339 –1365).  He was the first Archduke of Austria…or of anywhere (like some sort of 14th century rapper, he invented the rank of Archduke for himself, in case you were curious where that ponderous title originally came from) and he was also Duke of Styria and Carinthia from 1358, as well as Count of Tyrol from 1363 and first Duke of Carniola from 1364 until his death in July of 1365. Rudolf IV’s megalomania and grandiose plans laid the foundations of Vienna’s future greatness (and Austria’s).  The future imperial city was a backwater without even an episcopal see before Rudolf started building cathedrals, modernizing his duchy, and inventing fancy titles for himself (he invented some counterfeit royal charters too). In this post, however, we are concentrating not on on his historical importance to Habsburg dynasty building, but on his splendid portrait, the first half frontal portrait in Western Europe.  Like much of Rudolf’s legacy, the archducal crown of wild vines, arches, and jewels, was seemingly invented.  The intimate and introspective style of the work was partially borrowed from the master painters of Byzantium, but was also an Austrian painting innovation.  Like Rudolf’s reign it forshadowed wonders to come.

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Ferrebeekeeper recounts a lot of mythological stories and religious tales–using almost the same voice as we use to tell non-fictional stories.  However, it is critical to remember that such folklore and mythology is not true…at least not in the same way as history or science are real (and even those reality-based disciplines are shot through with ambiguity and factual inadequacy: truth is a very lofty ideal indeed!).  Instead religious tales tell a complicated moral or ontological truth about our species by means of symbolism.  How we interpret this symbolism is all-Important.

I had a classics professor in college who gave us a reading about the Punic War from Livy.  Livy (who himself lived in politically fraught times) prudently cited the failure to properly observe the state religion as one of the reasons the Romans lost a huge Punic War battle (or as Livy stated it: the Romans failed to sacrifice enough to the gods of Olympus).  On the midterm, the professor asked why the Romans lost the battle and many students dutifully regurgitated Livy’s exact answer in their little blue books.  “I was surprised to find so many pantheists in this class!” said the professor as he handed back the books and explained why readers need to think carefully about what they are reading (and also why so many students did not have the grades they expected).

It might seem like I am writing about this subject because of dissatisfaction with some aspect of contemporary religious sentiment. For example, based on their actions and pronouncements, many contemporary Christians seem to believe that the central message of Christianity is that they (fundamentalist Christians) are always right about everything and God will take them to heaven to live in happy bliss when they die (even as he casts all of the people they personally dislike (and pretty much everyone else) into eternal hellfire).  Gods are a metaphor for the self—unless you happen to be devout; in which case your god is an actual magical entity who cares about you personally but mostly despises everyone else.

Ahem, anyway…Instead of talking about whether evangelical Christians fail to understand Christ’s message of kindness and giving, I wanted to draw people’s attention back to a Greco-Roman story we told here a while ago—the story of Asclepius, god of healing.  Asclepius was the son of the beautiful and terrible god Apollo (whose myths always fascinate and horrify me).  According to the myth, Asclepius mastered healing to a profound degree previously unknown to mortalkind.  Through study and devotion, he obtained the ability to alleviate all of people’s suffering, anguish, and illness.  His art was so profound that he could even stop death itself.  Unfortunately, Asclepius became so great as a healer that he lost sight of the healing itself.  He began to think of himself as one of the gods.  He was originally drawn to medicine out of sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.  But success changed him and he began to only heal those who gave him enormous amounts of gold.  Because of this Zeus hurled a thunderbolt at him.  Asclepius was incinerated utterly. His quasi-divine healing prowess vanished from the earth because of his hubris and people were thrown back into lives of suffering and death.

Now here is my point.  I suppose if we had a devout pantheist here they would say “Zeus is all powerful and Asclepius offended him by trying to imitate that power!  Hubris will always be punished. All hail Zeus!”  Since the pantheists are pretty much gone though (except maybe in my history class), we can look at the story on its own.  Asclepius was a human, and he his mastery of healing represents humankind’s surprising ability to master this subject to an enormous degree.  But Asclepius was arrogant and selfish.  He started to misuse his healing arts for profit. When he stopped caring about being a physician first and began to lust for gold and power instead of wisdom, his healing art was lost and everyone suffered.  The story has a patina of magic, but it is a metaphor about real things. Indeed, it should seem intimately familiar to any American who has been forced to contend with our for-profit healthcare system (even before the contemporary American medical industry mixed up the staff of Asclepius with Hermes’ rod of commerce). Seem from that vantage, the story of how Asclepius was destroyed when he forgot his true purpose doesn’t just sound like an ancient Greek myth about hubris.  It sounds like a rebuke to contemporary healthcare companies which are so stingy, cruel, and greedy that they are shortening people’s lives.  Worrying about gold instead of research and healing didn’t work out so great for the greatest physician.  Perhaps it is a mistake in contemporary medicine as well.

Of course, a careful reader might also ask whether I was being completely honest when I said that this post has nothing to do with Christianity in contemporary America.  This particular myth about somebody who incurs a terrible all-consuming price for losing their compassion is Greek—but the moral seems… familiar. A great rabbi once asked a seemingly hypothetical question “For what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his soul?” I don’t believe in souls as real things.  They are symbolic of what is eternal and all-important in our little lives as pieces of the great gestalt of human life.  Perhaps the question could be interpreted as, “what if you lose the most important aspect of yourself by being greedy and power-hungry?”  The story of Asclepius provides a ready answer to that question.  Perhaps the New Testament has similar answers, which people are overlooking.  Physicians need not lose their healing.  Christians need not abandon what is truly divine within Jesus’s words.  Perhaps the Romans need not even lose the great battle, but we are all going to have to focus a bit harder on the complicated symbolic aspect of the text.

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I am back from the bosky hills and verdant dells of West Virginia and SE Ohio and I have a lot of new ideas and stories to share.  Thanks Mom and Dad for the lovely visit and all of your kindness. Also, I want to thank Dan Claymore who did a superb job in my absence.  Dan understood the purpose of Ferrebeekeeper and matched the tone beautifully (although that Japanese fishmarket made me anxious for the oceans and our flatfish friends). Because of his excellent work, I realize I should take more vacations.  Dan also confided in me that he found the project intimidating because of the perspicacity of the polymath readers…so, as always, thank YOU!

When I travel, I carry a little book and a tin of pens and colored pencils (my tin is shaped like a sarcophagus and is interesting in its own right, but more about that later).  I like to quickly draw little colored sketches of what pops into my head or what is in front of me. Sometimes there are realistic. Sometimes they are utterly fanciful.  They are sometimes silly and occasionally sad.  I have dozens of volumes of New York drawings, but I figured I should share all the little sketches I made on my trip (unfortunately nobody posed for me–so there are no portraits). Keep in mind that these are sketches–so they are quick and imperfect.  For example, I drew the one at the top in the car as my family and I went to a wedding in the central mountains of West Virginia, and half way through I realized I didn’t have a dark gray pencil.  Roads are hard for me too (as are straight lines in the moving car).  Maybe this says something about the unnatural yet astonishing nature of our highway infrastructure.

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In the car, I also drew this humorous drawing of a gnome kingdom.  My mother was describing a nuclear weapons facility somewhere which she visited during her Pentagon career, and I apparently misheard the name.  This delightful misunderstanding engendered a whole didactic gnome world. Fribble Fribble!

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This drawing is the corner of the yard at home with autumn cornfields beyond.  Vinnie the barncat is sneaking onto the right corner, catty-corner from the old Amish farmstead.  I wish I could have captured Vinnie better, but Rory the obstreperous adolescent poodle chased him off, before I could catch a better likeness.

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No Ferrebeekeeper sketch collection would be complete without a magical flounder.  This one apparently has a direct connection to the underworld.  More about that in later posts.

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Speaking of the underworld, here is a little drawing of the world beneath the topsoil.  There is a lungfish, a brumating turtle, a mole, a mummy, and an ant colony, but beneath these ordinary items is a whole gnome kingdom.  Don’t worry! I don’t believe in gnomes. Their tireless tiny civilization really represents bacteria to me…oh and humans civilization too (artistic allegory is more of an art than a science).  This macro/micro dichotomy is captured by the shoes of a full sized (albeit anachronistic) human at the top left.

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This is a quick impression of a sunset which was SO beautiful.  If only I could truly have captured more of its sublime luminescent color….

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This is my parents’ pond, which I love more than I can tell you.  Unfortunately a big drip came out of my dip pen and made the ducks look monstrous.  There is a hint of autumn orange in the trees.  This is another one that frustrates me, because reality was so pretty.

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I watched the second half of a documentary about the circus on PBS.  It seems like the circus was more important and central to our nation than I knew (although I should have guessed based on current politics).  I represented the performers as abstract shapes, but the overall composition bears a debt to Cimabue and his Byzantine predecessors.

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Finally here is a picture from the tarmac of John Glenn airport in Columbus.  Naturally the plane moved away as soon as things began to get good. By the way I really enjoyed my flight and I am always surprised that people are so angry about flying.  For the price of a moderately fancy dinner, we can rocket across the continent above the clouds at hundred miles an hour.  We travel like the gods of Greek mythology except people serve us coffee and ginger cookies and, best of all we can truly see the earth from a towering perspective–which is the subject of my last picture which I scrawled as we looped back across Long island west to LaGuardia (I’m glad I am not an air traffic controller).  Sadly this picture did not capture the beauty and complexity of Long Island Sound, and Queens (nor even the lovely billowing cumulus clouds) but at least it made me stare raptly out the window at the ineffable but disturbing beauty of the strange concrete ecosystem we are building.

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Let me know what you think of my little sketches and, now that summer vacation is out of the way, get ready for some October horror and Halloween fun! Oh! Also get ready for Dan Claymore’s book about a human gumshoe in the dark robot future.  It will be out before you know it, and it is going to be amazing!

 

Well, this is my last entry as guest blogger for Ferrebeekeeper. Tomorrow, Beekeeper Prime returns to his home city, hopefully refreshed and renewed and ready to pick up his regular duties. I have had a wonderful time and pray I didn’t muck things up too badly. I also regret I have been too busy to write a post every night––there are so many things I want to share here––but time is a powerful and cruel lord. Beekeeper Prime really is a master of this form, and while I have always been impressed, I am doubly so now.

So, in honor of happy experiences and learning new things (and science fiction!), I present to you my final post.

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What are memories? It is a big question without a satisfying answer. A more manageable question (for neuroscientists, at least) is WHERE are memories. So far the debate over that topic has been fierce, ongoing, and decidedly unresolved.

Some neuroscientists believe that memories are stored in the synapses (connections between nerve cells), while others think memories are located in the more permanent and accessible nuclei of neurons. The former is like writing a note in the sand of a beach. The latter is more akin to placing a file in a metal cabinet. It seems there is merit to both ideas, but who am I to chime in?

A helpful chart…?

Recently, some researchers at UCLA (Los Angeles is neat, I keep telling you) drew closer to an answer of memory-storage question with an experiment involving seas snails.

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aeolid nudibranch

Sea snails learn in similar ways as mammals, but since they have a paltry 20,000 neurons compared to a human being’s 100 billion or so, they are profoundly easier to study.

The sea snail experiment required a snail to be shocked with a small electrical charge, causing the poor snail to curl into a defensive ball for about 10 seconds. Gradually the shock levels were increased until the snail, wondering what it ever did to deserve such shabby treatment, was staying curled up for 50 seconds at a time after EVERY shock, no matter the intensity. The sea snail was trained.

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Micromelo undatus, or the miniature melo

Then the researches extracted a bit of RNA (ribonucleic acid, which forms proteins based on a cell’s DNA instructions) from the trained snail and injected that RNA into an untrained sea snail. Then they zapped this new, freshly injected snail with a shock. Lo and behold, the untrained snail curled up for…50 seconds!

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Littorina littorea, A.K.A. a periwinkle 

As a control test, the heartless-but-on-to-something researchers also zapped an untrained and un-injected snail. That snail curled up for the original 10 seconds.

This, in a weird and brutal way, suggests that there was a “memory” transfer from one sea snail to the other.

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A very beautiful nudibranch

Now, this obviously doesn’t answer directly anything at all, but it does suggest an interesting direction for the research to move in.

Do memories have a physical form? Are they tangible things? Can they be copied? Can they be transferred from one human brain to another?

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The sea snail says, “Yes!” and probably, “Ouch, stop that!”

This is well trodden ground for science fiction stories, but the practical implications are astounding. All hail the noble sea snail! We honor thy sacrifice.

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Los Angeles is an underrated town, in my opinion. Aside the variety of stunning landscapes, alien planet heat, and atmosphere of sunfried amorality, there is a lot to recommend it.

One such gem is the Gene Autry Museum, a lovely little building near the Los Angeles Zoo that is devoted to the history of America’s west. The museum is expertly and tastefully curated, with regularly excellent exhibits throughout the year. Their interests range from Native American life and history to Chicano culture to past and current regional artists expressing the many complicated issues facing the modern southland.

They also have a delightful permanent collection, the pride of which is the wall of ridiculous wild west firearms. My wife and I laughed out loud when we saw these two beauties…which I’m sure would have gotten us shot thoroughly dead in whatever saloon we they originally appeared. It would have been humiliating.

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Boy, that sure is a fancy gun you got there, mister. What do the bullets look like? 

These things got me diving down a very specific rabbit hole of absurdly bedazzled and ornate firearms.

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Deluxe Tiffany & Co. Smith & Wesson .32 Double Action 4th Model Revolver Exhibited by the Factory at the 1893

I don’t know what type of person does this to a gun…

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Very Rare Smith & Wesson Engraved Model 38 single action 2nd model top break revolver two barrel set.

But I’m not sure it’s the sort of person you find among the average gun owners of today.

I admit, it’s pretty. For a gun. 

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Well, that’s just stupid. 

Of course, the desire to beautify and personalize our instruments of death is perfectly understandable. Once upon a time this was the way to stake out an identity. Arms and amour were statements of status and achievement. Symbols of the self that have been replaced by hotrod cars and…er…internet blogs.

But I can’t tell if these designs would make a person more inclined to use the weapon or less. Does a gold gilded ICBM stay in its silo or does it demand to be seen streaking across the sky? Thermonuclear Warhead by Faberge…handle with care until detonation.

 

 

 

This is a “news of the day” post. I had intended to write on a different subject (and a much more grim one), but this caught my eye, and while sad, isn’t quite as dark or upsetting as other current news items.

I’ll get the bad news out of the way first: the Tsukiji Fish Market is shutting down.

The Tsukiji (skee-jee) Fish Market has been a common destination for the hip travel/food shows that flooded cable television in recent years, bringing it to wider popular awareness, but it has always been famous within the fishing industry and among professional chefs around the world.

And of course, it’s been a big deal in Japan since its creation…in 1935!

 

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The Tsukiji Fish Market at its founding in 1934/35

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Here’s a part of the market today. 

The Tsukiji Fish Market (officially the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market (Tokyo Chuo Oroshiuri Ichiba) is (or was) the largest wholesale fish market in the world, selling five million pounds of seafood every day. That’s about 28 million dollars. To put those numbers in perspective, it is 11x more than the Fulton Fish Market in Manhattan and 7x more that the Rungis Market in Paris. The Rungis Market is the second largest in the world, so that gives you an idea of what’s going on in Tsukiji every day. Seafood arrives from 60 countries, a lot of it still alive. Among the 1200 stalls spread out over 53 acres, you can find eels, octopus, squid, puffer fish, mackerel, salmon, the occasion hunk of whale meat, and of course the always-shocking-to-see-whole bluefin tuna.

Just this year (2018) a bluefin tuna was sold for $323,000 (36 million Yen).  The fish in question weighed an astonishing  892 pounds. That’s a lot of sushi, but it’s not even the record. In 2013 a 489 pound bluefin sold for 1.7 million dollars. It seems the value of bluefin is a mercurial, to say the least. Indeed the Tsukiji Fish Market is known for inspiring such swings in enthusiasms. They like to keep business exciting down in old Tokyo.

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Big fish. 

 

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Expensive fish! 

The Tsukiji Fish Market provided 90% of Tokyo’s seafood and 1/3rd of the seafood in Japan. That’s impressive, but it also begs the question just how much seafood is being consumed around the world everyday? That doesn’t seem sustainable, does it? A post for another time, perhaps.

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After a long and noble 83 year run, the Tsukiji Fish market is relocating to another neighborhood in Tokyo. The relocation has actually been in the works for many years, caused by the diminishing physical condition of the market. Basically, it had gotten too dirty to work in safely.

I regret I will never see the market in person, but it sounds like the move is for the best.

Earth. The blue planet, home of gentle water and thriving life. A rare jewel hurtling through a cold, ancient explosion of dust and gas. Our home. But what the heck does it look like? Satellite imagery has gifted us with an objective view of our planet, and it truly is beautiful. We are indeed unique among the stars. Thank you, science (and, ahem, the cold war space race).

But I’m speaking about our mental understanding of where we live. The shape of the Earth within us. How continents and countries, oceans and seas, exist in our mind’s eye, influencing our affections and prejudices. Our identities depend very much on how we imagine our literal place on Earth. Who we are is where our feet touch.

Try as we might, we’re not great at doing this. The good news, as usual, is we’ve made some extraordinary art in the attempt to know our place.

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The above is a world map created by Abu Ishaq Ibrahim ibn Muhammad al-Farisi al Istakhri in the year 1193. Not much is known about Al-Istakhri apart from this map and a book with the Tolkienesque title Kitab al-masalik wa-al-mamalik (Book of Routes and Realms). But Al-Istakhri was hardly alone. The 10th century was full of ambitious Islamic mapmakers and world-definers, curious people unafraid of the wider world; a sad contrast to the cringing tribalism so common across the globe today. While I can’t make heads or tails of this map as a piece of cartography, I would be proud to have it painted on the hull of my spaceship. If I had one.

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No, this isn’t a wrinkled stretch of petrified rhino hide. It is actually a 14,000 year old map! Discovered in a cave in Abuantz, Spain, the stone engraving has mountains, streams, large rivers, and shows choice spots for hunting and foraging.  There are even ibex herds marked in the stone, their 14,000 year old grazing habits recorded for all time.

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This is the world as seen by the medieval Christians living in the 1300s. It figures then, that it was drawn using biblical time as its guiding geological principal, instead of the more typical concept of physical space. This more of a spiritual map than an Earthly one. Beginning at the top with Christ looking down upon the Earth, the viewer takes a descending journey from the Garden of Eden all the way down to the Strait of Gibraltar and the Pillars of Hercules. In the center: Jerusalem. To the right: Africa. Note (if you can on these tiny images) the hideous beasts and frightening monsters lurking along the coasts and at the margins, ready to devour any pilgrim foolhardy enough to venture beyond the watchful eye of the Christian God.

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Lastly, the most “accurate map in the world”. I don’t understand the science of how this was achieved, but you can find it here: http://www.authagraph.com/projects/description.

If you’re anything like me, this map is almost as alien and confusing as the others. My eye doesn’t know where to go! My brain rejects what it sees! My red-blooded American heart is shocked and offended! Look at Africa. Now look at Europe. King Leopold would’ve had an aneurism looking at this map. Shame he didn’t, the bastard. How can we be decent––or merely responsible––tenants when we don’t understand the rooms of the house?

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Ok! I’m headed off to the countryside to enjoy some apple cider, autumn foliage, and family time, but you are all going to be in great hands with the famous/infamous swashbuckler of speculative fiction, Dan Claymore!  Be sure to ply him with comments. I will see you back in a week or so and don’t forget to check out my Instagram page.  Any questions not addressed here should be brought immediately to the attention of the Great Flounder.

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It is the first day of October, which means you need to start getting ready for Halloween horror coming to Ferrebeekeeper at the end of the month! Every year we have done a special theme week to highlight the monsters lurking in the many shadows of existence. As all of you know, there is darkness out there: it lurks just beneath our appetites, our skin, our mortal lives…Ye! there is a ghastly void beneath the pretty autumn flowers themselves! As a teaser of things to come later this month, I am doubling back to an earlier post which had one of my drawings in it.

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The drawing was hard to see in that post (because WordPress seemingly no longer blows images up to true size if you click on them) however it took me an enormous amount of time and it looks very ghastly and disconcerting in the real world. It is another one of my allegorical flounder drawings, but this one concerns the hunger, carnage, and obliteration which, alas, seem to be ineluctable features of all systems involving living things…perhaps of all systems, full stop.

There is a story I imagined while drawing this: what if you were wandering through the barrowlands of Europe when you found an ancient flatfish made of hammered gold? You would grab the treasure and begin to carry it off, however closer examination might give you pause, for, graven into the solid gold, are vile butchers, sorcerers, monsters, and dark gods. Assembled on the surface of the piece are a monster andrewsarchus, an underworld goddess leaping out of a well with entrails in her hand, cannibals, and a parasitic tapeworm thing. All of these frightful entities are gathered around an evil sentient tree with hanged men it its boughs, and the entire tableau is on the back of a terrible moaning flatfish which seems almost to writhe in your hand. When you look up at the sky the night is descending on the wold. The megaliths take on a sinister new aspect and the very stars seem inimical. it is all too easy to imagine the black holes eating away the center of each galaxy. With dawning fear you realize you need to put this unearthly artifact right back where you found it.

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