Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Tarot as a Creative Guide for the Artist

Everything has a purpose. In every experience there is a hidden lesson. Last August I received an emergency call from Puerto Rico. My Mom had a severe car accident and was taken to intensive care. My siblings and I immediately flew down to San Juan and to the hospital. The whole experience was scary and surreal. Thank God she is alive and doing much better today. We are all in awe with her quick recovery. This has been a true miracle and this is no exaggeration given the extreme circumstances which I will not go into detail here. For this I'm very grateful to all who had her in their thoughts and prayers.  

Morning at Punta Las Marias, Puerto Rico

While in Puerto Rico, I had the chance to go back to the house where I grew up in Aguadilla and look for my childhood toys and first drawings. At the bottom of a box inside a plastic bag I found my very first Tarot deck. Many of my things did not survive due to tropical weather, humidity or bugs. It was a big nice surprise to find this treasure nearly intact. It's been very meaningful to me and to this day I still see it as a personal revelation. It triggered many memories, from how I  got this first Tarot deck to what I see in it and how it inspires me with my work. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I see the Tarot as a mystical encyclopedia of archetypes.  Finding this deck changed my whole relation to the Tarot. All of the sudden the memories came back to me and it became more personal. This personal discovery was like a guiding light of hope in middle of the darkness. It told me that miracles are possible.

The 1JJ  Swiss Tarot Cards (My very first Tarot deck from 1992)

Finding this old deck among my belongings from 25 years ago not only renewed my interest in the Tarot, it became a creative guide for my art. It did not have much to do with fortune telling or divination but rather a mirror in which I could see my own life reflected. And even though I've discovered it can give some insight into the future (So can a history book) it seems far more useful in order to understand the present. As an artist I find great value in it's semantic elasticity and multiple narrative variations. In the hands of a Surrealist painter it becomes a powerful key which can open many hidden doors. It combines abstract design with figurative elements and has the possibility of telling every possible story of the human experience depending on card arrangement and context. They are like miniature paintings that can be interpreted in so many ways, it stimulates the imagination and lights up the creative mind. Right after I found this deck, I painted these:

MEMENTO MORI II (2016) Oil and metal leaf on canvas 30 x 40 inches 
by Patrick McGrath Muñiz

MEMENTO MORI I (2016) Oil and metal leaf on canvas 30 x 40 inches 
                                                                by Patrick McGrath Muñiz

The cards I used for these paintings as points of departure and inspiration were the Four of Cups and Ace of Swords. The narratives in these paintings are related in part to the interpretation of these cards.  The whole experience in Puerto Rico last year made me reflect on life and death and how easily things can change from one moment to the next. Life in a way is so unpredictable and changing as shuffling a deck of cards. The seemingly random results are what we get in a card reading just as in life. But nature has a mysteriously wise way of balancing things and placing the right cards in front of us. This is why I believe the Tarot can be an incredibly powerful guide and tool in the hands of the artist. When art is too controlled, rational and predictable, it becomes boring and unimaginative. When we allow intuition and the free flow of creative thought to become active players in the creative act, art becomes new, exciting and insightful. This is precisely what I've discovered can happen with the Tarot.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Surrealism & 2016

Les Amants (The Lovers)  (1928) :: Oil on canvas 28" x 21" by Rene Magritte

Back in art school I remember there used to be a stigma placed unto anyone who wanted to explore surrealism. As art students we were encouraged to experiment and break away from tradition. We were told that Surrealism was an art movement that already had its time and place in Europe in the 1920's and that like Impressionism, there was no point of following the steps of these artists. It was dated therefore "passé" and not considered  a valid form of contemporary art. While it is not easily found in mainstream contemporary art, there are still many incredible artists today that make great art inspired by the surrealist tradition. 

The Promise II (2012) :: Oil and egg tempera on panel 16" x 20" by Madeline Von Foerster

I've always wondered why is there a preference for certain kinds of art within the mainstream contemporary art scene while others are excluded. Take for instance conceptual art. An offspring movement of Dada and formally theorized in the late sixties, conceptual art is perhaps as dated and "passé" as Surrealism, yet the former is by far more acceptable in the eyes of mainstream art circles. Yet the surrealist movement is very strong today, particularly among the international art group Dreams and Divinities. There is indeed a resurgence of surrealist art and it is stronger than ever. There is no reason to believe it already had it's time and that it's over.  Au contraire!

Halcyon (2012) ::  Oil on panel 12" x 18" by Carrie Ann Baade

Transcending the Duality (2014) ::
Oil on canvas 39" x 39" by Liba Stambollion

Modern Surrealism also derived from Dada had it's own Surrealist Manifesto written by French poet Andre Bretton. It began as a literary movement influenced by Sigmund Freud's free association and dream analysis. Soon after the poets, painters started to experiment by painting without conscious control, a creative process called automatism. This in turn, revealed unconscious imagery in the work. Surrealism has basically two schools; One more abstract, distancing itself from conscious control as much as possible (Miró & Ernst) and one with a more detailed and figurative approach (Dalí, Magitte). Surreal implies something "unreal", a dream-like realm beyond rational reality.  

Mammon (2010) :: Oil on canvas 78" x 54" by Alex Gross

Interestingly "Surreal" was chosen as Merriam-Webster's word of the year and used to describe the events of 2016. With recent events such as the terrorist attacks in Europe and the US as well as the war in Syria, the US elections of Donald Trump and the Brexit vote in the UK, it is not hard to explain why the word "Surreal" has seen a spike in lookups on the online dictionary. It is not the first time though. In 2001 the word had its most enduring spike soon after 9/11. It often seems like the word comes up in moments most people feel a sense of shock and tragedy and try to make sense of it all. 

8:30 A.M. (2002) :: Oil on canvas 50" x 60" By Miguel Tio

Canción bajo el árbol (Song under the Tree):: Oil on canvas 30" x 40" by Johnny Palacios Hidalgo

Whenever we feel there is a disconnect with reality, for better or for worse, we tend to think of surrealism. I remember visiting the School of Fine Arts in Lima, Peru in 1998. By the time I was amazed at so much young talent in this school, I even wanted to study there. But something really caught my attention. Many of the art students were devoted to surrealism in their art. With so much political unrest, social injustice and inequality, that was so shockingly evident to me, I asked myself, why were they so interested in the fantastic? Wasn't this plain escapism? Why not make art that is mindful of your surroundings and  denounce what's wrong with the system? Was it because it was too depressing, they didn't see it, or they simply weren't interested?

The Seed (2014):: Oil on canvas 48" x 48" by Patrick McGrath Muñiz

Then I realized, my art was no different from theirs. I too looked for solace, peace and inspiration elsewhere, in art history and... in an alternate reality. Not that there is anything wrong with this, but I think there is much more to it than that. The truth is that after all these years I now see how unexpectedly socially aware surrealist art can really be. While many might see surrealist art as a form of escapism, it can also be a cure for our current social ills. Surrealism allows us to explore our own inner worlds and see things from a different perspective. Surrealism opens up the gates to a realm of the insanely impossible. In middle of all the craziness of our own world, surrealist art can enlighten us by revealing the key to understanding ourselves and how we perceive the world around us at an unconscious level. That may well be our antidote and best way to cope with the crazy sick world we live in today. Yes, 2016 may easily push many to think of it in "surreal" terms. Doesn't this already make a very good case to consider surrealism as a valid form of contemporary art if not the most relevant of all specially in these times we are living in?

Nueve (Nine) (2016) :: Oil on canvas 39" x 25.5" by Gabriela Garza Padilla

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Consumerism in an Age of Fear

In Plutocracy & Trump we trust (2015)  Mixed media on Cardstock Coasters 4"

2016 will without any doubt be remembered by many of us as a year of great losses (Bowie, Prince & many others) unpredictable politics (Brexit, Trump) as well as global turmoil and ongoing conflicts. At a personal level It's been a rough year not just for me but for many around me. From car accidents to economic hardships and odd situations I can only think of happening in a movie where things go so badly for the protagonist it almost seems like comedy. But the year hasn't ended yet and there are so many lessons to draw from it so far. 

Our Daily Bread (2016) Oil on canvas 36" x 60" by Patrick McGrath Muñiz

With the mass media obsession with Donald Trump and fear of his victory (which I should say helped him win the elections) and Trump's scapegoat obsession with terrorism and criminality perpetrated by minorities and non white immigrants (Mexicans & Muslims), the narrative of fear has taken democracy hostage. Fear is an irrational force that does not necessarily reflect the real threats to our lives. Facts (something most people these days seem to voluntarily ignore)  reveal a far more lethal enemy most people aren't even aware of. Curiously this hidden enemy is easily spotted right in front of us.

Consumerist Gluttony (2009) Oil on canvas 20" x 20" by Patrick McGrath Muñiz

In an age of fear it's hard to think straight and see what the real dangers are. Under the influence of fear, the masses willingly obey and easily become passive consumers. Consumerism offers an illusory escape which is far more dangerous than what we may be escaping in the first place. It is a wolf dressed up as sheep. In fact, this wolf in disguise makes terrorism, criminality and even war look like a pack of angry Chihuahuas. Think I'm exaggerating? Consider the following:

 " In 2012 about 56 million people died throughout the world; 620,000 of them died due to human violence (war killed 120,000 people, and crime killed another 500,00). In contrast, 800,000 committed suicide, and 1.5 million died of diabetes. Sugar is now more dangerous than gunpowder. Whereas in 2010 obesity and related illnesses killed about 3 million people, terrorists killed a total of 7,697 people across the globe, most of them in developing countries. For the average American or European, Coca Cola poses a far deadlier threat than al-Qaeda".

                             Holy Combo IV (2016) Oil & goldleaf on panel 24" x 30" 
                                                   by Patrick McGrath Muñiz

Furthermore the author demonstrates with statistics that consumerism is even bigger and nastier than previously thought being responsible for more deaths than world hunger. Harari states that: "In 2010 famine and malnutrition combined killed about 1 million people, whereas obesity killed 3 million..  In the early twenty-first century the average human is far more likely to die from bingering at McDonald's than from drought, Ebola or an Al-Qaeda Attack".

La Re-Conquista (2012) Oil on wood triptych 18" x 24" by Patrick McGrath Muñiz

Not only is consumerism killing us more than anything else, it's also putting the whole ecosystem at risk. At the current pace of global mass consumption, we can expect many more animal species going extinct , sea levels rise and an increased pattern of extreme weather events that will severely impact the lives of every creature in multiple ways. The Earth's future is on the line and future generations will surely not forgive us for our stupidity. Truth is global warming is real whether you want to believe it or not. 2015 is the hottest year in record with 2016 expected to be even hotter. And you don't even have to be a scientist to realize this. Just turn off the AC, go outside and pay close attention to your surroundings. But we want more jobs because the economy is the 1# issue. That's right, because we need more fearful obedient consumers. Without a habitable planet let's see what will be on the menu...

Maria Mundi (2016) Oil on canvas 50" x 35" by Patrick McGrath Muñiz