Fun With Beasts: Riding Your Vahana

I’ve been painting steadily for months, often for hours at a time. The hands are stiff and weary but the mind remains open and reflective as ever. I’m continuing with the theme of women riding animals. The latest, “Virgin With Alligator,” is an example.

Ganga, Hindu Goddess of the Ganges

I began by returning to this little image of Ganga Ma, the Hindu Goddess of the sacred river Ganges. I’ve used this image before, most notably on the Hindu Map of Europe which graced the cover of Hinduism Today Magazine years ago.

Goddess detail “Hindu Map of Europe” by Lynda McClanahan

The addition of Ganga Ma to the magazine project was unasked for and formed the tiniest part of the project, but how I enjoyed its inclusion!

“Hindu Map of Europe” by Lynda McClanahan Cover Art for Hinduism Today

The new piece was at least partly inspired by a couple of small sturdy frames recently collected from thrift stores. Frames often determine the work which goes inside them. In this case, a compact image was required and the water goddess seemed not only interesting but doable.

“Virgin With Alligator” by Lynda McClanahan In Process

Once I’d decided on the general idea of a figure riding an alligator, one thing led to another and the piece pretty much designed itself. Since alligators live in Florida, I began researching what a native American Floridian lady might look like. To my surprise there were probably over 40 different pre-conquest groups in our southernmost state, some culturally related and some not. Many seem to have sported intricate tattoos and worn skirts made of Spanish moss. With the addition of crops grown by the more settled groups (sunflowers, pumpkins, beans and corn), it was off to the races. Here is the final result.

“Virgin With Alligator” by Lynda McClanahan

This painting is small, 7″Hx9″W, and almost broke my hands. It also has provoked a huge amount of unforeseen interest, inspiring the idea to do another, much larger version.

I’ve thought quite a bit about why these female/animal pairings have such resonance for myself and others. Perhaps we intuit that the animal nature which forms the foundation of everything else we are is also somehow holy.

Just like Hindu goddesses, we are all riding our own private mounts or “vahanas.” And just like them, every inch of us is sacred, from the very bottom of our lizard brain to the very top of cosmic consciousness. The animal nature deserves love, not amnesia. It is worthy of contemplation and neglected to our peril. Ride on!

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Gabinetto Segreto III & More

Gabinetto Segreto III, the third iteration of an annual erotic art show at the Vanderelli Room, has been up and running for most of the month.

“Nude with Horn” by Lynda McClanahan

As expected, “Nude With Horn” sold right away. All of my nude ladies are on the smallish side, priced to sell and move fast.

“Club LaRouge” by Lynda McClanahan

“Club LaRouge” is larger, more ambitious and carries a higher price tag but to my surprise it has sold as well. The gallery benefited from the foot traffic generated during “Urban Scrawl,” an arts and music event held in Franklinton over the weekend. The only piece left is “Little Sister.” At $975.00 it’s a bargain, but anything over $400.00 sells very slowly in this town. Oh well. Two out of three isn’t bad.

“Nipple Chair:” Gabinetto Segreto, Vanderelli Room

The exhibit is wider ranging and sweeter than I expected.

Gabinetto Segreto III: Vanderelli Room

The “Dong Show” came at a mid-point in Gabinetto Segreto’s run and generated foot traffic as well. Joel and I did our best to perform “Homo Erectus,” a naughty polka written by Kinky Friedman, but our act was the weakest of the evening I fear. Can’t be good at everything I guess.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Post-Gabinetto, I’m continuing to comb through the old art catalog for favorite things which have sold and drifted off into the art-ethers. “Girl With Lotus” is an example.

The original was 6″x6″and probably done for the Ohio Art League’s annual Thumb Box holiday show. It’s graphically strong, mostly thanks to the wealth of black hair framing the figure’s face. I’ve always gravitated to long, dark, veil-like hair.

“Girl With Lotus” by Lynda McClanahan

The new version is larger and more carefully done but, as always, I’ve gained some things and lost others. The hand position is more rational in this version and the lotus is nicely done. The original had a freshness and immediacy reminiscent of ancient Roman frescoes which is no longer present however. Even when you copy your own work, no two pieces are ever the same.

The stockpiling of small, decorative things continues as I enter more and more shows. I’m ready.

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Running With animals

I’m continuing to turn out smaller, sellable things for the featured artist gig at 3060 Gallery on the West side in 2020. “Nude With Kangaroo,” finished just today probably isn’t one of them.

“Nude With Kangaroo” by Lynda McClanahan

I’ve been obsessed with the theme of naked ladies riding animals for some time. It began with observing depictions of Goddesses atop their “vahanas,” (animal mounts). I’ve obviously been influenced by a God-niece who married a Malaysian Tamil Hindu from Australia and, yes, there is a baby involved.

The skin color of the human figure came slowly and caused some anxiety. The first impulse was to make the lady’s skin dark, but that would have made her disappear too much vis a vis the kangaroo. There was also a desire to avoid depicting anyone of African descent in relationship to an animal. Once the lady became light skinned, I had to decide how much the piece would be a literal reference to my young friend and how much it would not. In the end I nixed portraiture in favor of something with more universal appeal. The result is quirky, funny and probably only showable at hipster venues like the Vanderelli Room. Thank God for the Vanderelli Room!

Two other pieces destined for 3060 Gallery are also complete. Both are re-dos first done in the mid-aughts.

“Lady With Buckeyes” by Lynda McClanahan

The original of this work was smaller and technically less accomplished but it DID sport a spray of vegetation which looked more like a marijuana leaf than a Buckeye tree. Oh well. You get some things and lose others when you revisit old ideas.

“Red Flower” by Lynda McClanahan

“Red Flower” is another copy of an old work. I first started painting again as medicine for a deeply disappointed and troubled emotional nature. At that time lower impulses were edging out higher ones and I was at wits end. Since getting rid of my animal nature was impossible, I decided to honor and make love to it instead via painting. Unlike repression, this actually worked.

We are all riding our own “vahanas” through this life. Just as in gardening, everything starts from the ground up. I celebrate the animal which takes me everywhere, from the lowest low to the highest height.

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Step, Pause, Step

The stairs leading to our attic are being replaced, necessitating nearly a full week away from the studio. I’m always surprised by the hole left in my life when these forced time outs occur. Art has become a daily practice and a pre-condition for mental and spiritual health. Without access to art, I find myself at loose ends, roaming the house like a ghost and waiting for its return. Now that I have the drafting table back again, all sorts of things have been spilling from its surface.

I’ve been stockpiling small pieces for a while: some for shows I know I’ll be entering later in the year and some for the upcoming featured artist slot slated for February of 2020 at 3060 Gallery.

“St. Uke” by Lynda McClanahan

Two things are already completed for the Ohio Art League’s Thumb Box show which occurs every November. Thumbox is the only Art League show into which members are automatically accepted and I enter every year.

“Virgin With Ukelele” by Lynda McClanahan

I hate to be rushed and nearly always do these ahead but this year seems particularly early. I’ve had the intuition that I’ll need the space to do other things when the deadline rolls around.

I’ve also been re-visiting images from long ago sold paintings which retain psychological resonance or are just plain easy to sell.

“Heart Hand” by Lynda McClanahan

I’ve done at least six versions of this henna-inspired hand over the years and they always fly off the wall. The sign painters enamel I use really lends itself to fine lines and shows its strength in paintings like these. I’ve always been attracted to making things which act as a good luck charm or house blessing. It’s like praying for people you don’t even know.

“Lady With Buckeyes” In Process

“Lady With Buckeyes” is another example of an old image which has bubbled up to the surface. One of my visual preoccupations is affirming the broad range of people who make up our citizenry. This painting is a timely reminder that not all of us who belong to this land look the same. Who would even want it to be?

“Nude With Kangaroo” by Lynda McClanahan In Process

The other piece on the drafting table is a continuation of the naked-ladies-on-animals series. Sharon Weiss of Sharon Weiss Gallery once counseled that success in art depends on finding what works and then doing it. These ladies often sell even before the opening of a show so I’m following Sharon’s advice. I sketched it out months ago but hadn’t started due to a neuroto-doubt-attack (this is too weird, everyone’s laughing at me, people will be offended, blah, blah, blah). Now that the project is actually under weigh however, I find the whole idea delightful. Go figure.

There’s a rhythm to life and there’s a rhythm to the way art projects present and unfold. Step, pause, step, pause might feel jerky and uneven, but viewed as a whole, it’s just another way of walking.

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Subconscious Impulses and Free Will

It’s widely assumed that artistic ideas arise from an ocean of possibilities in a free, spontaneous, unfettered way. Perhaps the initial impulse to make something is free of inner constraints, but I often wonder about the rest of it. Every painting requires an array of decisions which are thrilling and fun to make, but the way they’re made probably owes more to well-worn grooves in the psyche than to anything resembling free will. The ley lines of ones personal psychology seldom become evident, but once they do, they’re hard to ignore.

Source Photo for “Two Ladies”

I started out with this edgy but sweet little Persian Miniature, collected many years ago and promptly stuffed away in a file. It’s not unusual to find Eastern hetero-lovers gazing longingly into one another’s eyes, but two ladies doing the same thing while offering wine to each other is definitely unusual. Perhaps this is what the ladies of the harem got up to, or perhaps just what the artist hoped they did. A recent studio visit by Lisa McLymont and Cat Sheridan shook the image loose from memory and prompted a quick rummage through the files. At long last, I experienced a strong push to work something up.

“Two Ladies” by Lynda McClanahan In process

I used nearly everything from the original painting to make my own. The figures, headgear, bolster pillow and position of the hands are all pretty much the same as in the original. I opted to stray away from the peeping tom voyeurism of the Persian version (the original seems to be an inadvertent peek at secret goings on seen through an open window). This meant figuring out what to do about the rest of the bodies, a problem solved by one cross-legged figure and one in kneeling pose. I used the same configuration in an old piece entitled “In Love With the World” from the Red Woman series. It has the advantage of putting both figures at eye level without abandoning the lower half of the painting to a boringly long expanse of legs. It worked once, so I figured it would work again.

“In Love With the World” by Lynda McClanahan

After spending time with Lisa and Cat, I knew I wanted one dark skinned and one light skinned lady, but the decision as to which should be which came immediately and with no thought. Ditto for the clothing. The jacket worn by the lighter woman is based on what Cat wore on her visit, the rest is made up.

“Two Ladies” by Lynda McClanahan in Process

I wanted a contrast between the two women, which led to one femme and one less-femme figure, but I wonder about this. Is the lady on the left clothed in billowy trousers with a sweet pink top just for contrast, or did I put her in them for reasons not quite known to myself? Who offers and who receives? Does it matter?

I am struggling with a sketch for another work requiring similar decisions. The question as to whether I am capable of choosing freely is an open one.

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Reserving Judgement

One of the surprising things about completing a painting is how often your opinion of it varies. Assessments can run the gamut from satisfaction, to close enough to I-wish-this-thing-would-disappear-off-the-face-of-the-earth, often on the same day. I’ve come to accept that the eye is prejudiced, fickle and unreliable. Judgement is best left to others.

One of the main challenges of this painting was overcoming the over-the-top intensity of the background.

Wallpaper Background “Saint Gertrude”

I nearly always do backgrounds first, both to set the tone of the work and to avoid the labor of cutting around the central figure later. I got exactly what I wanted with this riotous mix of order and chaos but what problems it caused! Unintended consequences abounded; notably a terrible imbalance between subject and background. This only appeared at the last minute when the protective masking was removed and I finally understood how the painting was really going to work.

“St Gertrude” Finished Product No. One

Not to put too fine a point on it, poor St. Gertrude was simply disappearing from the panel like a hole punched in a psychedelic blanket. What to do?

After much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, I took the only option which didn’t entail yelling “uncle” and completely starting over. I decided to add details to capture the eye and hopefully give the center a bit more weight.

Buckeye Necklace

A buckeye necklace on the same line as the cat’s eyes grounds the neck and suggests a relationship between the two figures.

Earring Detail

An earring draws the eye up through the figure on the opposite diagonal to the background….

Wedding Bangles Detail

….and traditional Hindu wedding bangles function the same way through the lower half of the painting. The bangles hint at a closer relationship between feline and saint than just the surface visuals of a pretty lady holding her cat. Only those who look closely and are familiar with Hindu wedding customs will get this, but I like hidden connections like these. Sometimes a painting is also a puzzle.

“Saint Gertrude” Finished Product No. Two

The end result may or may not be enough to bring the panel into balance, but it’s as close as it can get.

It’s not up to me to decide if a painting is any good or not. With a judge as unreliable as the eye, the only thing I can decide is when it’s finished.

I declare the piece done.

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Changing Your Mind

The last painting, “St. Gertrude, Patron Saint of Cats,” has found me less sure-footed than usual. I went from this….

“St Gertrude” Masked and in Process

To this…..

“St Gertrude” in Process

To this…..

“St Gertrude: Patron Saint of Cats” by Lynda McClanahan

….all in less than a week. The wonkiness of the face in the original painting bothered me, but since I didn’t know why, I wasn’t confident about fixing it. All my usual tricks (holding the piece up to a mirror, hauling out the ruler, masking off one side, then the other etc.) led to nothing. I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced this before but maybe there’s a lesson in it. When a piece only comes together by finding its own way, you just have to let it. The original painting is more serene and icon-like, an impersonal Kore statue from ancient Greece rather than an individual person. The new one is younger, more vulnerable, more fully present and absolutely human. I’ve lost a goddess but gained a very sweet and strange person. Welcome St. Gertrude, patron saint of cats.

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