Quantum Identity Alpha: The Celestial Tortoise Drags its Tail in the Mud
I had originally done this piece after an intensely moving chanoyu (tea) practice, where we discussed the story of the celestial tortoise being a heavenly, mythical, ascended creature, and yet still dragging its tail through the mud, touching earth. The dynamic tension in that concept sparked me and spoke to me. I had a large discarded canvas I thought would be perfect for it, and some old toxic chrome auto paint someone had illegally thrown away. I thought the toxic shimmer of the paint represented the tension in the sacred and profane, the real and imagined, the celestial and muddy. I also thought about the images of icons stepping off or reaching beyond their lotuses and perches to touch the ground or reach out to humanity from their ascended state, ever keeping connection to the needs of living, suffering beings. To honor that idea I used only my hands to mimic a tortoise’ tracks through sand, dragging my finger like a tail between the impressions of fins or feet. When finished, it looked a bit like a spine, which reminded me of chakras and kundalini and the idea of having a backbone or alignment or balance - symbols potent in nearly every culture. Bent spines were something Jesus would have cured or Mohammed would have cared for. And I had survived a near-fatal car accident as a baby, and somehow my bones were set right. Now daily I practice some form of self-care to preserve my own balance, doing something physical to bring peace to my spirit. Again, the dialectical nature of a thing.
It was also a wild experiment. I’d never worked with auto paint and saguaro seeds together, and I’d never tried to form shapes in the seeds to create such high relief. I knew it would be fragile once completed, and I thought that spoke also to the idea of a celestial being leaving tracks in the mud - I could create a piece of art that might turn out to be ephemeral. Would the paint lose its luster? Would the seeds be engulfed in the surface tension of the paints and solvents covering them with silver so that the blackness of the seeds got lost into nothing but a monoculture?
When it was done I loved it - I was attached.
It did not take long for it to get damaged. As I moved the piece outside to seal it (and hopefully strengthen the piece so it would not get damaged), I tilted it to get it out the door and pieces of it began to separate and crumble. I got to work on repairing it, and drenched it with sealant to help it stick together. A few months later it was damaged badly by an object hitting it, but I was able to repair it again with several hours of slow, intense work. I put it in a safe place on a wall away from traffic and warned anyone in the room that it was fragile. Sadly, however, in the process of having it photographed several months later, the photographer damaged it beyond repair.
It sat there, sadly, for about a month as I debated what to do with it. Perhaps the damage was part of the piece, part of the story. After all, the celestial tortoise reminds us of the impermanence of things, and is part of a constellation of ancient stories that warn us not to become attached to earthly things - or to become prideful in the making of them. Perhaps the damage spoke to that and was a living reminder.
In a flash of inspiration, however, I took the painting down and actually dropped it several times on purpose to damage it completely, knocking off the loose pieces. I then took those crumbled bits of saguaro, auto paint, and acrylic sealant and stirred them together with more seeds to create a kind of mud, and then added real dirt to create literal mud.
I smeared it liberally all over the canvas, using the broken and damaged to create a new version of the old, to create something entirely new on something that was already something entirely new painted on something old and discarded. The trash became renewed, then damaged, then renewed again, carrying on the cycle of death and rebirth.
To symbolize my pride (which had been damaged in what seemed to be a failed experiment), I added peacock colors, while also representing the colors of the heavens. I then dusted the entire piece with mica flakes and gold powder to symbolize the sparkling of stars found right here in the Tucson earth, and to give the piece an otherworldly shimmer, reminding the viewer of the celestial nature of all things - as we are all born of primordial stardust and the explosions of ancient suns. Is there even a beginning to time, to the universe, to Earth, to art or culture, or has some form always existed, whether in energy or carbon or light or spirit? In what ways do our attachments to creation belong in the cycle of creation and destruction, and how do we know when to embrace entropy or when to rise above it to create lasting beauty?
To symbolize the tenacity of creation, and the endless renewal of life, I embedded a few claws left in the carpet of my artist’s studio by my cat, Vespers, named after a type of prayer. Life is sharp and wounding, but must shed itself too. Despite its sharpness, however, like my once-feral and fearful cat, life can be tamed, loved, and made familiar. The celestial tortoise ascends, but it leaves its traces everywhere.
Details from Quantum Identity Alpha: The Celestial Tortoise Drags its Tail in the Mud
$3500.00 30" x 40"