For many years, since a major show in Plas Glyn Y Weddw back in 1989 entitled ‘City as Parasite’, I have been returning to the theme of ‘The Mythic Dreamer’. They all (there have been about 8 of these paintings so far) depict a sleeping figure whose body is full of compartments. In each space there is an image drawn from a wide range of myths, so that the sleeping figure has become a composite of myths. A dreamer of cultural dreams.
The idea originated as an image of the sleeping city, taking Carl Jung’s idea that an individual dreams in dreams, a culture dreams in myths. What myths does a city dream? as it winds down from the day? It withdraws its population of busy workers from the stomachs of the city (the markets), it closes its offices and factories, the commercial centres empty as the population returns to their homes.
Here the talking starts, stories are told of the day’s events. News, rumour, hearsay, gossip and speculation begin their journey in the city’s nervous system. Knots of friends gather in pubs and restaurants in noisy gabbles and boozy laughter. The nervous system of the city is made of these streams of quicksilver sound passing from mouth to ear, from mind to mind. Families sit around tables recounting their experiences, building pictures of sound about who said what to who, who did what, what so and so thought, how they felt.
Then the entertainment begins. The televisions are turned on, so that the big rumours, the big stories pour out into the rooms, into the minds. Chat shows mull over and reflect upon the themes. Actors play parts, adopt roles, become characters, act adventures and the dreaming begins. By the thousand the great population, staring at the screens, all feel sorrow, excitement, pain and pleasure at the same time. The city is dreaming.
Crowds begin to flow towards the bright centres of the nervous system. In theatres and cinemas masses of minds are filled in unison with tragedy, with comedy, love stores, ancient sagas. Old themes are retold in an infinity of new forms; the old myths of the hero, the beauty who changes the frog into a prince, the terror in the night.
Masses gather in stadiums to watch 22 men struggle against each other over possession of a small ball, in a valiant struggle of skill and courage to achieve victory over an enemy. The thousands of spectators share the struggle, every kick of the way, engaged with their eyes and their mouths, roaring and sighing as one great superorganism.
Games of chess between two people act out these dramas. Musical gatherings feel their emotions transported as one. Political meetings pass thoughts around. Religious gatherings recount the old myths of salvations and transcendence.
The city is full of dreams, of heroes, of beauties, of tragedies, of fearful monsters. All the old themes are recounted in a thousand new ways.
Until finally the city closes down, the people return to their homes, take to their beds and fall asleep, where the process begins again in each mind.
These were the thoughts that led me to begin the series of paintings I call ‘Mythic Dreamers’. Each one is a painting of a community, a culture, a race.
Lately I have been working on a picture that reflects the dreams of a specific culture, the palaeolithic world of Gubekli Tepe. Here I have filled the sleeping figure with myths drawn from the extraordinary ancient temples now being unearthed in Turkey, near the Syrian border. It incorporates images taken from the great carved stones, each one of which represents a monolithic standing figure. It is possible that the images we are familiar with in the horoscope came through these ancient people. Some images suggest a connection with early vedic religious ideas, others link with palaolithic ancestors, for these temples are 10,000 years old and take the story of human culture almost back to the ice age.
I have decided to begin a great series of these pictures for the ceiling of the gallery in St Johns Hall, to complement the large wall painting of the ‘Captives of the Cosmic Web’ on the north wall. By selecting some of the major myths of mankind, the series of 8 panels, each measuring 10’ by 6’ will fill the flat areas of the roof below the curved upper section, and reflect the multitude of forms the human race has produced to explain and give meaning to the universe it finds itself in.
COBE All-Sky Map
The cosmic microwave background radiation is a remnant of the Big Bang. These minute temperature variations (depicted here as varying shades of blue and purple) are linked to slight density variations in the early universe. These variations are believed to have given rise to the structures that populate the universe today: clusters of galaxies, as well as vast, empty regions.
I intend to set the 8 huge sleeping figures against a representation of the extraordinary new maps that have been made of the magnetic background radiation of the universe. These maps are based on subtle variations in the cosmic microwave background radiation.
So far my planning lists the following 8 mythic dreamers, they have been selected to reflect some of the major cultural, religious and literary themes of humanity. I have jotted down a list of ideas connected with each dreamer as they occurred to me, but each one will require a great deal of research and image gathering.
- Gubekli tepe, palaeolithic people, the horoscope, first farmers, the shaman, the goddess
- The Greek myth, the pantheon, the male god, the mysteries, the underworld, the shades, baccus, pythagorus, Plato,Aristotle, Alexander, Homer, black figure ware, red figure ware, the sculpture of ancient Greece. Philosophy, theatre. Greek linguistic characters.
This painting entitled ‘Greek Wall’ contains an assortment of images from different periods of Greek art. It is not a ‘Mythic Dreamer’ painting but contains some ideas which might be used.
- The semitic myth. Jewish, Arabic, Christian, monotheism, abstraction, mogal art, calligraphic art, the written work, the book, Hebrew and Arabic script, the scroll, prayer rugs, carpets, synagogues, cathedrals, mosques.
- The vedic myth, the Ramayana, Buddhism, the wheel of life, vedic geometry, astrology,
Not a Mythic Dreamer painting, but containing thoughts on the development of Indian art.
- The Nordic, Germanic, Frankish, English, American , the hero, the sword, iron, fire, the crow, conquest, Viking, Sutton hoo, voyaging, exploring, colonising, possessing, categorising, war, technology, computers, skyscrapers, air travel, science, industry, nuclear, learning, medicine, space travel, power.
- The eastern myth, the yellow people, Chinese, Japanese, Confucian, Shinto, pottery, calligraphy, Eskimo, north American Indian, Peking man, ceramics, closoni, jade,
- City of the plains, the ziggurats, Egypt, Sumeria, Babylon, Mohenjo Dharo, City states, irrigation, priesthood, human sacrifice, marriage of god and goddess, man gods, pharaohs, mass control, slavery, temple complex, chariots.
- The Celtic myths, the sacred grove, nature gods, intertwining pattern, knots, riddles, druids, the mabinogion, the book of kells, the red book of hergest, talking heads, bran.
These are early jottings as they occurred to me in the heat of new ideas. I am working out simultaneously the technical problems of creating such large and complex images, how they can be painted in the studio, how they will be fixed in place so that they can be later removed, how the canvas will not sag on the sloping surface. My mind is in a furnace of ideas and no doubt there will be huge changes made to these initial jottings. As things develop, I will keep the blog informed.
Bernard Barnes. September 16th 2014.