Whatever your eye falls on – for it will fall on what you love – will lead you to the questions of your life, the questions that are incumbent upon you to answer, because that is how the mind works in concert with the eye. The things of this world draw us where we need to go.
― Mary Rose O’Reilley, The Barn at the End of the World: The Apprenticeship of a Quaker, Buddhist Shepherd
Public Domain Image via U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
There is much in life that, though attractive and sometimes even beneficial, contains danger. Is there any reward without risk?
I have a new painting for you. Seductive Fruit is another spontaneous work. It began in a very different vein, an abstract piece that became representational as I played with shading and texture. It was also painted weeks ago and was the inspiration for the theme of fruit for synkronicitithis week.
At the center was an object that I identified from the beginning as “God’s eye”. Part of it still remains, the blue field traversed by red and inhabited by yellow, encircled by black, with a yellow-orange eyeshadow and another stripe of black. The picture rotated and new colors enclosed this eye, reframing it. You’ll notice that the yellow and red outer shell which protects the eye is partially see through, revealing the sunrise, or perhaps sunset, sky, made by layering purples, pinks, reds and yellows. Is this moment a beginning or an ending? There is a light source beyond the lower left corner of the painting.
Here I reached my first stopping point, and the first varnishing. It didn’t yet feel right and the varnishing smeared the colors a bit, so the next element to emerge was the foliage, textured from a mixture of brown, green, yellow, blue and red. The foliage seems also to frame the eye, which became the center, or pit, of a fruit for me. Everything that tries to frame this pit has difficulty doing so, as if it is too otherworldly to fit properly into perspective. All potential, knowledge, imagination, illumination and darkness are rolled into that fruit. It isn’t humanly possible to arrive at an understanding that makes all of these parts fit together.
I stopped again, but felt uncomfortable with the emptiness of the right side of the picture. I put a large blob of black paint on my brush and out came a triangular shape that instantly suggested the viperous head of a poisonous snake. In texturing him, the snake gained large, almost frog like eyes, a spine and head features. I gave him a grey area for his home, which also helped me mix the colors to shade him. Then I realized that the black stripe on the outside of the original yellow orange eye shadow was his tail. Anyone picking this fruit is going to be pulling a snake by the tail and running the risk of being bitten. To me this signifies that knowledge is perilous. The more we become aware of the world around us, the less innocent we become and the more darkness we see and experience. In order to live with awareness, we must accept that we will die. Notice that even the snake is not without aspects of illumination–symbolized in this picture by the color yellow, which lightly patterns his head and tongue.
There are overtones in this piece of the temptation of Adam and Eve from the Christian Bible– a serpent and a fruit that contains God’s knowledge of good and evil, his “eye”, if you will. I have always taken issue with the willingness of the Biblical narrator to place words in God’s mouth that imply punishment. It seems to me that he behaves like a child interpreting a correction as mistreatment. What if the God of this story is simply revealing the truth that understanding the world doesn’t make it easier, that it brings frustration and pain, not from wrath or punishment, but from cause and effect? Choosing freedom and knowledge will result in conflict.
There is an old English text called Adam Lay Ybounden which praises God for the time that the apple was eaten, for the temptation itself, interpreting it as a blessed fault. It seems appropriate in this context. You can read the lyrics and learn about the text here.
Have ideas or insight? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Video via UCD-University College Dublin, featuring a performance of Deo Gracias (Adam Lay Ybounden) by Benjamin Britten from his Ceremony of Carols.
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
―Frank Herbert, Dune
I’ve read that a naked eye can see six thousand stars in the hundred billion galaxies, but I couldn’t believe it, what with the sky white with starlight. I saw a million stars with one eye and two million with both. Galileo proved that the rotation and revolution of the earth give stars their apparent movements. But on that night his evidence wouldn’t hold. Any sensible man, lying on his back among new leaves of sage, in the warm sand that had already dried, even he could see Arcturus and Vega and Betelgeuse just above, not far at all, wheeling about the earth. Their paths cut arcs, and there was no doubt about it.
I wanted a metamorphosis, a change to fish, to leviathan, to destroyer. I wanted the earth to open up, to swallow everything in one engulfing yawn. I wanted to see the city buried fathoms deep in the bosom of the sea. I wanted to sit in a cave and read by candlelight. I wanted that eye extinguished so that I might have a chance to know my own body, my own desires. I wanted to be alone for a thousand years in order to reflect on what I had seen and heard – and in order to forget.
‘I believe you!’ the artiste exclaimed finally and extinguishes his gaze. ‘I do! These eyes are not lying! How many times have I told you that your basic error consists in underestimating the significance of the human eye. Understand that the tongue can conceal the truth, but the eyes – never! A sudden question is put to you, you don’t even flinch, in one second you get hold of yourself and know what you must say to conceal the truth, and you speak quite convincingly, and not a wrinkle on your face moves, but – alas – the truth which the question stirs up from the bottom of your soul leaps momentarily into your eyes, and it’s all over! They see it, and you’re caught!’
― Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita
Berlin based artist Svenja Jödicke, also known as Svenja Schmitt, is all about eyes. Her beautiful paintings feature fanciful and brightly colored eyes, set forth in mediums such as watercolor, acrylic paint and collage. In 2012, she departed from the world of conventional painting to focus on body art and photography. “Eyes were and still are always the main focus of all her works, as they fascinate her and are able to tell unspoken stories” (from her site on DeviantART).
Jödicke models new looks, new characters, on herself not only through the use of elaborate eye make-up and colored contacts, but through the use of ribbons, buttons, jewels, feathers, flowers, and even snails and insects, including wasps. It is the combination of small animals with makeup and eyes that inspired her to pursue her unusual artistic path. She uses both dead and live animals, with care to not damage or hurt them. You can see her stunning body art here. Entrancing! Most of us would never think to combine such things, let alone do it with such courage and style.
Quiet descended, a silence so consuming that even the drafty corridors ceased whistling. Bog wasn’t certain where to look, so he solved the problem by plucking out his eyes and sticking them in a drawer.
― A. Lee Martinez, In the Company of Ogres
Jon Klassen is known as a writer and illustrator of children’s books and as an animator. He has worked on films, such as Coraline and Kung Fu Panda, and directed the video for I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight by U2. As an illustrator he has won several awards, including the Governor General’s Award for English-language children’s illustration for Carolyn Stutson’s Cat’s Night Out and the 2013 Caldecott Medal for This Is Not My Hat, which he also wrote. His book I Want My Hat Back was among the New York Times 10 Best Illustrated Children’s Books for 2011, although it kicked up some controversy over its ending, in which a character (the bear) eats another character (the rabbit), an event which is not explicitly pictured in the illustration.
In the early 2000s, as a student in Sheridan College’s Classical Animation Program, Klassen teamed up with Dan Rodrigues, later an animator on Kid vs. Kat, to make An Eye for Annai, a charming and clever animated short about a one-eyed monster looking to replace his missing eye. The film is hand drawn and animated, with digital coloring and a mix of traditional and digital backgrounds. Klassen played the recorder to make most of the soundtrack and used a recording of the Jazz classic Jeepers Peepers to finish off the magic.Jeepers Peepers, where’d you get those eyes? Clever! The main tune is the children’s song Frère Jacques, but listeners will catch interpolations of the Sailor’s Hornpipe and the Imperial March from Star Wars. It is this impish whimsy that makes the video an instant classic, despite limited budget and resources. What an adorable little red monster! The fruit eating monkeys and the obnoxious peacocks are some of my favorites as well. Enjoy!