[In going through past entries, I found this one from my brother Paul. I emailed him: “I would like to post your summary of your talks with the Paleolithic (or whenever) cave artist. Okay with you, and if so, with or without attribution as to who you are?” He replied that I could use it any way I liked, added “It’s nice to see it again,” and reminded me that the artist had humorously said Paul should call him “Og” because it was a caveman sort of name in our modern stereotype.
[By way of explanation I should add that my brother has spent years making pottery (as an avocation), and one day, after seeing a video on the cave art discovered in France, it occurred to him to invite the artist to use Paul’s hands to help shape pottery. Paul and I talked long-distance and this is his record of that three-way (so to speak) conversation and later internal conversations.]
10/12/12 recollections from connection with the Chauvet Cave painter
I was painting for the entire group, not a solitary painter figure. Could express a common viewpoint. Skills often were passed along loosely—not patrilineally—within a family. Materials varied from the cheapest, least durable to what is still in the cave today. Materials not a major obstacle—took the work of grinding, experimenting. Bone used to grind, bone also became ground in.
Frank: A group effort like the European cathedrals, giving glory to God?
This drew a total blank response for several moments.
God wasn’t “up there.” The spirit was everywhere. It vibrated in everything. (Image of rocks, trees, people, plants, the earth—all with that vibration.)
A sense of their tangible feeling of the moon—it had a geophysical presence. That lunar vibration was one of the various spiritual vibrations they tangibly sensed. They felt its influence far more than we do today.
Other reasons to paint?
Some reasons will still resonate: a sense of mortality and a drive to some type of immortality; an urge to communicate “this is how it was.”
Was the paint the most difficult aspect.
No, light was the most difficult aspect.
[Further questions on how they dealt with that.]
We had fuel that didn’t smoke very much; ventilation was also better than you now imagine. Still, the issue of light was difficult. The good fuel wasn’t common, the ventilation took some arranging and some labor; if the ventilation flickered the flame too much that was also a problem.
The work of many different people over time?
Connection with Paul?
Have already connected. The movie [“Cave of Forgotten Ancestors”] was a hot spot of connection [that had been previously lightly made]. I have worked with Paul in clay.
What’s your benefit?
Electrical power. So many things are much more easily done now—a joy to work with. Also the connection itself, the recognition & appreciation of my—our—work. The teacher-student relationship, though over time we may sometimes switch roles.
Was there an economic surplus? Or does Frank’s suggestion ring truer that such societies may have plenty of free time.
That varied with the circumstance. If things got tough, seasonally or more permanently, then life was harder with less free time. Did I hunt and paint? Yes. It made me a better painter as well as a better hunter. Your society’s high specialization is very different. My energy on this [i.e. lack or avoidance of specialization] resonates so strongly with yours that at this point you are wondering more than usual how much of this you are making up. I hunted less than some, just as the family spent more time preparing paints than others did storing food. There was some division of labor. Mine was respected work. Art-spirit-hunting were all unified.
Were you considered a shaman?
Not exactly. But I was considered more connected than some to a spirit level. The spirit was not a static thing to be worshipped; it guided us along.
I feel these great distances between us, such differences.
We can attain some common ground, which is why we are here now.
Agreed. I had mentioned to Frank earlier that I would try to work in the studio with you consciously there; you, I heard, had already been there without my conscious knowledge. I do love the music.
Como se llama?
“Og” will do. Suits your ideas.
Ok… Your family?
Complicated, to you, pre-nuclear, very extended. Overlapping relations, more communal than yours (could it be less so?). Not monogamous, necessarily.
Were you in a Renaissance of your culture?
Every culture has its ups and downs—at this time the concepts and techniques of painting were relatively highly developed. We had the work of our predecessors near at hand, the support & respect of the culture, we lived if not in comfort by your standards at least the wolf was not at the door, nor did cold gnaw at us, and relative peace and stability prevailed at the time.
Thank you. May we connect later.
Yes, may we connect later.
I connected with “Og” in the studio yesterday. Using some pretty stiff clay we threw a water jug. That hadn’t been my intention; after the fact it made perfect sense. What better representation of an essential form for his time. There is more work to be done with it—I’ll try to maintain the connection through the last step.
One leap for you is the extent to which we lived and breathed and died with the animals. The culture was dependent upon and informed by the wealth of animal life. And we didn’t eat the owls. [A reference to the owl painting in the cave]. You are familiar, from the knowledge of your own hunter-gatherers, particularly the Plains culture, of the respect for the hunted.
The owl may be a good carving for the water jug. For you it is wisdom. In our culture it was a great communicator, a hunter, a trickster (throwing its voice)—a great hunter: silent, fierce, nocturnal. Our own hunting wasn’t limited to daylight, which is apparent to you after a moment of thought.
Not sure of the connection between water & the owl.
Consider it indirect, but both representative of the way that we lived.
I have killed the great bison, like the one that I painted. I would have lacked the “street cred” as you would say, had I not done so and then painted it anyway. It would have be an imposture to do so. Some did, or tried. But it showed.
Nice working with you on Wed., when we incised the owl onto the water jug. I tried to use the shape of the jug to the advantage of the owl shape—felt a little more capable in that regard.
You can see that benefits of: bringing the intention and the awareness to the effort, experience, confidence—all of these things interacting with each other. You had a feel also for what curves and shapes would be expressive of the owl, not only in defining the image as an owl but also its emotional resonance or energy.
Interesting looking last night at the water jug again. I understood how I could better use the surface on the jug to portray the owl. Wasn’t sure why I hadn’t seen that earlier as I was doing it.
Experience breeds improvement, and experience over time is an organic growth. That is, some things take time to grow and develop. Second, you approached the project with an idea that you would replicate the image from the cave, by way of your drawing of it, onto the jug. In process, you altered that somewhat to take some advantage of the jug shape. However, the original idea was still in your mind, so the result was some of each: an alteration, but also some adherence to the original idea of replication. Nor do you yet know that your most recent thought about the design will actually play out well—you’ll have to try it to know. And you will have to deal with loyalty to the spirit of the image rather than to the image itself.
Memory of hearing an owl last night, walking home from the studio. Not uncommon.
What struck you about that owl’s call last night?
First, that I had heard one from a distance by the Mondo’s property as I was walking home from the studio. Second, that as I was about to enter my garage I heard the same call from much closer—perhaps our redwoods.
An appreciation from the owl for those trees.
The clarity and beauty and power of the call. From an e-mail with Maria earlier in the week, an appreciation of living amongst the owls as a normal part of our lives. Now, today, an appreciation for their contribution to the natural cycle of life and death, their assistance in predation upon the garden pests. And now a reminder that you and I share the owl as a connection to animal life (see 10/15 entry).
The owl as ally. Or owl-eye.
Your culture wasn’t above puns?
There is low life in every village.
Consider that your work gains power as it represents the spirit. You don’t need [to represent] every detail of an owl feather. Now it might be helpful to carefully observe such detail, but the spirit and the individual symbolism you can portray are more important. We communicate because you are interested in throwing off he clutter of your culture.