Category Archives: Archetypes and symbolism

That Time When Someone Told Me That I Paint Like a Man

South Tawton Ceiling Boss:
The Green Man (Simhasana — Lion’s Breath)
oil on panel, 16″ x 16″
© 2013 Amy Funderburk, All Rights Reserved
South Tawton Church, Dartmoor, Devonshire, England

During the reception for the 2013 exhibition in which I debuted the painting above, South Tawton Ceiling Boss: The Green Man (Simhasana — Lion’s Breath), I caught the eye of a visitor. She repeatedly looked back and forth — first at me, then up at the painting, which I had hung from and parallel to the ceiling.

The viewer approached me and asked, “Is that you?”

“Yes,” I replied. “It’s a self-portrait.”

“But it’s called The Green MAN,” she objected, puzzled.

“Exactly,” I replied with a smile.


When I was in college, there was a fellow art student who liked to make misogynistic comments to his female colleagues. In his case, his main motivation seemed to be a misguided attempt at getting attention, because the more one of his targets objected, the more teasing she received. As a result, though I certainly didn’t care for his offensive banter any more than my fellow female art students, I tried my best to not reveal my irritation, and since we also had a fellow male friend in common, he usually left me alone.

One day after he saw some of my paintings, he intended to complement me by saying,

You paint like a man.

Upon deeper discussion, it became clear that he was responding to certain qualities about my style that he chose to assign to his gender, including bold colors and brushwork, and the way I approached my portrait subject matter. Yet the irony was that my main influence in college was a female artist: Alice Neel.

Since I was ever one to eschew gender-specific roles and mores, I did not forget his comment. Why should anyone assign gender specificity to any certain style of painting? For the first couple of years after I graduated, I ended the initial version of my Artist’s Statement with this colleague’s comment; I felt it was important to make it clear that I was a woman artist.

Fascinated with the story, a curator polled viewers of my work during a 1992 exhibit. When pressed to choose, most thought that I was a male artist until they read my signature.

I hadn’t thought of these experiences until the recent International Woman’s Day and the Day Without a Woman strike on March 8th. So in honor of Women’s History Month, I give you this challenge: how many women artists and those artists who identify as female can you name? No cheating by looking in your art history books or online – just list the ones who come to mind. Post your list by making a comment below, and then I’ll share a compiled list in my next blog post.

In the meantime, while you are listing your artists, if you haven’t seen the film Big Eyes, be sure to check it out this month.

All the best, and Namaste,

Amy

Also posted in General art discussion and philosophy, Other artists Tagged , |

Art Requires Courage

O. THE LEAP OF FAITH oil on oil primed linen, 36" x 48" ©Amy Funderburk 1999, All Rights Reserved My interpretation of The Fool tarot card in the series Wisdom of the Ancient Lore.

O. THE LEAP OF FAITH
oil on oil primed linen, 36″ x 48″
© Amy Funderburk 1999, All Rights Reserved

My painting professor once called me fearless. I have since come to realize that this is the highest complement I have ever been paid as an artist.

“I’m frightened all the time. But I never let it stop me. Never!” – Georgia O’Keeffe

Pursuing your dream, in art or any other field, brings its own rewards. Yet art requires courage. It is a leap of faith in a society that prizes safety nets and security. Art, however, feeds on risk taking.

Fear is a wide umbrella that gives shelter to many shadows lurking in our minds: fear of failure, of rejection, of being judged, of not being good enough, of not making enough money. Much has been written about the artist and this, our creative nemesis.1

In his blog post, The Perfect Creative Personality, David J. Rogers describes his ideal recipe for an artist of any discipline. According to Rogers, the perfect creative is bold and fearless, and one who creates sincere work with integrity.2

Boldness, observes Rogers, is important for achieving success in any field, but “…especially in the arts where courage isn’t a luxury but a necessity. The great creative personalities couldn’t have attained success had they not taken bold risks.”

“What I do is face the blank canvas, which is terrifying.” – Richard Diebenkorn

What Diebenkorn (one of those great creative personalities) describes is a painter’s version of the infamous writer’s block faced by pressured wordsmiths. This is perhaps the first taste of fear experienced by a budding artist.

One of the advantages of the underpainting technique is that you cover up the intimidating white surface. When you apply this initial thin, lean layer of pigment to the primed substrate, it physically loosens up your arm and gets both your mind and your painting jump started with broad, energetic strokes. Then you’re just adding more paint on top of paint, which looks much less intimidating than a pristine canvas staring back at you.

Fear fades with more practice. There are ways around – or better yet, through – the fear.

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” – attributed to Joseph Campbell

But like all great challengers, sometimes fear – or more precisely, the learning from it and moving beyond it to a higher emotional state – is what helps us mine up the deeper riches of creativity. You may have thought of the memorable cave scene from Star Wars: Episode VIthe Empire Strikes Back when you read the above quote. Our greatest so-called enemies are usually ourselves, and whether or not we move forward depends on our choices. Do we listen to the often crippling voice of fear or boldly follow the light of inner growth?

Your hope and fear are often opposite sides of the same coin. Perhaps you hope for success, yet fear it as well. By avoiding the quest for your goal, you give fear a comfortable home by choosing not to try. As Lao Tzu said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Being in the present moment assuages fear of the unknown.

“The two terrors that discourage originality and creative living are fear of public opinion and undue reverence for one’s own consistency.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson 3

I feel that the more personal an artist’s or writer’s imagery is the more universal it becomes. With just the right doses of inspiration and skill, a creator can depict a firsthand experience and birth a symbol or narrative for the human condition.

What results from portraying such intimate subject matter is a certain peeling back of the usual protective emotional layers. You can be left feeling as though your soul has been stripped bare, all the while hoping that other people like what they see or read.

Emerson goes on to say, “The great figures of history have not cared for the opinions of their contemporaries.” 4

Yet meeting someone who fully connects with your work and “gets” what you do may feel like emerging into light after a journey through a dense forest. If fear of being misunderstood or not accepted has held sway over you, there is a sense of relief.

To move through such fear, first and foremost, create for yourself instead of trying to please the critics or chase the buyers. Write, paint, or draw what you feel called to create for the joy of it and then you can find the right target market for your work.

If you fall into the trap of trying to match everyone’s sofa, then you end up with a lot of framed wallpaper that camouflages the furniture. Then how will you know where to sit down? Be bold and sing with your own unique voice.

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.” – Mark Twain

As I read Rogers’ description of his artist friend who never finished a painting because she was terrified of it, I thought of certain unfinished works in my own studio. I vowed to pick up my brush and palette like a sword and shield at my next earliest opportunity.

I am always surprised when people who haven’t seen me for awhile ask me if I am still painting. Those who ask must have seen other creatives leave their path for some reason, or perhaps their inquiry is a reflection of their own experience. As Rogers astutely points out, “That’s why the top is such an exclusive place – because fear stops so many people from reaching it.”

Being waylaid by fear or doubt is often part of an artist’s story. For me, however, I agree with one of my artist friends, Jeremiah Miller. As he put it, as long as he is still breathing, he’ll still be painting.


Be sure to visit David J. Roger’s blog to read his eloquent post in full.

An internet poll called David’s book Fighting to Win the best motivational book ever written. He is working on a “how to be a writer” book. His blog is followed by creative people of all kinds. He lives in the Chicago area with his wife Diana.


1. David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art & Fear: Observations On The Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking. (Santa Cruz, CA and Eugene, OR: The Image Continuum, 1993)

I highly recommend this book for creatives working in any discipline.

Fans of Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, will also enjoy the book I am currently reading:

Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic – Creative Living Beyond Fear. (London/New York: Bloomsbury, 2105)

2. David J. Rogers, “The Perfect Creative Personality,” davidjrogersftw (blog), June 10, 2016, https://davidjrogersftw.com/2016/06/10/the-perfect-creative-personality/

3. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance,” in Essays, First Series, 1841

4. Emerson, “Self-Reliance.”

Also posted in Creativity, General art discussion and philosophy, Inspirational Quotes, Other artists, Painting and painting techniques Tagged , , , , , , , , |

No Fooling

This post first appeared as a feature article in the April 2016 issue of my newsletter, Off the Easel.

O. THE LEAP OF FAITH oil on oil primed linen, 36" x 48" ©Amy Funderburk 1999, All Rights Reserved My interpretation of The Fool tarot card in the series Wisdom of the Ancient Lore.

O. THE LEAP OF FAITH
oil on oil primed linen, 36″ x 48″
©Amy Funderburk 1999, All Rights Reserved

In my painting from 1999, 0. THE LEAP OF FAITH, I depict a rich and misunderstood archetype — the Fool. What better work to feature here for April Fool’s Day?

The only Major Arcana tarot card to survive the transition into the modern playing card deck is the Fool, known today as the Joker. Often it is considered the card of the querent. The Fool denotes the beginning of a new journey as well as the end of the previous cycle.
 
A playful character as well as a bit of the trickster, the Fool’s complex wisdom lies beneath the veneer of seemingly foolish behavior. What may be judged as foolish by others may be just what is needed to dislodge old energetic patterns. Who else but the jester was able to satirize the king in front of the court and get away with it? In fact, an important function of the court jester was to act as the king’s spy, since he could move within any group.1
 
Such ambiguities abound with the Fool, from the motley garment to androgyny. Even the designation of zero helps to explain the Fool’s great dichotomy, for zero is both nothing and everything. What happens to a number when followed by a zero?2

Within the Fool is the potential for every possibility; like the concepts of yin and yang, within all these apparent opposites is wholeness.3
 
The Fool is often depicted with a few bundled belongings tied to a staff, but in this painting she carries only a hazelnut. In Celtic lore this is the symbol of wisdom, for all three realms of the Celtic universe are said to be contained within a hazelnut poised on the edge of the Well of Segais.4

Nine hazel trees grow over this Well. The Salmon of Knowledge lives within, attaining his wisdom by eating the nuts as they fall into the water. Whoever partakes of the Salmon of Knowledge then absorbs that wisdom.

The hazelnut represents the end of the year cycle for the parent tree, yet is also the beginning germ of new life. While it appears to be a small thing, it is the seed of new potential with which we all jump. Like the nut, The Fool is the first step towards manifestation.

On the far right of the composition, at the edge of the cliff, is a copse of hazel trees, with the waters of the well running forth in three streams.

The inclusion of the hazelnut is the result of a dream in which the model, Robin, came to me with a hazelnut in her hands, saying she had dug it up in her backyard. Within the dream, I proceeded to tell her the story of the Celtic hazelnuts of wisdom. Upon waking, I knew this had to be included in the painting.

My mother said of this painting that the dog was the one who really had faith, loyally accompanying the Fool wherever she goes. Does the dog warn of impending danger, or does she encourage the jump? The Fool does not look down; she is joyous and not afraid.

I am revisiting this archetype in the upcoming work, Dreaming of the Fool. This time, I get to wear the jester’s cap!

The imagery for this new painting was inspired by meeting a gentle fellow who was dressed as a perfect Fool while we were at the Merry Maidens stone circle in West Penwith, Cornwall — but that is another story for another time.

All the best, and Namaste,

Amy


1. Sallie Nichols, Jung and Tarot – an Archetypal Journey. (York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, Inc., 1980), 23.
2. Nichols, Jung and Tarot, 37.
3. Nichols, Jung and Tarot, 41.
4. John Matthews, The Celtic Shaman – a Handbook. (Rockport, MA: Element, 1995 edition), 37.

Also posted in Art Travels, Celtic history and mythology, Sacred Sites Tagged , , |

Origins of a Painting: Second Sight/2nd Site

Second Sight/2nd Site
diptych, 12″ x 30″
oil on oil primed linen, ©2012 Amy Funderburk, All Rights Reserved
The Rollright Stones, King’s Men Stone Circle
Oxfordshire/Warwickshire border, England

Originally published in my April 2015 issue of Off the Easel

Before leaving England on our 2008 trip, I was determined to see the Rollright Stones. After all, many visitors describe this as an eerie site, and the King’s Men Stone Circle was where my husband’s photography mentor was pulled down by an unseen force.

An internet search will yield you a bumper crop of folklore and interesting stories about this site. I confess an additional appeal for me was that this megalithic site was the shooting location for the Tom Baker Doctor Who episode The Stones of Blood.  How could we resist working the Rollrights into our itinerary before heading back to London for the return flight?

The Rollright Stones are actually comprised of three sites. Joining the late Neolithic King’s Men stone circle are the Neolithic dolmen called The Whispering Knights, and The King Stone monolith dating from the middle Bronze Age.  Since we were not pulled down in the stone circle, I surmise we were welcomed by the guardians of the location. As I circumnavigated the circle — legend says that you cannot count the stones since you will get a different number each time — I was struck by the unusual, contorted and weathered appearance of each limestone form. The stones truly looked as though they were the frozen spirits of various totem animals and ancestors.

As I came to one stone in particular, I was drawn to the nearly circular opening within the limestone. Compelled to look through the hole as if it was a frith divination tube from Irish and Scottish tradition1, I found my message in the limited depth of field inherent in human vision. I was reminded that if you look at the stone, that is what is in sharp focus to the exclusion of the hazy background, whereas if you focus on the fields beyond, the texture of the stone becomes soft. To me this was a metaphor: what you focus on is what you see, both literally and figuratively. If you look for the positive aspects in your life, you will find them, but if you look for the negative attributes, you will see only that and no longer notice the good things in your life.

I photographed the stone focusing both ways, using the low light on this cloudy late afternoon to my advantage and exploiting limited depth of field with my camera. After printing a reference photograph of the stone the way it actually appears (as seen on the viewer’s left of the diptych), I flipped the other version with the landscape in focus using photo editing software before printing. Once I had both reference photographs in hand, I played with cropping the proportions and the location of the intersection between them until I arrived at a pleasing orientation.

To echo the concept of sight, I wanted an arrangement reminiscent of eyes or a mask. I folded the two reference photos along the guidelines I had drawn, but when I placed the two sides together, I discovered something quite amazing — at the intersection between the two photographs a perfectly formed swallowtail butterfly appeared at the very top edge of the stone! When painting this, I only had to clarify the bottom forked edge of the hind wing; the butterfly shape was clearly there. Had I cropped and joined the photos in any other way it would have gone undiscovered. When unplanned events like this happen during my creative process, I delight in such synchronicities.

All the best, and Namaste,

Amy


1 The frith divination seeing tube was formed with one’s hands, and was particularly employed to located someone or something who was lost. The origin of this augury is attributed to St Brigit or St Mary.

Also posted in Art Travels, Celtic history and mythology, Creativity, General art discussion and philosophy, Painting and painting techniques, Photography and photography techniques, Prehistoric site, Sacred Sites, Travel Tagged , , , , |