Posts Tagged ‘Mayans’

Exiles--QuartetWe all carry within us our places of exile, our crimes, and our ravages. But our task is not to unleash them on the world; it is to fight them in ourselves and in others.

Albert Camus


I have written about and showed a number of the pieces from my early Exiles series here on this blog.  It was a very important group of work for me in that it was the first real break towards forming my own voice, creating and displaying work that was emotional for myself.  It was also the work that spawned my first solo show in early 1997.

The inspiration for this work was mainly drawn from the experience of watching my mother suffer and die from lung cancer over a short five or six month period in 1995.  Her short and awful struggle was hard to witness, leaving me with a deep sense of helplessness as I could only wish that there was a way in which I could somehow alleviate her pain.  Most of the work deals with figures who are in some form of retrospection or prayer, wishing for an end to their own suffering.

But another part of this work was drawn from my own feelings of emotional exile, a feeling of estrangement in almost every situation.  I had spent the better part of my life to that point  as though I didn’t belong anywhere,  always on the outside viewing the world around me as a stranger in a strange land,  to borrow the words of that most famous biblical exile, Moses.  These figures were manifestations of that sense of inner exile that I carried with me.

Little did I know that these very figures would help me find a way out of this exile.  With their creation came a sense of confidence and trust in the power of my self-revelation.  I could now see that the path from the hinterlands of my exile was not in drawing my emotions more and more inward, allowing no one to see.  No, the path to a reunion with the world was through pouring this emotion onto the surface of paper or canvas for all to see.

This is hard to write and I am struggling with it as I sit here this morning.  I started writing this because I had been reconsidering revisiting this series, creating a new generation of Exiles.  But in pondering this idea I realized that the biggest obstacle was in the fact that I no longer felt so much a stranger in a strange land.  I no longer felt like the Exile, no longer lived every moment with these figures.  It turned out that they were guides for me, leading me back to the world to which I now feel somewhat connected, thanks to my work.

If there is to be a new series, they will most likely not be Exiles.

The piece shown here, Quartet,  is one of my favorites, a grouping of four figures.  You may not see it in these figures but the visual influence for this work were the carvings found on Mayan ruins of Mexico and Central America.  I myself see this mainly in the figure at the bottom right.

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William Miller's 1843 ChartWell, I got  up this morning and, outside of a light layer of snow on the ground, it looked pretty much the same as yesterday.  The world is still here and the Mayans have got some explaining to do for getting us all worked up.  Or were the Mayans just pulling our leg the whole time?

I’m not sure about that but I am pretty sure that this won’t be the last time someone predicts that the end of the world is upon us.  It’s happened on a regular basis throughout the history of civilization.  We seem to have some sort of predisposition for doomed thought that pops up in a big way every generation or so,  a doomsayer getting everybody’s panties in a knot with their what-seems-rational-at-the-moment reasoning  for the coming apocalypse.

One of my favorite apocalypses (how often do you get to say that?) was the End of the World of 1843 and 1844 as predicted by William Miller right here in the state of  New York, which was fertile ground at that time for new religion movements. Mormonism and Seventh-Day-Adventism, which sprang from Miller’s preaching, are the two best examples.

Miller was a preacher who came to the conclusion that the end was near through a complex system of mathematical calculations  based on his readings of the Old Testament.  He traveled throughout the northeast through the 1830’s and 40’s, preaching his prophecy of the coming end of the world.  It’s said that he spoke to over a million people during his promotion of the event and that over a hundred thousand actually chose to follow his instructions to sell their worldly possessions and gather on the hilltops with him, all dressed in white robes,  in March of 1843 to await the coming of the the lord and their rapture from this doomed place.   A great testament to the persuasive power of Miller’s preaching of his rationale for the prophecy.

It was a big deal at the time, with headlines carrying news of the prophecy and the hordes gathering for the end. But the day came with  a fizzle, not a boom.   When nothing happened at this event, an embarrassed Miller ran the numbers again.  I think he forgot to carry the seven as he added one column.  Whatever the case, he revised the date to a day in October of 1844.

I’m told that the world didn’t end on that particular day.  It was called The Great Disappointment and many of Miller’s followers abandoned him.  Some went on to form the Seventh Day Adventists.  Miller never gave up his belief in the ultimate truth of his prophecy, dying a few years later in 1849.

The chart at the top is one that Miller published to illustrate how he came to his conclusion.  Much of  the design and artwork was done by one of Miller’s followers,  William Matthew Prior, the famed American folk portrait painter who I featured in a post on his work recently.  You can see this amazing sheet at the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown along with two portraits of Miller done by prior.  One is a spirit portrait, done afterMiller’s death.  It is Prior’s interpretation of Miller’s essential spirit, not the physical entity he inhabited while alive.

The Prior show, along with my own exhibit there, closes at the end of next  Sunday, December 30.  So time is short– for these shows, not this world.

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Albrecht Durer  Four Horsemeen of the Apocalypse ca 1497Those darn Mayans may have marked it off on their calendar  but I’ve been so busy over the last several months that I completely forgot that the world is coming to an end in a week.   I didn’t get my doomsday bunker built.  Didn’t hone my survivalist skills in any way. Didn’t stockpile a thousand cases of Campbell’s Soup or nearly enough weapons to fight off the packs of post-apocalyptic cannibals or zombies that will surely be wandering the countryside.   However, I did buy a larger bottle of aspirin a few weeks back but that was totally unrelated to the end of the world.  Just a good buy.

So I am not prepared right now for this world to end.  Oh well. But are we ever prepared for such a thing?   I was thinking about that as I was walking through the woods the other day.  What if these were the last days of this world as we know it?  Would I,  or could I,  change anything ?

I took in the color of the sky at the moment.  Took a deep breath of the cool air.  Looked at the curves of the tree trunks and limbs reaching skyward.  Held Cheri’s hand a bit tighter.  No, in that moment  I was satisfied with that being among my last days on this world.  Maybe that’s all we can or should do everyday.  Just see our world and simply take it in, let the image register deeply within us and be satisfied that we have seen it.

Or not.  Maybe I should go work on that machine gun turret  for my Subaru.

Here’s a song that is probably getting an awful lot of airplay but I don’t care.  It’s REM‘s It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine). I’ve been singing the chorus of this song for 25 years, since it was first released back in 1987, and I might as well continue now that the end is surely upon us.  Thanks a lot, Mayans!

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The ancient Mayans may be saying that the world will soon end but it’s not a new concept.  Many people throughout time have foresaw the end of the world through the signs they read in the pattern of their society’s breakdown.  You can read it throughout history.  Men of the day, from ancient Greece onward, decrying the breakdown of their civilization and the imminent demise of the world.

I’ve written a bit about the items I’ve been reading in the old newspapers while doing some research on my grandfather.  At first I was charmed by the vivid nature of the time.  Explosive growth and innovation in so many fields.  Seemingly unlimited potential for those willing to go for it.

But as I scanned through the pages, it became a nightmare world.  Every day brought new horrors.  The local pages were filled with the deaths of so many, young and old, from things that have been tamed by modern science for so long that we no longer give them a second thought unless we’re in a third world nation.  Dysentery, cholera and malaria.  Tuberculosis.

Rabies.  Yes, rabies, for chrissakes.

There were several accounts in the papers from the short time at which I was looking, in which local citizens died from rabies.  In one case the man was placed in a padded cell and was near death, according to the account.

People were hit by trains on the city streets on a regular basis.  Multiple accounts of farming accidents, most in graphic details that you would never see in today’s papers.  Plenty of murders.  There were only a handful of cars on the roads around 1905 but there were plenty of reports of accidents, many fatal.

And fires.  Everyday another fire and often, another death.  In Forestport, a booming logging town in the southern part of the Adirondacks where my great-grandfather plied his trade, the downtown area suffered two devastating fires in the period of seven years.

There was a wealth of other chaotic activities going on to stoke the fires under those who saw the end of the world at that time.  Nationally, there were anarchists setting off bombs.  Local skirmishes the world over.  Here, we had Black Hand societies that stemmed from Italian immigrants and were a precursor to the later Mafia.  They were notorious for their Black Hand letters sent to those from which they wanted to extort money, letters that usually had a drawing of a black hand and a dagger alongside their threat and demands.  Most of the threats were against other Italian immigrants. I was surprised to see multiple accounts of such letters being made public in the papers.

After a time of reading these papers and seeing page after page of relative misery, I could see why the contemporaries of that time would see the end of the world hurtling at them.  Made me appreciate our own times a bit more and put reports of our demise in perspective.

I guess Dickens was accurate for all eras when he wrote those great first lines of A Tale of Two Cities:    It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

So, the world may or may not end as the Mayans forecast.  If it does, it does.  I fit doesn’t, we’ll just feel like it is anyways…

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