Day and Night mixed media on wood panels 30×40 cm
Ian Howard: Isobel Gowdie Portrait (after Pisanello), Isobel Gowdie mixed media on wood panels 30×20 cm
Isobel Gowdie was a 17th century Scottish woman who was accused and tried for witchcraft in 1662 in Auldearn. Her story is significant because she gave an elaborate confession filled with elements of fantasy and magic.
More importantly, it is said that she confessed without torture, and she gave her testimony on four occasions. With no torture she volunteered stories about shape-shifting into animals, particularly a hare, and meetings with the Devil.
Isobel was a young woman at the time of her trial. Some articles say that she was well educated and “married below her class.” While others state that Isobel may have been mentally disabled or disturbed. Emma Wilby, author of a recent book on Gowdie, speculates that Isobel may have been a storyteller or village bard.
One theory suggests that some of these accused witches were participating in shamanic visionary practices that were holdovers from the pre-Christian era.
These women and men might have been participating in spirit journeys to the otherworlds through the use of trance or hallucination inducing substances (herbs or mushrooms). This may account for many of the fabulous things mentioned in Isobel’s testimony.
Phaethon 2018 mixed media on wood panel 140x100cm
Phaethon was one of the two immortal steeds of the dawn-goddess Eos, the other being Lampos. Here a statue of Phaeton is in the process of being cast in gold.
‘EOS (Êôs), in Latin Aurora, the goddess of the morning red, who brings up the light of day from the east. She was a daughter of Hyperion and Theia or Euryphassa, and a sister of Helios and Selene. (Hes. Theog. 371, &c.; Hom. Hymn in Sol. ii.) Ovid (Met. ix. 420, Fast. iv. 373) calls her a daughter of Pallas. At the close of night she rose front the couch of her beloved Tithonus, and on a chariot drawn by the swift horses Lampus and Phaëton she ascended up to heaven from the river Oceanus, to announce the coming light of the sun to the gods as well as to mortals.’ (Hom. Od. v. 1, &c., xxiii. 244; Virg. Aen. iv. 129, Georg. i. 446; Hom. Hymn in Merc. 185; Theocrit. ii. 148, xiii. 11.)
Revelation 2017 mixed media on panel 28 x 35.5 cm
Revelation has its origins in the Book Of Revelation. An angel, who hovers in the distance, has taken a “golden censer,” filled with fire from the heavenly altar, and thrown it to the earth (8:3–5). What follows are “peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake” (8:5). Hail and fire, mingled with blood, are thrown to the earth burning up a third of the trees and green grass. (8:6–7). All fresh water turns to blood. (16:4–7)
Draco 2016, mixed media on wood panel 80 x 60 cm
Draco is essentially an alchemical emblem representing part of the alchemical process. ‘Prima materia’ in the course of its elaboration must be subjected to a four-fold division, divided into four elements, described in the form of a cross. This is the cross of Physis, which enables matter to be incarnated and to come into the world. The cross is an allusion to both the conflict of opposites and to the Crucifixion. Only this coming together of opposites can slay the alchemical or mercurial dragon. In alchemy, it is part of the symbolic imagery of ‘mortificatio’ – killing, decay and decomposition. That which undergoes ‘mortificatio’ is the ‘slaying of the dragon’.
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Amphitheatrum mixed media on wood panel 140x100cm
Amphiteatrum is an emblem of disorder; a microcosm of chaos; a mystical demi-monde; une petite apocalypse.
It is set within a 17th century engraving of the Anatomy Theatre at Leiden. Petrus Paauw, Professor of Anatomy, speculated about an anatomical theatre, inspired by classical examples such as the Colosseum, where each member of the audience had an unrestricted view of the arena. He travelled to Padua in Italy and after his studies there, he lobbied in Leiden for a permanent theatre. His wish was fulfilled in 1594, several months before the theatre at the University of Padua opened.
Leiden and Padua became the first universities in Europe to offer public anatomy lessons. The demonstrations took place every year in the winter – in the summer the corpses would start to decompose too quickly. The public dissections were a high point in the academic year; lectures would be halted and the bells would ring.
But by the end of the 18th century the theatre had become little more than a fairground attraction. The once illustrious institution became the object of contention: an increasing number of people, both within and outside the university, condemned the public dissection of corpses as vulgar spectacle. In 1821 the anatomical theatre was dismantled.
In Amphiteatrum, the image of the decaying anatomy theatre is overlaid with a kind of ‘Inverso Mundus’; a medieval genre depicting the world-upside-down or feast of fools. It is a world in chaos with the natural order reversed, where death itself itself represented by the mask of the plague doctor and the apocalypse has become a form of entertainment. A cast of eccentric creatures and characters circle the anarchic scene taking place in the glass dome at the centre of the theatre. This in turn, is linked to the upper part of the work by a column leading to an oval vignette containing a poisoned chalice, set against a landscape of skulls.
Pithos mixed media dyptch 2x wood panels each 30x20cm
The work Pithos is a dyptch, painted on two gessoed wooden panels. The subject is the Greek goddess Pandora, on the right hand panel, with the infamous vessel, on the left. The vessel is often mistakenly called ‘Pandora’s Box’, which is a mistranslation of the original Greek word was ‘pithos’, which is a large jar. It was used for the storage of wine, oil, grain or other provisions, or, ritually, as a container for a body for burial.
The mistranslation of pithos is usually attributed to the 16th century humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam who translated Hesiod’s tale of Pandora into Latin. Erasmus rendered pithos as the Greek pyxis, meaning ‘box’. The phrase ‘Pandora’s box’ has endured ever since.
According to the myth, Pandora opened the jar (pithos), releasing all the evils of humanity, leaving only Hope inside once she had closed it again. The Pandora myth is a kind of theodicy, addressing the question of why there is evil in the world.
Pandora, here, is based on the figure of Venus as painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder, in 1532. The naked figure is bathed in light, and the background behind her sinks into a cosmic and inexplicable darkness. Today we are familiar with such effects from photographs, film and stage sets. In Cranach’s time it would have been read as a surreal unworldly image which could not have been associated with an earthly being. A depiction of Venus as enigmatic, seductive and intimate as this would most likely have been made for a private cabinet of art and curiosities.
Here also, Pandora has a monkey. In ‘vanitas’ still-life painting the monkey is usually representative of chaos.
In the left-hand panel, the dangerous pithos is depicted as a chalice, that most holy of forms. Legends turn on the talismanic properties of the chalice and the secrets it can bestow. It is the medieval form of the collision between Christian doctrine and magic.
Here, Paulo Uccello’s c.1430 seminal analysis of the chalice is a renaissance exercise in the coding of three dimensional form which prefigures the geometries of Reid, Reimann and Einstein, not to mention the spatial nets which underpin computer graphics.
This pithos/chalice floats against a black void and geometrical grid, and above a mystical landscape. It represents a geometry of the mind which can transmute without warning from the parameters of mathematics to the edges of myth and religious symbolism, and back again.
Page size 900 x 600 mm printed recto verso.
Double Diablerie (DD project) is a print project resulting in four limited edition large-scale artists’ books. The full completed project was exhibited at the Satellite Gallery, Nagoya, Japan in July 2016 and was exhibited at the John David Mooney Foundation Chicago in September /October 2016.
Scottish artists Arthur Watson and Ian Howard have discussed this project intermittently over the last few years. Although their individual work is essentially different they share an interest in the Devil and his place in religion and folklore. The artists found a corresponding interest with Japanese printmakers Sotaro Ide and Hisashi Kurachi.
In 2010 Arthur Watson was in Nagoya for an exhibition of his work and delivered a lecture ‘Ritual, superstition, and oral culture in Scotland “, at the University of the Arts, Aichi, Nagoya which led to the development of the theme for the DD project; a commonality of esoteric cultures linking Scotland and Japan, including for example, mountains named for the Devil, groves of trees with spiritual significance, incantations, scapegoat rituals and ghostly manifestations.
The outcome of the DD project is four limited edition artists’ books – one by each artist – with editioned pages, 900 x 600mm, printed recto-verso. The edition size is ten. The books have been bound by the Japanese sewn method and each set of four books is presented in boxes customised by the artists. Two further sets remain unbound for exhibition.
This exhibition which consists of sixty-four large scale prints, sixteen by each artist, plus the bound artists’ books and boxes, was presented at the John David Mooney Foundtion, Chicago. This venue was particularly appropriate for this exhibition, as both Howard and Watson have previously shown work here, and have had a long and creative association with John David.
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