The wonderful thing about painting for other people is that (both artistically and otherwise) they take you places you wouldn’t normally go if you were only working at a level within your own self. You gain a different perspective by jumping inside their head and crawling around in their skin for a while. Not just to see the world how they see it… but to learn what they have learned by looking at the world this way. It is amazing what you can gain when you are willing to give up your strength, for a time, to learn the strength of another.
This painting was done for my good friend, divine doppelganger, and fellow Peter Gabriel disciple, Ralph Joseph. The title for this hanging comes from his recording company name, Sukha Records. Sukha is Sanskrit for “Finding Your Bliss,” (which I have done a slight variation on, though I’m not the first, I believe Joseph Campbell beat me to it). Not so coincidentally, it is also the motto by which Ralph lives his life. Quite simply, Ralph is a Radiant Manifestation of the Universe, and that is what I have tried to capture in this hanging.
This is the meaning behind Ralph’s painting:
The border narrates Ralph’s journey these past few years (as he describes it) from industrious sheep to liberated spirit. The triangles in the border hold a duel meaning. Firstly, the closed off top of the symbol represents the soul stifling claustrophobia he felt working in a high profile position shackled to a desk on Bay Street, Toronto. For many years he worked in an unfulfilling job that dissolved his wings and wilted his spirit (“They put you in a box, so you can’t get heard, let your spirit stay unbroken, may you not be deterred… Hold On…they do not see your road to freedom that you build with flesh and bone…” – Peter Gabriel, Wallflower). The rectangular shape with the wider opening at the top (I’m sure there is an actual geometric name for this shape…) is what happened when the triangle bloomed, and shows how his life changed when he quit his job to pursue his dream of making music, and how that reawakened the spirit within. It is the opening of the top of the triangle that brought him back his wings, letting Ralph out, and light and direction in. It shows the liberation you can achieve when you are willing to let go of things. The rectangular shape represents his world view now, open to the heavens, swallowing up whole the ever-expanding limitless experience that greets him everyday.
The second use of the triangle is symbolic evolution. Ken Wilber writes of how evolution produces greater depth, and less span on succeeding levels. “Because the higher transcends and includes the lower, there will always be less of the higher and more of the lower, and there are NO exceptions.” The triangle is also representative of that progression. Often we don’t reach the higher stages of consciousness and evolution unless we feel alienated and alone. Yet the high points in our life have always come from when we let go of things, not from when we cling to things. The triangle in this case is representative of that mystic ascent, and the achievement of that understanding and development.
I often use symbols that other cultures have revered for generations and therefore integrated into their ethnicity as emblems of protection. For Ralph’s hanging, I incorporated the idea behind the Native American Indian medicine wheel and the shield into every square. Different nations use different colours to portray different symbolism for the medicine wheel, so once again, it is the basic idea behind it that I have included here. I have used a common premise of each of the 4 quadrants representing direction. East is the dawn of new day, illumination, inspiration and the eagle. South is passion, heart, warmth, and emotions. West is introspection, self examination, and reflection. North is for the wisdom of elders. In this hanging the medicine wheel is also painted as a protective shield. The shield is a Warrior’s most sacred possession from time of first battle until death. Traditionally the design is received in a dream by an elder who would then make the shield for the new warrior. I have used it as spiritual protection for a friend for any battles in life he may endure.
I have drawn this symbol of a bird in general, but it is in reference specifically to the Eagle, Hawk, Rooster and Raven. I have also incorporated the imagery of the Feather. Ralph (like me) is born in the year of the Earth Bird (Tibet) or Earth Rooster (China). Birds are used to represent prophetic knowledge, and for warriors they represent prowess. They are chief of all the creatures in the air, and the primary servant of the Sun. The Eagle symbolizes courage, the spirit connection to higher realms, air, power in battle, clear vision, success, prosperity, wealth, intelligence and renewal. The Eagle is a protector from evil, and its medicine attributes include clear vision and soaring spirit. The Eagle is associated with success, prosperity and wealth. In the Zuni Tradition, the Eagle symbolizes the direction Up (also a great Peter Gabriel album!). I have used the Hawk for strength, foresight and truth. The Rooster is the warmth and life of the Universe, and symbolizes courage, vigilance, incomparability, passion, and pride. Lastly, the Raven (much like Ralph) is the bringer of magic and light, and represents creation and knowledge.
I have also incorporated the use of the Feather in the wings. The Feather is a sacred universal symbol of flight within the spirit world and serves as messenger to the Great Spirit. Feathers are symbols of prayers, sources of ideas, marks of honor, and represent creative force. This square is for Ralph’s soaring spirit.
Man in the Maze (a.k.a. Life Path)
The maze is the story of every human being, traveling through life as though through a maze, taking many turns (some veering us away from where we directly want to go, acknowledging that sometimes the world takes you on a different path from what you’d planned, so it can teach you something). Every turn is an opportunity to find acceptance or an understanding you need to acquire before you reach your destination (I mean how do you know who you are supposed to be unless you occasionally see yourself in contrast to what it is you think you are… follow me on that???), but all the while growing stronger and wiser as the centre of the maze comes closer. It is a variation of the Tohono O’odham’s symbol of life cycles and choice, and eternal motion with the goal of achieving harmony. The design is actually a unicursal figure that represents the choices one makes throughout life. This represents the journey from darkness to light.
The four points at the top and sides of the maze are a compass points (and mapping points) for those times when life throws twists and turns at us, we still won’t lose our way. You can always look to the maze to find direction, or to understand that although you might not feel you are where you’re supposed to be, the maze has taken you there for a reason.
The turtle has transcended all cultures, religions, and corners of the earth. Ralph embodies many of impenetrable characteristics of the turtle. The turtle is a being whose magic united heaven and earth, and the sea turtle in particular is a prevailing mythic figure and archetype. The turtle encapsulates protection, patience, wisdom, courage, compassion, perseverance, skill, longevity, loyalty, peace, confidence, love, adaptability, healing, and knowledge. Impervious to attack, the turtle is seen as a very model of settled, universal order. It is a self contained creative source and is also called “the keeper of secrets” considered long-lived, wise, and secretive. The turtle is courageous because it makes progress only when it sticks its neck out, and moves forward with a patient, steady flow in order to achieve the desired destination. The turtle has carried Wisdom on its back for many cultures throughout history. Wise with age, some psychological theories see in the turtle a connection with the self; the unity of the personality as a whole. Eastern religions the turtle is thought to be the balance of opposing principles. In many cultures, if you need grounding, focus, endurance or deep power, calling on the turtle for help is a time-honoured way of wisdom.
Almost every culture, tribe and religion on earth has paid tribute to the Sun in one form or another. The sun is the giving force of life, and the blood and beat and breath of the sky. It is the earth’s guardian in the day, the giver of life, warmth, growth, goodness and healing energy. I have used the image of the Sun for Ralph as it is what I see burns most bright in his very core. Ralph’s passion and energy and intensity can spin the globe all by itself. Like the Sun, he emits an infectious radiance that falls gently and compassionately upon anyone lucky enough to be touched by his benevolent rays. It is also a mandala of sorts. Within the rings I have included the imagery of the Whale Tail (for theTraveller, regeneration, rebirth, indomitable spirit, resiliency creativity, and intuition) and the Bear Paw for power, direction, and connection to creator. The bear in general is symbolic of gentle strength, introspection, dreaming and instinct, and Native Indians regard the bear track as a good omen.
This Sun symbol is also in tribute to those epiphanic moments of clear recognition when you see what it is that incandescently lights you up from inside out. Buddhist teachings speak of the Sky Mind. It is constant. It never changes. It remains the same. The only thing that changes are the clouds that pass by it. It is to remember that you are the sky, not the clouds. If you don’t let them bother you, they won’t. The Sun, like the Sky Mind, doesn’t spend it’s time re-arranging the clouds. It just recognizes them as they pass by. It witnesses the clouds, it does not become them.
This square incorporates 3 images into one. The image is of the Dragonfly, yet just beneath the surface holds the magic of the Dragon and the Butterfly. The Dragonfly symbolizes truth, whirlwinds, skill, refinement, swiftness and activity. In the Zuni legend, Dragonflies are shamanistic creatures with supernatural powers. The Dragon is used for wisdom due to long lives and hypnotic magic (and hypnotic magic is how I describe a lot of Ralph’s music), as well as eternity, courage and strength. And lastly the Butterfly is for metamorphosis (which ties into the border), self-transformation, balance and grace, all of which Ralph exemplifies. This square is Ralph’s wings. He told me he always wanted to fly. I of course told him he’s always flown.
This is the listing I created on my iPod for this painting:
- A Different Drum – Peter Gabriel (from Passion)
- It Is Accomplished – Peter Gabriel (from Passion)
- Random Angel (baby) – Our Glass (yes I know, this was on my last playlist.. seeing as this is for Ralph, and this is Ralph’s creation, I needed this as inspiration a second time)
- Timeless – Our Glass
- As The Train Passes By – Ralph Joseph
- Down the Rabbit Hole – Ralph Joseph
- Pictures I keep – Ralph Joseph
- The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway – Genesis (Peter Gabriel of course). Entire CD, of notable mention Carpet Crawlers, In the Cage, Cuckoo Cocoon, and my personal favourite, The Lamia.
- Solsbury Hill – Peter Gabriel (from PGI aka Car)
- Moribund the Burgermeister – Peter Gabriel (from PGI aka Car)
- Humdrum – Peter Gabriel (from PGI aka Car)
- Wallflower – Peter Gabriel (from Security)
- In Your Eyes – Peter Gabriel (from So)
- Downside Up – Peter Gabriel (from Ovo)
- Love to be Loved (my #1 all time fav PG song)- Peter Gabriel (from Us)
- Sky Blue – Peter Gabriel (from Up)
- More Than This – Peter Gabriel (from Up – acoustic version)
- Cloudless – Peter Gabriel (from The Long Walk Home)
- Slow Motion – David Gray (from Life In Slow Motion)
- From Here You Can Almost See The Sea – David Gray (from Life In Slow Motion)
- Disappearing World – David Gray (from Life In Slow Motion)
- Square one – Coldplay (from X&Y)
- Fix You – Coldplay (from X&Y)
- Speed of Sound – Coldplay (from X&Y)
- Swallowed In the Sea – Coldplay (from X&Y)
- De Usuahia a la Quiaca – Gustavo Santaolalla (from The Motorcycle Diaries)
- Electrical Storm – U2 (had to throw this in seeing as I caught them in San Francisco while painting this)
- Coming Back To Life – Pink Floyd (from The Division Bell)
- Lost for Words – Pink Floyd (from The Division Bell)
- Supertramp – Child of Vision (from Breakfast in America)
- I also must mention To Kill a Mockingbird as I watched that movie several times while painting this as well.
I honestly don’t know what to say. I love your style girl. I look at your work and am humbled and moved by your brilliance. I LOVE IT. It is so cool I don’t even know where to begin…It is sooooooooo visually engaging from a storytelling angle. The elements… connectors, bridges, travel, flight. The integration of art, music, cultural symbolism, the animal kingdom. The juxtaposition between the diamonds and the semi-circles is awesome. I have this fondness of contrasting shapes. I love the native shield and its symbolism along with the dragonfly. I love the Life Path analogy.
From the floor of the ocean I call my heart, massive thanks. You left me speechless and moved beyond what you can know. THANK YOU for having me in your thoughts as you let your soul drip on canvas. – Ralph Joseph
Follow Your Bliss (Truth Courage Passion)
November 2005 / 23″ x 84″ / Toronto, Ontario