The Night Watch

The Night Watch was created in 1969.  Today I reflect on that image of four dark figures huddled around a candle, passing a smoking joint as they wait out the night.

Image of the painting titled "Night Watch"

Night Watch

In the days of hippiedome every mind-altering substance was explored. Never in the history of humanity had there been such a chance for mass revelation.

But in our innocence we failed to notice that for each of these mind-altering and psychedelic substances there is a gateway to that altered perception. An ally guards the gateway; and each psychedelic substance has its own ally. Call it a force field or an entity, it needs to be appeased or won over. If you are proven true by the ally you are allowed to pass across the abyss onto the shores of splendor. These allies are both fierce and extracting waiting to bag us soul and all if we fail to make the proper offerings.

In most societies shaman and visionary leaders guarded this psychedelic knowledge. But with our western sense of entitlement we ploughed through millennium of ritual and wisdom without a care or a guide to prepare the way. No wonder the whole psychedelic thing died in disillusionment as many of us found ourselves trapped by acts of silliness and greed and the foolish idea that we could take and give nothing in return.

“I just want to get loaded” was a sure chance that you would get loaded all right but not by what you were expecting. Mostly it was just dumb stupidity. For some of us it was the terrible consequences of the law. And once and while we miraculously stumbled on to a vision of self-enlightenment.

We forgot that you had to pay the price to make the crossing. Drug addiction is not the price. Addiction is what you get when you fail to pay the price. The price for the crossing is simple; you must offer a part of your self, a commitment to bring back a sliver of truth from those other worlds and to share the magic with the rest of us. In stories and myth it is the Prometheus gift. It is the return of the dragon hunter who has freed and brought home the maiden-mother of earth so that the crops will grow once again. It is the boon, the magic jewel, or a simple idea.

Instead we went for party, for pleasure, for need, for the release of pain, and we were doomed from the beginning to an empty journey. We were the “heroes of a thousand faces” who plunged into a failed quest, while wonderment was just beyond our reach.

We were so close to the divine and we blew it. We even had the act itself at our fingertips and I do not mean the smoking weed but the act of passing that sacred smoke to each other. It was the eucharist, the gift, the treasure, the sharing and the receiving of the sacred message of the gods.

Image of detail from the painting titled "Night watch"

Detail from the painting titled “Night Watch”

The Night Watch is dedicated to the Louie Kelly’s, the Lane Wooden’s, and the Ron Denend’s of Topanga Canyon and all those who huddled at the edge of that dark precipice waiting for the coming of the dawn.

Note: You may also enjoy the latest update on the construction of the Mushroom Wedding Arch at: http://psikeep.wordpress.com/

And of course comments are always welcome.

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Angel Decending

She is the Angel of Change

Striding forward, trampling the status quo. She has one hand in condemnation,  and one hand raised  in blessing. She stares aloof into the unknown. We are not her focus or her compassion.  She is not for us.  She is the harbinger of the unexpected, the unpredictable, the collapse of the established order and the rebirth of that which is new. 

Image of painting titled: Angel Descending (full view)

Angel Descending (full view)

She was created at a time of great change and expectation. It was a time of discovery and hope. The last days of hippiedom were flourishing in Topanga Canyon. Yet she was born on the eve of its destruction.

Two things destroyed the kingdom of hippiedom: Charles Manson and our own ineptitude on that journey of self discovery.

After all, the journey was never intended to be pleasurable; it was never intended to be fun. It was intended to be filled with awe. But most of us were too frightened by the lack of structure and boundaries. We were without a guideline. We were given a proliferation of mind-altering chemicals and no operation’s manual.

Of course one could have looked inside oneself for the manual but most of us did not trust our own nature.

Image of  painting titled: Angel Descending (detail: lower right)

Angel Descending (detail: lower right)

I created The Angel of Change in pencil, white acrylic paint and acrylic varnish painted over art cardboard. When it was completed in 1968. For lack of better space, we hung her above the low stone altar at the end of the narrow living room in that tiny two-story cabin we rented on Highvale Trail. While it blocked the upstairs entrance to the cabin, it was, itself, a doorway, which towered over us in that tiny room.

She had one frequent visitor, Charlie Manson.

For weeks on our way to and from our work at the University of California we drove past the black and white Movieland bus parked along side of Highway 27. Every few days it was parked further up the road.

We met the Manson family early one morning with a knock on our door. Several of the girls had come by looking for towels and extra sheets. One of the girls was giving birth. We gave them what we could find and several days later one of the young men and two girls came by to thank us.

It was April and we were getting ready for the Renaissance Faire. We were making handmade tapered candles on a candle wheel in the downstairs room and I was up stairs carving on several wood blocks for a series of wood cuts I wanted to sell at the Faire.

The girls were fascinated by the candle wheel and one by one the members of the family came to visit us. My first impression of the family was that they appeared to be alike in their mannerisms. All the girls talked alike and all the young men acted the same. So when Charlie Manson finally made his appearance, it was a bit of a let down. The men were actually reflection of him but since they had come to visit first it was confusing as to who was a reflection of whom. Charlie Manson seemed like an after thought until we realized he was the thought.

Charlie Manson would sit for long hours in front of The Angel of Change. He kept trying to convince me to come and live on his commune.

“Give this all up and just be,” he would say. Like that was going to work on a workaholic with a deadline. The opening of the Faire was only two weeks away. The wood chips kept flying.

But I did consider his invitation. The man I was living with and I were having difficulties with our relationship and it was a tempting thought to run off and join a commune. But I sensed that Charlie and I would have a falling out very soon and then where would I be.

During the next year the Manson family visited most of the hippie enclaves in the Canyon. But we did not see him again and we soon forgot about him.

Big changes had come into our lives. The owner of our rented cabin sold the land in a scheme to make Highvale Trail the entrance to the state park. That plan never materialized but we were forced to move out and the cabin was torn down. While we were breaking up and going our separate ways we moved into another house with three other people. It was a loose gathering of people, who found themselves together under one roof. The house was like an airport with everyone taking off in different directions in their lives.

Image of painting titled: Angel Descending (detail: lower left)

Angel Descending (detail: lower left)

One day in late July and we were all sitting on the roof of the garage sunning ourselves in the nude. When a train of police cars and unmarked cars with men in white shirts and clip boards drove up Old Canyon Road.

Naively we thought they were coming to bust us for being on the roof in the nude. But they drove on up the street. Later we learned about the Gary Hinman murder. He was tortured in a house two doors from us and we never sensed something in the dead of night.  We never heard the man screaming for his life. For two days!  Nothing!

Where were we? Twittering with our flowers and our marijuana as the shock wave from those murders committed by the Manson family rolled across the country blowing us apart forever.

How could that happen? How could one person with such a terrible vision take us down? The answer is in the other half of the equation, our ineptitude. Manson came at a time when we were the most vulnerable. All our social values were being questioned and examined and we were left with a blank slate. What came out of
that was a hippier-than-thou-ness with everything from the length of our hair to what we ate and wore and how we talked. With the exception of the religious right we were the most judgmental of our peers.

So along came Manson with a simple formula for getting whatever he needed. It went something like this:

“What a beautiful ring you are wearing.  Give it to me”.
If you said no, you were not hip enough to give up a worldly possession.
If you said yes you lost the ring.

While we were all floundering along the way, Manson came along with his way. And it was easy for a certain kind of person to follow him. But what was his way, so horrific  and so fragile? Nothing to hold it together but the power of his personality and the lunacy of his delusion. Destroying society by murdering some people to start a race war that would bring on the end times!

Taking down society is not that far-fetched. After all we just came out of 16 days of another take down by a handful of equally deluded Republicans and while no one was murdered in the overthrow of the government, a lot of hidden suffering took place that will never be mention by the news media.

During the time we knew Manson he never mentioned his ideas about a race war. He was just another hippie passing through, sitting beneath an Angel of Change in that tiny cabin in the canyon.

Image of painting titled: Angel Descending (upper half)

Angel Descending (upper half)

Sorceress Ascending

nightascent

Sorceress Ascending is my take on the  Duchampian multi-image across time. It was created in the early 1970’s. In this work I used drafting pens with Koh-I-Noor ink and white acrylic paint on artist cardboard. It is sealed with a clear acrylic varnish, which has not yellowed over the years. The work is 5 x 4 feet.

I created it during a stressful time of my life when I was breaking up with a man I had lived with for a several years. The choice to break up had been mine but that did not lessen the pain of separation. We had lost the house we had been living in and we both had moved into a house occupied with three other people. He got the bedroom and I got the living room and the hall. We never regarded ourselves as a commune. We were just five people stuck at the same time in that place.

But the news media had other ideas. Channel 5 came out to our house and did an extensive interview about the “hippies in the canyon.” A year later they came back to the canyon just before Halloween. By that time I had moved into a cabin of my own.  Actually it was an 8 x 10 garden shed. Oh the places we are willing to live in our youth. I had just come back from trip to the desert with a haul of cow bones. I was building several sculptures with the bones for a show that was to open on Halloween night in the canyon. I do not know how Channel 5 found me but they did and I agreed to let them come out and film. I think they were looking for something “witchy” and all the bones around the place certainly helped with the atmosphere. For me it was great publicity. While I never got to see the footage that aired on TV, there was  a great turnout for my opening a few nights later.

Witches and sorceresses really do not ride broomsticks.  The broom is the symbol of womanhood,  the hearth, the fireside and the home.

In this art work the sorceress begins her sacred transformation by first removing her sandals to be one with the earth.

Detail of  the drawing titled Sorceress Ascending showing the Woman removing her clothes

Detail of Woman removing her sandles

Next she unbinds her hair to free herself from the restraints of society.

Detail of the drawing titled Sorceress Ascending showing the woman unbinding her hair.

Detail of Woman unbinding her hair

Last she removes her clothes, her earthly identity. She is no longer the housewife, She is Mother, Goddess, Giver of Life, Keeper of the Fire and the lowly broom is her staff of power.

Detail of the drawing titled Sorceress Ascending showing the woman removing her clothes.

Detail of Woman removing her clothes

American Armageddon

painting titled: American Armageddon  (full view)

American Armageddon (full view)

American Armageddon was created as a billboard. In 1969 was mounted on the garage of our rented house along side of the road that ran a short way into the mountains. There was not a lot of traffic but it soon became a small sensation with people driving up the road to view it.

Unfortunately an early and very cold winter snapped the polyester resin coating and moisture caused the artwork to  warp. The work was moved to the local bar in the canyon where it hung on the wall of the pool room for several years. The large round hole looks like a pool ball  punched a hole in the resin and the small hole was probably created by a pool cue.

The work was created with Koh-I-Noor ink, acrylic paint and resin on pasteboard laminated on plywood and, unfortunately, coated with polyester resin. Over the years the resin has begun to yellow. The dimensions inside the frame are 4 x 8 feet.

Later I was a reluctant hippy on the fringe of society.  We watched our leaders being blown away one by one with the assassination Martin Luther King,  Malcolm X,  John Lennon and all the accidental deaths of the witnesses of the Kennedy assassination. While we thought we were safe because we had dropped out of society, the first sign that there was a movement against hippydom was the conversion of the alternative FM radio stations.

In those early years of FM radio, the  bandwidth had opened up and a number of new FM stations began playing half hour tracks of the Doors and the Beatles without commercial interruption or the insipid three-minute songs. Those new FM stations were like the Internet of today, broadcasting love-ins  protests and marches and where to go to take part in those events. That information slowly faded away but first there was  the poison slipped in between the songs.

Hippydom was more than just dropping out and turning on. It was a vast revolution of the mind, an exploration into alternative ways of thinking and values. Not all the experiments worked and for all the judgment and hippier-than-thou-ness it was still based on the optimism that humankind could move from consumption and exploitation to hope and creativity.

So when these radio stations which we trusted as our beacons in the void began broadcasting advertisements for banking and same old rhetoric of the early monetization of everything, we knew it was over and that we had been sold out.

Painting titled American Armageddon (detail of top center view)

American Armageddon (detail: top center view)

Painting titled: American Armageddon (detail lower center view)

American Armageddon (detail lower center view)

Painting titled: American Armageddon (detail upper view right)

American Armageddon (detail upper view right)

Painting titled: American Armageddon (detail upper view right)

American Armageddon (detail lower view right)

Painting titled: American Armageddon (detail lower center view)

American Armageddon (detail center view)

Painting titled: American Armageddon (detail lower screen left view)

American Armageddon (detail lower screen left view)

Mouth of American Gun

Revised version of the commentary for Mouth of American Gun.

Painting titled; American Gun (full view)

Mouth of American Gun (full view)

This work was created as a reaction to the assassination of Senator Robert Kennedy in 1968. The medium is Koh-I-Noor ink, acrylic paint and resin on pasteboard laminated on plywood. The dimensions are 5 x 7 feet.

The work represents the violence of American society both real and that which is expressed in our entertainment and our archetypes.

For my generation, the first strike against America was the assassination of President Kennedy. The reaction to that event was grief and loss. On the night of that terrible day both my roommate and I expressed our hopelessness by racing some nameless driver down a freeway through a construction zone at 95 miles and hour. The arresting officers let us go, probably as depressed and confused as we were. All of us in tears on that empty freeway. Not only had the President of the United States died but faith in the office of the President died as well. For an uneventful college student it was the end of a faith in the distant mechanics of our government. Something else had climbed into the saddle.

Even far more sinister was the assassination of Senator Robert Kennedy, which took place four years later. American Gun was born on the floor of a medical research lab during my slow days running FSH tests for the clinic. It was my ineffable reaction to the assassination of Senator Robert Kennedy. His assassination signified that the plan to take control of America was marching relentlessly forward and taking place very close to home.

Painting titled: Mouth of american Gun. Detail: lower center)

Mouth of American Gun (detail: lower center)

Image of painting titled: Mouth of American Gun (detail center left)

Mouth of American Gun (detail center left)

Painting titled: Mouth of American Gun (detail: upper center)

Mouth of American Gun (detail: upper center)

Painting titled: Mouth of American Gun (detail:  lower screen right)

Mouth of American Gun (detail: lower screen right)