A PAWN ESCAPES
This is a piece I designed back in 2008. But this is the first time it is being offered for sale on a number of products (which I share below this post).
As is usual, all of my pieces are embedded with symbolism and meaning (in the Jungian tradition).
I started the series with pottery and sculpture, making stylized playing card symbols on hand thrown goblets. The inspiration came, initially, out of performing at Renaissance faires where there was a hierarchy: the king and queen, the council, foreign advisers, the court's performers (fools, magicians, actors and musicians), the courtiers dressed in their finest, the merchant class and the makers, the peasants, the pub musicians, the maids and servants. I branded most of my pottery for the courtier class (the finer pieces), and the merchant class (the simple glazed pieces). A couple of huge goblets with a lot of extra detail were relegated to the king and queen.
When being in that situation long enough, it is interesting how a performer finds himself conforming to a role, even though it is all make-believe! At times I resisted it, feeling my modern self inside an olde gown. At other times I felt like Mozart in the film Amadeus, all too happy to show my irreverence as he did to the Prince-Archbishop of Salzberg. But mostly I found myself conforming, and ruminating on why, late at night.
With eyes wide open in the dark, I thought long and hard on whether I was a conformer, or on the outside of conformity. Where was I comfortable? Artists have functioned very well on the outside of conformity throughout history. After all, it is hard to be a genius when you are tethered to someone else's tightly defined role. An artist's mind roves, and explores, and insights happen mostly when he breaks out to investigate.
But, I found that when "the queen" entered into my performing space, that I was bowing to her just as the other faire workers did, and calling her "m'lady", and attempting to please her with my best songs and performances, songs which I felt had the magic to move her to laughter or tears. In fact, I would look right into her eyes, as if she was the only one in the room. If I felt she was getting too uppity (high and mighty), I might sing her a song cloaked in meaning with disapproval at its core (much the way Shakespeare wrote plays like King Lear, MacBeth, and Hamlet, and still managed to play them to his queen without getting his head cut off).
Since I was a performer, and a court performer at that (we performed Dowland, who was a real court composer under Queen Elizabeth), I did not have a voice much beyond my music, and its lyrics. I was surrounded a lot by very chatty clever courtiers (actors) who would jest, provoke, scheme and challenge each other to a game.
Renaissance faires usually have a bunch of games: human chess, jousting, sword fights, archery, and so on. There are also a lot of games (and intrigue) being played in court (mock court).
Anyway, I felt that I was in the same class as the court fools and actors. I have talked about the fool symbolism in my work before in this post.
In my early days as a potter-by-day and musician-by-night, I sgraffito-ed more fools into my work than just about any other symbol. There is a reason why that symbol was so compelling, and perhaps I will talk about it some day. The gist of it was that I felt "voiceless" in the same sort of way the fool in King Lear was not listened to. The fool also represents "the subconscious", and in King Lear literary scholars have often attributed the fool to Cordelia (the daughter who is thrown away over a competition with her siblings). The fool also represents the wise part of the brain, and he is a type of canary in the coal mine as well. In so many ways, I felt that I embodied the fool, right down to being an artist.
So, in the context of the Renaissance faire, the feeling that I was part of the performing class of the fool was still there, even though I sang like a bird and had more a voice than King Lear's fool. Still, lyrics can seem like the riddles that fools tell to some people.
By the time I got around to making "A Pawn Escapes" (the piece featured here), I was thinking about games quite a bit, particularly chess and cards. Although I don't play games often, my mother's side of the family had a tradition of playing all kinds of games, and when I found this piece in the computer, it stirred up some issues in regards to that family.
Games are a way for children to learn how to count, strategize a plan, to keep to stringent rules. The family comes together with the thought of having fun together, and bonding, but at its core, games are about competition, maneuvering, winning, and losing. In cards, you can lose by virtue of having a lousy hand (just as you can in life). In chess you can lose by virtue of having an inability to have foresight, intuition, and a scheming manipulative mind which can look ahead at all of the possible pitfalls and/or gains. In chess you are equals in the beginning, but the whole point of chess is to take away your opponent's power so that you have the upper hand, and in the end, have all of the power and control. I have to ask here: why did someone make up a game like that??
So, I was looking at that family's judgments and pecking order. I would describe the family as ascribing to a very rigid hierarchical structure where members are ranked in terms of their worth. Others, looking in, would probably define the family as an authoritarian family. Authoritarian families are like the Trump family (and in worse-case scenarios like the Godfather family or the Augustus Germanicus family of Caligula). They put a lot of emphasis on "winners" and "losers" and a fallacious perfectionism based on fantasies of how a person might be thinking and feeling, and what their intention may be (indulging in, and unconvincing in, mind-reading). I recently consulted with a lawyer, and I am allowed to say online that my mother and I are estranged, and have spent a great deal of our lives in that state. So, if I sound like I am not a part of her side of the family, it is because, in large part, I am not and was not (not of my own choice, and at her husband's prompting). But having that thrust upon me (and not because I was a bad daughter or did bad things), I have probably never felt all that comfortable with that family. In many ways, I feel like a different breed, born to the wrong family, with only a few genes in common.
In the context of that family, I was the one without a voice, the one with the harp, the one so far in the background as to be falling out, continually superseded by someone else's voice or agenda.
Of all of the people from that family, an uncle was the only one I resembled and could identify with. I was born on his birthday. We were both teetotalers. We were both artists. We both had the same moral standards. I saw more of him, in my teenage years and twenties, than anyone else in that family. My father resembled that uncle more than I did, right down to the same profession, to the same attitudes about that profession (housing for the poor), to fighting for moral causes, to the same religious faith, to artistic aspirations, to personality, sensitivity and compassion. My mother's choice of picking my father was based on that resemblance (I believe). Since my uncle and father were "there" for me, I became like them.
So, when I came upon this piece from 2008, it seemed to speak to me about all of those issues. The pampered unicorn, a pawn, is escaping. Is he like the Buddha, who was lied to by his parents, and has to know for himself what life and his own personality is really about?
Here are the common symbolic meanings of the piece (the same writing from my on-line store):
* unicorn: purity, innocence, the divine, enlightenment, magic. The unicorn has been known to be an independent creature of high intelligence and to be able to purify water and to get rid of the toxicities of life for itself and others.
* millefleurs: abundance, growth, fertility, creativity, freedom from hunger, heightened respect for nature
* playing card symbols: rules, games, the elements (wind, fire, water, and earth), the seasons, the four motives, and the struggle with various forms of opposition for victory.
* escaping: feeling confined by a role (thus the need to flee), going into another form of life for a different perspective, cracking the egg, cutting Mommy's apron strings or Papa's control
* pawn: the ordinary, restriction of movement, restriction of hierarchy (unless it goes through a minefield, i.e. getting to the 8th square where it becomes a queen), being and feeling used by more powerful "players", someone else's puppet or tool or plaything
Since the unicorn has just "fled the coop", we don't know the outcome. We only know that he has the desire to escape. What he escapes is a lush garden (plenty of food), but the promise of more flowers is outside the opening he is jumping through.
.... "and has the ability to purify water" -- Lately, I have become involved in the native American cause "The Water Protectors" at Standing Rock, North Dakota.
At this point in my life, being inspired to make so many pieces in this style is foreign to me, especially as I take on challenges these days which speak to a much wider and contemporary audience. But I can see why I was on that path, and what it evolved to.
Here are some other products with the image:
framed print -- (buy here if interested, choose your own frame and matting from the drop-down):
tote (buy here if interested -- choose your own background color from the drop-down if you don't like the default color):
greeting cards (buy here if interested -- wholesale prices if you buy a package of 25 cards, choose your own background color from the drop-down if you don't like the default color)
Many more products are available with this listing including phone cases, wearables and home decor.
Until next time ...