Saturday, March 10, 2018

Kuu: The Swan

Raushan Orazbaeva
13 x 7.5 inches, oil on board, 2018
The instrument depicted in the painting, and played by Raushan Orazbaeva on The White Swan, is a qyl-qobyz. The qyl-qobyz is considered a sacred instrument and "only shamans or people who are close to the spirits could play it." [Orazbaeva quoted by Theodore Levin in Where Rivers and Mountains Sing] Raushan's grandmother was a famous Kazakh shaman. The swan is a sacred animal not touched by the hunters, the qobyz, when played transforms into a swan. The tradition of the instrument is rumored to be thousands of years old. The information provided comes from a chapter that deals with animal mimicry in shamanism and traditional music of central Asia in the book Where Rivers and Mountains Sing (Theodore Levin with Valentina Süzükei, Indiana University Press, 2006). The origin of music in traditional central Asian shamanic tradition is animal imitation. Here's Orazbaeva again quoted by Levin: "When I go into trance—I don't know how else to explain it—when I reach a kind of summit; when I'm really alone in myself and no one else is interfering; when I detach myself—then I really give myself with my soul and heart to this instrument."

Monday, March 5, 2018


Rahsaan Roland Kirk
12.5 x 7 inches, oil on board, 2018
The focuses of the top 100 for months have been on the origin of music and that of shamanism. In this context the film Sound?? (Dick Fontaine, 1967, 25m) is especially insightful. Featured musicians in the film are Rahsaan Roland Kirk and John Cage. Cage is seen rehearsing with David Tudor and Merce Cunningham. Cage also narrates the film in which he asks existential questions about music and sound. "What is sound?" he asks and muses on the answer. Kirk is seen live in concert performing Three for the Festival and Here Comes the Whistleman. The pairing of the two is natural as Kirk illustrates the concepts of Cage. Cage was influenced by Zen Buddhism and the Chinese I Ching, the Book of Changes, Kirk, as I wrote a few years ago, the embodiment of a twentieth century western performer with characteristics of a shaman of the ancient tradition. The film is a great introduction to a deeper understanding of that thing called music where the whole world is so infatuated with.

Saturday, February 24, 2018


Cat Power
12.5 x 7 inches, oil on board, 2018
Fool from the 2003 album You Are Free is the latest Cat Power entry in the Top 100. At least one song from that album has been in the Top 100 since its release and is ranked the highest album by a single performer since that time...16 years ago already. It never gets old for me to paint yet another Cat Power painting. There must be almost 50 now, 27 of which were shown last August at Tempus Projects in Tampa:

Excavated Shellac

Dashzegiin Ichinkhorloo
7 x 5 inches, oil on board, 2018
The context for this miniature painting can be found on the excellent site Excavated Shellac by Jonathan Ward.  I don't have much to add as everything I know about this recording and the photograph of Ichinkhorloo provided, have been carefully excavated by Mr. Ward. Hats off to the record collector!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Last Selk'nam Shaman of Patagonia

Lola Kiepja
12.5 x 7 inches, oil on board, 2018
Shaman Chant is one of 47 songs (all named Shaman Chant or Lament) by Lola Kiepja recorded in Argentina by Anne Chapman in 1964 and released on Folkways as Selk'nam (Ona) Chants of Tierra del Fuego, Argentina: 47 Shaman chants and Laments in 1966. The liner notes were also written by ethnologist Anne Chapman. The following is her introductory paragraph: "These records comprise 47 chants sung by the last true Indian of the Selk'nam (Ona) group, Lola Kiepja. The Selk'nam had no musical instruments. These chants are sung without any sort of accompaniment." In 1966 Kiepja was one of only ten survivors of the Argentinian genocide against the Selk'nam. She was the oldest of the ten and the only shaman, the only one versed in the traditions of the Selk'nam. The Selk'nam, or Ona, did not come in contact with (ethnic) Europeans until the 19th century not long before the genocide started. Lola Kiepja was about 90 years old when she died in 1966. The last ethnic Selk'nam, Angela Loij, died in 1974. Currently there are about 500 people (according to the Argentinian census) who claim (partial) Selk'nam ancestry, only one speaker of the Ona language is known today. The decline of the Selk'nam people was accelerated by the discovery of gold in their lands. Early in the 20th century, Martin Gusinde, among other anthropologists, studied the customs of the Selk'nam in depth. Even a photograph of Lola Kiepja taken in 1905 exists. The most important ceremonies of the Selk'nam are initiation rites in which their cosmology is reenacted. The masks and body paint used in these ceremonies belong (in my mind) to the highlights of art history. Beyond these spectacular impersonations of their ancestor spirits the Selk'nam are not known to have created (material) art.


Stencil on paper, 10 x 8 inches, 2018
New year, new M.I.A. stencil. Made for the occasion of a new semester at FSW. Made to trade with students. My intention was to have an edition of 38 (the number of students) but I had to stop at 18 because the matrix fell apart.

Saturday, February 3, 2018


Jan Voves, Mladina (signed by Jon Voves)
9 x 6 inches, drawing stick in sketchbook, 2018
The town of Fort Myers Beach has a Plzeň theme this weekend. I figured the Czech city of Plzeň is a Sister City of Fort Myers Beach but neither Fort Myers nor Fort Myers Beach have sister cities. Yesterday I went to the FMB public library where a number of cultural events were happening, to watch a performance by the folk group Mladina. A delightful little concert it was. Plzeň, of course, is known the world around as the namesake for the word pilsner, synonymous for beer. I had my sketchbook with and made some sketches one of which is this one of dudy player Jan Voves. A dudy is a bagpipe. The Dutch word for bagpipe is 'doedelzak' and I wondered if the word is related to the Czech dudy. According to Wiktionary the word is onomatopoeic (meaning that the word derives from the sound associated with it) but upon further investigation the words doedelzak and dudy are indeed related and come from the Turkish düdük which means 'pipe.' The Polish word is also dudy and in German it's dudelsack, all these term then translate to the English bagpipe (zak/sack = bag.) The word doodle also comes the German dudel (dudeldopp = simpleton.) You can't really tell from the drawing (the doodle) but the end of the pipe of the dudy has a carving of a goat's head. Jan Voves explained that the goat's sound is compared to the dudy. The bleat of a goat sounds like maa or baa, but not dudy. (The Czech word for goat is 'koza.')

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Greatest Blues Song

Elvie Thomas
2 x 2 feet, oil on panel, 2018
In April of 2013 a remarkable article appeared in the New York Times. It is the story of a journalist, Jeremiah Sullivan, who traced and identified the two women responsible for the song Last Kind Word Blues. The song, recorded in 1930, had mesmerized blues aficionados the world over, but who the musicians Geechie Wiley and L.V. Thomas were, nobody really knew. That song, Last Kind Word Blues, my number one in the Top 100 1999, I have now decided is the greatest blues song ever recorded, inching out Prisoner's Talking Blues by Robert Pete Williams, Hellhound on My Trail by Robert Johnson, and I Be's Trouble by McKinley Morganfield (Muddy Waters.) The painting I'm working on is not much different from one I did before. It's from the only known photo that exist of Elvie Thomas (1891-1979). The photo was taken by Robert "Mack" McCormick, who had spent a good deal of life investigating the identities of the performers. John Jeremiah Sullivan then started his research where McCormick left off. Geeshie (as it should be spelled) Wiley (1908-after mid 1950s) is Lilly Mae Scott, no photograph of her ever surfaced. After meticulously painting Wiley's portrait from that one photo, I was at a loss of how to proceed with that great open space left on the panel. I had ideas before I started but each was rejected in the process. I felt frustrated, angered, and anxious about it and angrily filled in the white spaces. Rather than going back into it and 'fix' these negative emotions I figured I'd leave it, at least for now.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Inuit Throat Singing: Katajjait

Celina Kalluk and Tanya Tagaq
24 x 18 inches, oil on canvas, 2018
Celina Kalluk and Tanya Tagaq are two of today's best known Inuit throat singers. Katajjait (the plural of katajjaq) are throat songs usually performed by two women. A number of these songs have entered the current top 100 list. I've listened to many performances by both Kalluk and Tagaq (they are cousins) but most katajjait in top 100 are by anonymous performers. The painting initially was not meant to be of musicians but rather an exercise in a purely intuitive approach to painting in which I practice to not reject any thought that comes up in my head during the process. When first faced with the blank canvas, deliberating the first brush marks, our cat decided to hang out in my studio. Not rejecting the thought, I painted her.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Vagina Dentata

Tattooed Ainu woman
9.5 x 6 inches, oil on board, 2018

Tattooed Ainu woman
9.5 x 6 inches, oil on board, 2018

From the Koryak of Kamchatka to the Ainu of Hokkaido, the top 100 continues to locate itself in Northeastern Asia. It's a long 810 mile boat ride but it can be done by hopping the 56 islands of the Kuril chain. It'll be a beautiful boat ride but rather cold. And while you're hopping and dressed for the cold you can continue to hop the Aleutian Islands and arrive in Alaska and you take a train to Fairbanks and from there (I wouldn't know how) to Canada's Arctic Bay which will be the next destination of the top 100. The route follows the trail of female throat singing duets. I've made the journeyat home through cds in warm and cozy Florida: Japan: Ainu Songs on Unesco (Musiques et musiciens du monde), Sibérie 4, Korjak, Kamchatka: Tambours de danse de l'extrême orient-sibérien (Musique du monde), and Canada: Jeux vocaux des Inuit (Inuit du Caribou, Netsilik et Igloolik). I've painted Ainu women before back in 2006. I remember commenting on the hairy features of the Ainu people. I've read that the Ainu are indeed obsessed with hair and the characteristic women's tattoos represent mustaches. A facebook friend posted some pictures recently and commented: "The lips lips look like labia. Women adapted this look to lure men to oral sex in order to keep from getting pregnant every year. This is just the theory of an uninformed idiot. I’m not an anthropologist." (Thank you Barbara) I love this interpretation! The vagina dentata, one of Jung's archetypes, metaphorically designates the Freudian fear of castration.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Koryak (2)

Tamara Ivikovna Sajnav (cover image of Sibérie 4)
20 x 16 inches, oil on canvas, 2018
The 'Music du Monde' cd Kamchatka: Tambours de danse de l'extreme-orient Sibérien featuring music by the Koryak continues to be loaded in the cd-drive of my computer. It's becoming a sing-along disc. The language used by Tamara Ivikovna Sajnav on a song about the tundra is Čavčuven, which belongs to the Paleo-Siberian family. Needless to say that I don't know what I'm singing about when I sing along (besides that it's about the tundra). The musicians are not very forthcoming when asked about lyrics, they argue that the meaning of the song is in the timbre, not in their words. I agree. (I never pay attention to the meaning of song lyrics much, never did. When I sing "hop-hop" along with the disc, I think I understand the song.) With song, as with image, a deeper understanding is gained in the process of copying. In copying the cover image of the cd, the photograph of Sajnav (probably taken by Henri Lecomte, who also recorded the music) a level of empathy is established. Tamara Ivikovna Sajnav was born in 1928 in Aklan, her Koryak name is Ejgili, which means small stone. She is a small woman with a big drum (zja zjaj frame drum), 65 years old when the photo was taken. Her face in the painting was done with just a few brush strokes and looks younger than in the photo. I left it that way.