John Dean, Sale born, Bury based artist presents his work at MASA-UK Art Gallery
I think I have the soul of an artist and the heart of a scientist - or is it the other way round? Perhaps it is better to see them as two sides of the same coin, and in my mind, feeding off each other and giving each other meaning.
The Swamp, Oil on Canvas
I have always argued that the modern rhythms of Jazz, Blues, and all their derivatives have their origins in African shamanic traditions thousands of years old. The shaman have the earthly responsibilities of healing and prophecy. Their cultures often use music as the gateway to the spirit world. That emotional link is the window to the very soul of humanity. There is an analogy with the sun god, Apollo, who is also the god of music, prophecy, and healing.
In this picture you can see Apollo gazing through this mythical corner of a collective conscious that exists in some of us often referred to as the Swamp, the source of all blues based music.
Being the god of prophecy, he can see all musical epochs, but he is lingering over the guitar virtuoso Ritchie Blackmore at the very moment he reached the height of his notoriety.
I am making a direct analogy between Ritchie Blackmore and the legend of Orpheus.
Orpheus possessed an incredible musical talent and was taught to play the lyre by Apollo himself. His exploits included signing up as one of Jason’s Argonauts and once journeyed into Hades to try rescue his wife, Eurydice.
I try to portray the classical gods as aspects of our characters programmed into us all. In the picture the look on Apollo’s face reveals a ‘complicated’ character so often being played out as this youth culture rebellion. The Blues and Rock ‘n’ Roll originated from the worst of all possible circumstances. It exists as something that is spirit lifting but still has this rebellious side and still possibly the mystical potency of its shamanic past.
Perhaps the collective emotion conjured up is often one of rebellion in modern times because humanity is not happy with itself. Perhaps the swamp lake is the mirror being held up to us all.
If you ever hear the ancient sound of Delta Blues droning through the air; give it a listen. Let it transport you to The Swamp and let it show you what humanity needs you to see. Make our ancestors proud.
Oh, by the way, those strange swirls n; stuff? They are from the ventilation panels of Manchester Apollo theatre. I have seen many a legend there over the years, including the guitar maestro Ritchie Blackmore.
The field depicted in the picture is very much a terrestrial one. It was the 1950’s, close to Birmingham, actually it lies behind the old family home of the young boy the world will come to know and love, Robert Plant, the singer of the band Led Zeppelin. It was in this field the Nordic alien lady came to visit a ten-year-old boy who was out on a bike ride, a future guitarist and a school acquaintance of Robert Plant. He was under the impression that, along with her family, they were there to tell him of a difficult life ahead at the hands of other alien races.
After a brief conversation about the state of the world, he was invited on board their spaceship. The two Nordic children tried to teach him how to levitate metallic seemingly magic play balls of theirs. He was also given a ride in their ship way out of Earth’s orbit. The tall blonde muscular father figure controlled the ship by concentrating on a simple looking console, he watched the Earth disappear into the distance through a low-level port hole or screen. The console was set around a dome with what looked like a spinning top, which, as it started to spin faster, it began to fade from view as the revolutions increased.
I heard this story from the boy himself, now an old man. I was there to interview him with regards to doing some pictures for the book on his harrowing life of alien abduction. The story was incredible and ultimately quite sad.
I know the reverence people give to men, women and things that have been into space. I had no problem working from the premise that Bills story was true, I was not there to judge. Was I in the presence of someone who had been taken ‘off world’?
It may still sound like a very mundane question to ask considering, but when this Nordic alien lady and her family stood in that field back then, how familiar did they find that environment?
If you were ever to come face to face with these Nordic aliens, and you happen to have some understanding of evolutionary biology, you might recognise in them features that may remind you of key adaptations in all the species on Earth that led to us, and of the climatic events that shaped the modern ‘us’ in this, the Quaternary period, a period that is defined by large fluctuations in climate.
Points of interest you might notice are their hominid-like hands, their overall mammalian features, especially the females if you get my drift. The Nordic ladies have full lips, which with their general good looks you might think, speak volumes, and get you thinking; ‘surely considering the evolutionary path that led to us, their evolutionary path must be almost identical?’ Does this mean there is a planet out there in the Pleiades star cluster very much like ours.
I hope this picture pushes a few boundaries of what could be imagination or what could possibly be real, and bring, not only a connection to a possible weird event in history but with a place beyond most people’s imaginings only 444.2 light years away.
Aphrodite 142. From the Foam of Life
The literal translation of Aphrodite means; ‘Of the froth, or foam’. The classic story is that she arose as the goddess of beauty, desire, and love from a ‘fertilised’ Mediterranean Sea in a crimson shell, However, it is probably best not to ask how the sea was fertilised.
I have represented her through the hands of some of the most beautiful and desirable as well as talented, intellectual, dedicated, and brave women throughout history.
Their ‘same time’ in the limelight, most roughly the same age. In the picture they are brought into sync, allowing Aphrodite to be personified. Now imagine after you have stopped looking at the picture and eventually it slips from your mind, their time will run normal again and she melts back into being that biological program or ‘app’ of desire and love in the hearts and minds of us all.
Personifying Aphrodite like I have may have worked too well; emphasising mainly the beauty made me feel I may be in danger of objectifying women, leaving everything else that women are - as secondary. This notion, I think brings alive a personality that is often portrayed in recent times as shallow or air headed. She is actually a very complicated goddess.
Money? Talent? Power? If you have love in your life what could be more important? But on the flip side, out of all those gods of death, war, discord, retribution, etc. played out in the classics, this primordial goddess has probably caused more trouble than all of them put together.
I do not see Aphrodite just as a biological program or an app in the hearts and minds of all mankind, but in the very fabric of almost all life. Sex played a pivotal role in the evolution of life on Earth.
I have always been fascinated how such a simple theory like evolution can lead from chemistry to simple life and onto more and more complex life, intelligence, love, rock n roll and to the very thoughts in your head. The British ethologist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins visualised it by thinking of information, say in your genes as trying to find any way to be immortal, but this takes energy and resources which are usually limited and difficult to acquire. The biggest mystery for me is that it runs opposite to the natural flow of entropy.
Evolution only really took off when one set of genetic information found a way of mixing up all other genes, condemning the information on them to a limited life through change, and in the process truly making itself immortal. The sex gene was born. Aphrodite truly did emerge from the foam of the primordial sea.
However, I am personifying her through the lens of humanity because she means so much more to us than reproduction. People tend to get a bit theologically weak at the knees when it comes to humanities capacity to love.
The truth is that most likely 1.5 million years ago our Homo Ergaster ancestors started to pair bond. An alpha male hierarchy that exists in all other ape species creates too much tension between sexually mature rivals to cooperate well. Back then the world was changing, and we needed to adapt. We needed to cooperate better to compete with other animals more adapted for hunting in this dryer climate. We were at this stage, new to hunting, made possible through complex communication, which in turn was only made possible by pair bonding.
Other animals pair bond like us too. It is most likely a quality within all higher species on Earth to differing degrees. To me it is not the most important thing understanding how beauty, desire and love in our species originated, by evolution or by divine gift. if the universe is teaming with ‘other life’, then love, the way we love, might be very rare, making us and life on Earth, very special.
This image is constructed from 142 mortal women’s hands representing an incredible span of human history and experience. My original drawing of 60 overlaid with the second drawing of 82. This double image is then overlaid with photoshopped water ripples. Then the final overlay for the finished images is a watercolour of mine depicting Aphrodite herself. This final overlay has had an odd effect on the photoshop qualities, enhancing those effects giving the final images.
The photo I took of the ripples by the way, is from a fountain pool in a garden in Marrakech. Marrakech is overlooked by the Atlas Mountains – the earthly personification of the Titan who is technically one of her cousins.
Demeter. Gates of Hades.
Beneath the depiction of a rather reflective goddess Demeter, serenely watching the spring unfold, there hides everyone’s favourite daydream: ‘What will happen when I die?’ Nobody, no matter how pious or opinionated knows for sure, this is the reason why this depiction of the underworld is hidden from view. The hidden picture depicts a tender moment between Persephone and Hades; a lingering goodbye as Persephone embarks on her annual journey from her life in the underworld to the living world and her mother Demeter, who is waiting in the top painting. Spring being the embodiment of Persephone’s arrival.
My art frequently draws upon my musings of the classical gods being very much alive, and existing as personifications of all those aspects running in our minds, such as love, fear,anger, our ethics etc.
Demeter is the goddess of corn and harvest, but in my model, this translates as that ability to plan-ahead, to save money for a rainy day, to study for exams, or, back in prehistory, to toil in fields for a future harvest instead of freely hunter – gathering. This subtle imaginative ability in us made humanity the success it is today, the dawn of civilisation, everything around us started with her.
Hades, the god of the Underworld, for me, exists in our minds as knowledge of our own mortality, and a subconscious sense of judgement. In fact, don’t we judge ourselves all the time? Does this sometimes lead to a sense of guilt over past misdoings, and a need to atone? I can also imagine he is the reason why we feel a whole range of emotions, both positive and negative.
The more positive aspects to this life – death judgement could be a link to a Buddha philosophy; a need for happiness for ourselves as well as the responsibility of instilling happiness in others. People frequently confuse happiness with ‘pleasure’, which is where many of our problems lie. I think it is quite a powerful idea of mine: Hades defining life, from beyond our graves. Ever wake up some mornings full of the joys of spring, even if it’s not spring? That is Persephone. For me it goes further than that; I always say I can feel the oncoming spring seep out of the ground like an energy. It’s as if everything around me is joyously excited. This happens sometimes as early as November, and by the time Spring is really upon us, that‘energy’ feeling has usually dissipated or ‘used up’. For the record, I hate calling it an
‘energy’. Being a physics graduate, only energy is ‘energy’. In the vast celestial hierarchy of the classical gods, Persephone may not seem like a big hitter, not like Zeus, Hades or Aphrodite, but she is, for me, unique in that she is a force of nature, spring itself, and not an aspect of our personality or biological makeup as such. She is something I am tuning into, All the others, even Poseidon, are aspects of us.
The classical story of Demeter, Persephone and Hades is also an old and familiar one; the doting mother hating her sweet daughter falling for the rebellious brooding bad lad. In the hidden picture, are the pillars of the underworld made from the skulls of the dead. strewn before these pillars are crowns, army helmets, swords, money, gold, guitars, guns, Brit awards, alcohol, Oscar’s, businessmen’s bowler hats - all the earthly trappings of wealth and glory that we simply cannot take with us. Emulating one of his campaign moments in life we have Boris Johnson, UK foreign secretary at the time of painting, stuck on that zip wire, this time on the ‘other side’ being quizzically sniffed at by Cerberus the three-headed guard dog of the underworld. The dog’s keen nose, or noses, being able to smell the nature of the judgement to follow. Born into privilege, Boris was a key figure in duping the UK towards a Brexit vote during the 2016 referendum. The same outcome the nationalistic and bigoted wished for, which I feel
tainted all us Brits, including the 48% who voted to remain. Boris is also renown for being a little bit of a blatant liar, that and a history of infidelity and a string of illegitimate children. All this, I feel, not for an actual conviction that Brexit was the right thing for his country, but for his own political ambition. Of course, that is just my opinion, the question is, what will be the opinion of Hades when Boris makes his final voyage?
If Demeter looks familiar, she is based on the actor Morena Baccarin. I saw that brief and brilliant portrayal of a complex set of emotions under a vale of calm serenity of Morena’s character, Leslie Thompkins in an early episode of Gotham, and I immediately saw my muse for Demeter. I photographed the TV screen and took it from there. Where you see Demeter staring at the unfolding catkins, you may have noticed fairies emerging from the foliage. Two are wielding a double headed axe known as a Labrys, a symbol familiar to feminists, and was sacred to the Minoans as the symbol of their ‘goddess’
Ariadne, and that of life - death – rebirth. Including the fairies was to depict a breakdown between the boundaries between us and the spirit world, but the picture is also homage to the trees that over-hang Marsland Road from Brooklands cemetery in my hometown of Sale, Cheshire; the resting place of Physicist James Prescot Joule by the way. The trees are said to be haunted which I think I can give
I personally love the way this that picture is, on one hand, a serine and simple picture, but on the other, a complex riot of life’s dramas, death and judgement, the rebirth promised as spring, and political madness. I hope that Morena would not be too offended I have used her image. If she ever gets to see this picture I hope she’ll` like it.
We hope you like these pieces, as they come from an artist who loves to bend the barriers, thinking out of the box to create an imaginative original art. MASA-UK Art Gallery would love to invite you to come by and view these pieces over the Christmas period and into the new year. Finally as it has been tough times for all of us in many different ways, we feel we need art and to support artists in order to bring something which will take our mind off the everyday worries and provide a source of inspiration and relaxation for all of us.