The Supposed Sexual Meaning of a Flower

Zantedeschia albomaculata, from L’Illustration Horticole v.7 (1860), by Charles Antoine Lemaire (1801-1871), and Ambroise Verschaffelt (1825-1886)

 

Zantedeschia is a genus of eight species of herbaceous perennial flowering plants in the family Araceae, native to southern Africa from South Africa north to Malawi. The genus has been introduced on all continents except Antarctica. Common names include arum lily for Z. aethiopica, calla, and calla lily for Z. elliottiana and Z. rehmannii although it is neither a true lily (Liliaceae), nor an Arum or a Calla (related genera in Araceae). The colourful flowers and leaves are highly valued, and both species and cultivars are widely used as ornamental plants.

The name of the calla lily is not only just a common name that never is used professionally, it is also totally misinformative since the calla lily is neither a calla nor a lily. Once it was considered to be a calla and the discoverer, famous Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus, actually categorized all similar plants under the calla genus. When further testing proved that not all callas were not closely related enough to be considered as one genus it was split up by the German botanist Karl Koch and the calla lily genus became known as the zantedeschia genus. The name of the genus was given as a tribute to Italian botanist Giovanni Zantedeschi (1773–1846) by the German botanist Kurt Sprengel (1766–1833).

Zantedeschia is monoecious in which separate male (staminate) and female (pistillate) flowers (imperfect or unisexual flowers) are carried on the spadix. The flowers are small and non-blooming with an absent perianth. The male flowers contain two to three stamens fused to form a synandrium, and the female flowers have a single compound pistil with three fused carpels and three locules. Zantedeschia shares the general properties of the Araceae family in causing contact irritation. Zantedeschia species are also poisonous due to the presence of calcium oxalate crystals in the form of raphides.

It is not really clear when this genus showed up in Europe, but based on an illustration from the Royal Garden in Paris in 1664, it is safe to say that it was grown in Europe at that time. Zantedeschia became a very popular flower after that, showing up at funerals, weddings and practically any festivity in Europe. It was especially popular since it could be made to bloom all year around in the southern to centre parts of Europe using simple greenhouses. It was a flower that could be grown even when the sky seemed dark.

Zantedeschia or Calla lily is a very beautiful flower. During the flower language boom in the Victorian period of the 19th century, there were strict social codes and if one had to express ones feelings, flowers were the best medium. Flowers delivered the feelings subtly and every part of gifting a flower, carried secret flower meanings. The person who made the offer to the way the flowers were arranged, all had a specific meaning. Thus passionate messages were delivered to the recipient, without the use of words through flowers. During this time, calla lily was used to express many such hidden symbols. Calla lily due to its physical resemblance to female genitalia was called an overtly sexual one. This sexual calla lily meaning was brought forward to admirers by Sigmund Freud and  it was the favorite subject of artists like Diego Rivera and Georgia O’Keeffe.

 

Callas, Imogen Cunningham, 1925

 

Two Callas, Imogen Cunningham, c. 1926

 

Black and White Lilies, Imogen Cunningham, 1928

 

Calla Lily with Roses,Georgia O’Keeffe, 1926

 

White Calla Lilly, Georgia O’Keeffe, 1927

 

Two Calla Lilies on Pink, Georgia O’Keeffe, 1928

 

Caricature of Georgia O’Keeffe as “The Lady of the Lily”, Miguel Covarrubias, 1929

 

The Great Masturbator, Salvador Dalí, (1929)

 

Flower Vendor (Girl with Lilies), Diego Rivera, 1941

 

Portrait of Natasha Gelman, Diego Rivera, 1943

 

Nude with Calla Lillies, Diego Rivera, 1944

 

The Flower Carrier, Diego Rivera, 1953

 

Prehistory of Desire, Marc Quinn, 2010

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The Lost Desire

Henry Ford Hospital (The Flying Bed), Frida Kahlo, 1932. It was Kahlo’s first painting on tin

 

On July 4th, 1932, Frida Kahlo suffered a miscarriage in the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. In this disturbing work, Kahlo paints herself lying on her back in a hospital bed after a miscarriage. The figure in the painting is unclothed, the sheets beneath her are bloody, and a large tear falls from her left eye. The bed and its sad inhabitant float in an abstract space circled by six images relating to the miscarriage. All of the images are tied to blood-red filaments that she holds against her stomach as if they were umbilical cords. The main image is a perfectly formed male fetus, little “Dieguito”, she had longed to have. The orchid was a gift from Diego Rivera. “When I painted I had the idea of a sexual thing mixed with the sentimental” Frida said. The snail she said alludes to the slow paced miscarriage. The salmon pink plaster female torso she said was her “idea of explaining the insides of a woman”. The cruel looking machine she invented “to explain the mechanical part of the whole business”. Finally, in the lower right corner is her fractured pelvis that made it impossible for her to have children.

In November 1938, this painting was shown at Kahlo’s first solo exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York City. It was shown with the title: The Lost desire.

Shots in the Dark

By Patty Smith
from Details, November 1992

 

Self-Portrait, Robert Mapplethorpe, 1985

 

“When Robert and I were young, scarcely twenty, we’d sometimes go to Coney Island, have a Nathan’s hot dog, sit on the long pier, and dream about the future. Robert wanted to be a rich and famous artist. (He did it.) I wanted to do something great. (I’m still working on it.) We’d cast our wishes like the shoeless kids and old men who cast out their fishing lines. We’d sit there until dawn, then head back into Brooklyn. We were never afraid. New York was tough but kind. We were always all right. Maybe just a little hungry.

It was the summer of 1967. I had left the security of family, cornfields, and billowing New Jersey skies to seek my fortune in New York. I met Robert, a smiling, barefoot kid as misfit as myself. That fall, we got a place on Hall Street in Brooklyn, across from Pratt Institute, where he was a student. The streets were run by painters and poets. Everybody had a vision. Everybody was broke. Nobody had a TV.

Ours was a bleak little apartment that he brightened with Indian cloths, religious objects, and his own work. I tacked pictures of Rimbaud over my writing desk, played my Juliet Gréco records, and read Illuminations. Robert had a Timothy Leary book–one of the few books he actually read. (He often fell asleep in foreign movies. It was the subtitles, he said.) He was always working on a drawing, an installation, or a new piece of sculpture. He’d work twelve hours straight, listening to the same Vanilla Fudge album over and over. His work was asymmetric, psychedelic, and he was always scavenging for materials. I had to hide my best stuff, for many a wolf skin, brocade, or crucifix was sacrificed on the altar of art.

At twenty, we were still learning about ourselves, trying to make sense of what was going down. Assassinations, Vietnam, universal love, where our next meal was coming from. New York was going though its own changes–the Beat residue of the early ’60s was giving way to the divine disorder of 1968. All this was new to me–beaded curtains and LSD were not big sellers in South Jersey.

Robert and I rarely fought. We did bicker, though, like siblings, over everything. Trivial things. Who would do the laundry. Who would get the last sheet of drawing paper. Who was the better dancer. (He refused to acknowledge the superiority of my South Jersey over his own Long Island style.) What to eat. All he ever wanted was spaghetti and chocolate egg creams.

Our main preoccupations were art and magic. Magic was an intuitive thing you either had or you didn’t, and Robert was sure he had it. It was a gift from God, and he pinned his faith upon it. I always admired his confidence. It wasn’t arrogance, it was just there, unshakable. And he was generous with it–if he believed in what you were doing, he somehow infected you with it. His major source of anxiety was money, because executing his ideas required it and he loathed employment.

We were not the hippest people. That was not the thing. The thing was to develop a vision that would be worthy of remembrance, or even a bit of glory.

Sometimes we’d pass the night by sitting on the floor, looking at books. Some my mother gave me: The Fabulous Life of Diego Rivera, Brancusi, The Sacred Art of Tibet. And his own big coffee-table books on erotic art, Tantric art, and Surrealism. I’d plait my hair like Frida Kahlo, he’d stretch out in an old black turtleneck and dungarees, and we’d find refuge in the pages and emerge inspired, full of resolve.

Robert loved the large-format book. He wasn’t much of a reader, but he’d study the plates–the work of Michelangelo, Blake, Duchamp–and extend what he saw in works of his own. He dreamed of having such a book someday, devoted to his own particular vision that was, in the late ’60s, still forming.

This was on my mind recently when I opened the package containing the unbound sheets of his forthcoming book, Mapplethorpe. A large, exquisite book, admittedly not for every coffee table, but coffee-table size, just as he wanted. It forms a visual diary of his life, opening not with his name, nor a text, but with an image of a proud, frayed American flag. The stars block, and are therefore illuminated by, the sun. Toward the end of the book is one of his last self-portraits, in which he is aged considerably from physical suffering, stubborn, stoic, and a bit frayed, like the proud and weathered flag.

Robert took his first pictures in 1970. We had parted as a couple, but we stayed together as friends. We tackled Manhattan: The Chelsea Hotel. Max’s Kansas City. The Factory. The ’70s. Robert loved Manhattan, its perpetual twilight. He felt alive there, free. He loved socializing-even though he was shy–and he loved Andy Warhol, who was also shy and loved to socialize.

Like many exploring their sexual identity at that time, he cased the emerging frontier. Christopher Street. Forty-second Street. The leather, bars. The baths. He shifted identities, not out of crisis, but out of delight. One month, the sailor; the next, the hustler. “How do you like this new image!” he’d ask, pleased with himself in a black net T-shirt, tight pants, and a piece of red silk tied around his throat. In that same black net tee he hung out on Fifty- third Street, where he observed the hustlers, photographed the hustlers, and perhaps hustled himself. He wore the T-shirt executing art. And when he finally took it off, he stretched and mounted it on a frame and exposed it as art itself.

He was using at this time an old Polaroid. A pack of film was costly and might take the place of a meal, so each shot was important. Robert never took snapshots. He always knew beforehand the image he was after. He followed me around with that Polaroid constantly, issuing simple commands. “Can you stand in that shaft of light?” “Slowly face the wall.” Each shot taken with a studied economy, an economy he employed throughout his working life. Even later, as his work developed, he never used a motor drive, never shot roll after roll. His process was not a passionate one. His work was the result of a contemplative, deliberate act. He never drew lines; he crossed them, without apology, to create something present, new. A contact sheet would reveal just twelve images. They were all alike, except for the one he had marked, the perfect one. “The one with the magic,” he’d say.

I admit I hoped his photography was a passing phase. Somehow, being shot with a cheap Polaroid didn’t correspond to my notion of the role of the French artist’s model. But he took it seriously. He liked the speed, the immediacy. He was convinced that the common Polaroid print, in his hands, was a viable work of art.

He drew his subjects from life’s walk, and his work reflected change–both personal and social. Many of his models were biker boys, call boys, men of the street. His form was classic, stylized–“I’m not after beauty,” he would say, “I’m after perfection, and they’re not always the same.”

In the early ’70s he began to use the large-format camera, and he committed himself to photography, championing its elevation and exploration. Portraits, still lifes, early flowers, the S&M suite. At first I found the S&M photographs, which were difficult by most standards, frightening. I once asked him what it was like being there, observing, immortalizing the private rituals of these people. He said it was “somewhat scary. But they know what they’re doing. And so do I. It’s all about trust.” He used these photographs, which caused such a stir years later, to tease me relentlessly. He knew I was squeamish about them, and he’d slip prints into my books. So on a rainy Sunday, I’d open a beautiful copy of Peter Pan or Arabia Deserta and be assaulted by an image of a bloodied member in a vice grip. “Robert!” I’d yell. And I could hear him, through the wall that separated our studios, giggling.

I think the furor his work caused after his death would have amused him. But the attention paid to just the sexual aspect would have surely dismayed him. He was not intentionally political. He was not an activist. He shot what he saw–just as Genet wrote what he experienced–with grace. All his work–from the translucent skin of a lily to the arched torso of a black male–represented him, his vision of the world. Just as Pollock hated being called an Abstract Expressionist and Manet deplored the title Impressionist, Robert never wanted to be pegged. Not even as a photographer. The true artist desires, and deserves, to be remembered only as an Artist.

Shortly before he died, I sat with Robert in his studio. He still worked, despite terrible bouts of coughing, vomiting, and excruciating pain. With the aid of his youngest brother, the photographer Edward Maxey, he was able to produce some final, perfect images. We sat amongst large, exquisite prints. A cluster of deeply ripe grapes. A single rose. And a marble portrait of Hermes. The skin of the white statue burned and seemed to emit its own light against a field of black. It was as if, through Robert’s eye, it had glimpsed life.

“I think I’ve done everything I can with the photograph,” he said. “I think I’ll go back to sculpture.”

He had on that day the anxious, fervent gaze he often wore when he worked. I remember that same look as he photographed me in Burbank, California, in full sun before a drying palm. It was 1987, I was six months pregnant and feeling the strain. Robert was not well. His hand trembled and, as he worked, he dropped and broke his light meter. But we took the picture anyway, barely saying a word. He checked the image and drew the camera closer. “Can you raise your head just a little!” It was much like the first pictures. High concentration. Simple and direct. Within that modest photograph is all our experience, compassion,, and even a mutual sense of irony. He was carrying death. I was carrying life. My hair is braided and the sun is in my eyes. And so is an image of Robert, alive.”

Here Comes the Sun

Time Magazine cover. December 10, 2001

 
 

George Harrison. Photo by Mark Seliger, Los Angeles, 1992

 
 

“Here comes the sun (du du du du)
Here comes the sun
And i say
It’s alright
Little darling
It’s been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling
It feels like years since it’s been here
Here comes the sun (du du du du)
Here comes the sun
And i say
It’s alright
Little darling
The smiles returning to the faces
Little darling
It seems like years since it’s been here
Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun
And i say
It’s alright
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes (five times)
Little darling
I feel that ice is slowly melting
Little darling
It seems like years since it’s been clear
Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun
And i say
It’s alright
Here comes the sun (du du du du)
Here comes the sun
It’s alright
It’s alright”

 
 

Here Comes the Sun is a song written by George Harrison from The Beatles‘ 1969 album Abbey Road.

This is one of Harrison’s best-known Beatles contributions alongside Something and While My Guitar Gently Weeps. The year 1969 was difficult for Harrison: he had quit the band temporarily, he was arrested for marijuana possession, and he had his tonsils removed.

Harrison stated in his autobiography, I, Me, Mine:

Here Comes the Sun was written at the time when Apple was getting like school, where we had to go and be businessmen: ‘Sign this’ and ‘sign that.’ Anyway, it seems as if winter in England goes on forever, by the time spring comes you really deserve it. So one day I decided I was going to sag off Apple and I went over to Eric Clapton‘s house. The relief of not having to go see all those dopey accountants was wonderful, and I walked around the garden with one of Eric’s acoustic guitars and wrote Here Comes the Sun.”

 
 

Handwritten lyrics to Here Comes The Sun by George Harrison

 
 

As Clapton states in his autobiography, the house in question is known as “Hurtwood.” When interviewed in the Martin Scorsese documentary George Harrison: Living in the Material World, Clapton said he believed the month was April. Data from two meteorological stations in the London area show that April 1969 set a record for sunlight hours for the 1960s. The Greenwich station recorded 189 hours for April, a high that was not beaten until 1984. The Greenwich data also show that February and March were much colder than the norm for the 1960s, which would account for Harrison’s reference to a “long, cold, lonely winter.”

The song was covered by Peter Tosh in 1970 and released as a single, though was not widely available until its inclusion on Can’t Blame the Youth in 2004. In 1971, Harrison performed the song during The Concert for Bangladesh. Also in 1971, Nina Simone recorded Here Comes the Sun as the title track to her cover album released that year. American folk singer Richie Havens saw his 1971 version reach No. 16 in the U.S. The most successful UK cover was by Steve Harley, who reached number 10 with the song in 1976. Naya Rivera and Demi Lovato performed the song, as Santana Lopez and Dani respectively, in Glee ’​s fifth season episode Tina in the Sky with Diamonds. Their duet version appears on the album Glee Sings the Beatles.

To listen to this song, please take a gander at The Genealogy of Style‘s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228?ref=hl

Mine, In a Way

“The sunflower is mine, in a way.”

Vincent Van Gogh

 

Offering to Flora, Juan van der Hamne, 1627

 

The Sunflower. Engraving from Erasmus Francisci’s Ost- und West-Indischer wie auch Sinesischer Lust- und Stats-Garten in drey Haupt-Theile unterschieden.., 1668

 

Peacocks, Melchior d’ Hondecoeter, 1683

 

Small butterfly and sunflower, Ohara Koson, no date

 

Studio of Sir Kenelm Digby, Anthony van Dyck, c. 1630

 

Selbstporträt mit Sonnenblume (Self Portrait With a Sunflower), Anthony van Dyck, after 1633

 

Marquise Athenais de Montespan or Montespan en déshabillée, school of Pierre Mignard, c. 1670

 

Portrait of Elizabeth Claypole, Jacob Huysmans, 1680

 

Misses Wilson, James Sant, 1875

 

Bouquet of Sunflowers, Claude Monet, 1881

 

Tournesols, Claude Monet, 1881

 

Clytie, Evelyn De Morgan, 1887

 

Vase of Sunflowers, Henri Matisse, 1898

 

The Four Seasons (Summer), Alphons Mucha, 1898

 

Brita,a Cat and a Sandwich, Carl Larsson, 1898

 

Hide and Seek, Carl Larsson, c. 1900

 

Eighteen Years Old!, Carl Larsson, 1902

 

Farm Garden with Sunflowers, Gustave Klimt, 1905

 

Sonnenblume (Girasol), Gustav Klimt, 1907

 

Sunflowers, Piet Mondrian, 1907

 

Dying Sunflower, Piet Mondrian, c. 1908

 

Sonnenblume, Egon Schiele, 1909

 

Welke Sonnenblume, Egon Schiele, 1912

 

Welke Sonnenblumen, Egon Schiele, 1914

 

Sonnenblumen, Egon Schiele, 1916

 

Versunkene Landschaft, Paul Klee, 1918

 

Mature Sunflowers, Emil Nolde, 1932

 

Sunflowers, Sir Jacob Epstein, c. 1936

 

A Sunflower from Maggie, Georgia O’Keeffe, 1937

 

Girasoles (Sunflowers) Diego Rivera, 1943

 

Sunflowers at Choisel, Georges Braque, 1946

 

Composition with Sunflowers, Friedensreich Hundertwasser, 1949

 

Die Sonnenblumen und die (The Sunflowers and The City), Friedensreich Hundertwasser, 1949

 

Le Tournesol, Fernand Léger, 1953

 

Cover for International Textiles, René Gruau, 1955

 

Sunflowers for Jonathan, David Hockney, 1995

 

The Orders of the Night (Die Orden der Nacht), Anselm Kiefer, 1996

 

Untitled (Sunflowers), Glenn Goldberg, 1999

 

Hommage a van Gogh, Friedensreich Hundertwasser, c. 1998

 

Sunflower in Grey and Green no.1, Jimmy Wright, 2008

The Flower of the Giver-of-Life

Desnudo con girasoles (Nude with Sunflowers), Diego Rivera, 1946

 
 

AZTEC FLOWER SONG

Be indomitable, Oh my heart!
Love only the sunflower;
It is the flower of the Giver-of-Life!
What can my heart do?
Have we come, have we sojourned here on earth in vain?
As the flowers wither, I shall go.
Will there be nothing of my glory ever?
Will there be nothing of my fame on earth?
At most songs, at most flowers,
What can my heart do?
Have we come, have we sojourned on earth in vain?

Anonymous

(Pre-Columbian)

Frida Kahlo, Patti Smith and Noguchi’s Butterflies

Patti Smith. Photo by Robert Mapplethorpe, 1987

 
 

Noguchi’s Butterflies

I can not walk

I can not see

Further than what

Is in front of me

I lay on my back

yet I do not cry

Transported in space by the butterflies.

Above my bed

Another sky

With the wings you sent

Within my sight

All pain dissolves

In another light

Transported thru

Time

By the butterfly

This little song

Came to me

Like a little gift as I stood

Beside the bed of Frida.

I give it to you with much love,

Patti Smith

 
 

On May 4th, 2012 a press conference for Patti Smith’s first show in Mexico was held at “La Casa Azul”, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s residence located in Coyoacán (México City). Patti performed a couple of songs in their honor and left a beautiful poem for Frida, inspired on a butterfly collection that friend and architect Isamu Noguchi gave her many years ago, which hangs on the ceiling of Frida’s night bed.

Tender and Protective Symbol

“I paint myself because I’m so often alone and because I am the subject I know best”

Frida Kahlo

 
 

Self-portrait with Monkey, Frida Kahlo, 1940. Private collection of Madonna

 
 

Frida Kahlo channeled her energy and emotion into her artworks and her many pets – monkeys, dogs, birds and a fawn – which lived at her home, Casa Azul (Blue House) in Coyoacán, Mexico City. Of her 143 paintings, 55 are self portraits which feature her treasured animals and incorporate symbolic portrayals of physical and psychological wounds. Perhaps one of the most famous is her Self Portrait with Monkeys from 1943. The iconic black-haired, unibrowed Kahlo is surrounded by three black spider monkeys, their arms wrapped around her. In Mexican mythology, monkeys are symbols of lust, but Kahlo portrayed them as tender and protective symbols. Kahlo’s pet primates were a spider monkey named Fulang Chang (a gift from her husband) and another, Caimito de Guayabal. The species is recognised by disproportionately long limbs and long Prehensile tail and are normally found in the tropical forests of Central and South America. Whilst there are many examples of pet monkeys (Michael Jackson‘s Bubbles just one), they are widely considered to be unsuitable for the home environment. Once they reach sexual maturity, monkeys can become aggressive and can harbour disease.

Guests visiting the home of Kahlo and Rivera would often be entertained by Fulang Chang, or Bonito, the Amazon parrot, who would perform tricks at the table for rewards of pats of butter. At Casa Azul, Rivera constructed a small pyramid in the garden where her pets roamed around freely. She also had a fawn called Granizo; an eloquently named eagle, Gertrudis Caca Blanca (Gertrude White Shit); parakeets, macaws, hens and sparrows. She also kept hairless Mexican ixquintle – including her favourite, Mr Xoloti – a breed of dog with an ancestry traceable back to the Aztecs, hence their appeal to Kahlo, who was enormously proud of her MesoAmerican heritage.

 
 

Portrait of Salma Hayek as Frida Kahlo, by Annie Leibovitz

The Elephant and the Dove

Alfred Molina (as Diego Rivera) and Salma Hayek (as Frida Kahlo) in a promotional picture for Frida (Julie Taymor, 2002), taken by Annie Leibovitz

 
 

The Wedding Portrait, Frida Kahlo, 1931

 
 

As a young artist, Frida Kahlo approached the famous Mexican painter, Diego Rivera, whose work she admired, asking him for advice about pursuing art as a career. He immediately recognized her talent and her unique expression as truly special and uniquely Mexican. He encouraged her development as an artist and soon began an intimate relationship with Frida. They were married in 1929, despite the disapproval of Frida’s mother. They often were referred to as The Elephant and the Dove, a nickname that originated when Kahlo’s father used it to express their extreme difference in size.

Their marriage was often troubled. Kahlo and Rivera both had irritable temperaments and numerous extramarital affairs. The bisexual Kahlo had affairs with both men and women, including Isamu Noguchi and Josephine Baker; Rivera knew of and tolerated her relationships with women, but her relationships with men made him jealous. For her part, Kahlo was furious when she learned that Rivera had an affair with her younger sister, Cristina. The couple divorced in November 1939, but remarried in December 1940. Their second marriage was as troubled as the first. Their living quarters were often separate, although sometimes adjacent.

Different of Himself

“Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with diverse kind; thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed; neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woolen come upon thee.”

LEV 19:19

 
 

There are three laws Yahweh gave Moses, rejecting unions and mixes practiced by pagan peoples and held by the Jews as aberrations. The first forbids creation of monstrous animals; the second is metaphorically taken to be the banishment of bisexuals. They carry a notion of impurity pointing to the spiritual confusion of the gentiles. Christianity, in turn, interpreted them as laws against wickedness.

These ancient prohibitions are engraved in some of our subconscious, and are the reasons for some of our atavistic fears expressed in “antinatural” visions of monsters and prodigies. These, at the same time, are images of temptation, like the hermaphrodite, the sphinx, the ram with a man’s torso, the foetus begot by Frankenstein, today’s eugenic beings and clones, creatures of undefined sex, marked beings.

Capricorn it is merely a zodiac sign that combines in its dual image the pull to the mountain (the goat) and the abyss (the fish). But read between the lines of our atavistic fear which the ancient prohibition fosters in us, this sign could also be a mating of two beast of different species, separated by a line: the ram and the fish, in other words… Satan and Christ.

The Shaman’s Collection defies bisexuality or hemaphrodytism by attaining an open, almost graceful, almost levitating, almost superhuman asexuality, albeit carnally disquieting and vile. In sealing the male/female partition, the shaman transcends the duality that preys on common man, and sheds it as he would a corpse’s shroud.

Medusa, on the other hand, shows the frightening evil version of the androgyne as a bald (masculine) and shaved (obscene) black-mass priestess sporting a fancy shawl at her bosom as if in contempt of the pious mantilla. A sliding drop of semen stains the picture, reminding us –more to our terror, we are not quite sure in what way– of that Levitical prohibition: “Thou shalt not wear a garment mingled of linen and woolen”. We find ourselves facing the old supernatural horror that undoubtedly divides us into two: attraction and repulsion which makes us different from ourselves.

The bipartition of the picture we mentioned in the dividing line of Capricorn is also the axis of The Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dogson’s Fantasies, in which Arturo Rivera alludes to Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll’s passion for photographing little girls. The child figure, now spurious and morbid, discovers her nakedness. She wrenches away the ample piece of clean cloth to reveal on her skin the line of an excrescence. Here, I should like to mention a “magic” experience that appears over and over in Arturo Rivera’s painting: significant coincidence. I asked the painter whether the bat drawn in the upper part of this painting referred to Lewis Carroll’s photographic studio, where, among an ample collection of toys and dolls for little girl’s comfort, was a wing-flapping, flying bat the writer himself had made. No, said Arturo Rivera; he knew nothing about that bat. I record this as one of many coincidences that abound in this artist and his work. I have noticed a whole string of them, one after the other. They apparently are not motives at the same time necessary, and they bring me to a very enigmatic aspect of his painting: nature and the distribution of objects in his pictures.

Updating a myth rather than portraying symbols, the appearance of a wide range of figures like geometric bodies, plants, dissected animals, organs, etc. could hardly be considered a sign of a purely compositive or simply polysemic reasoning or ratio: These figure are synchronized. As in the bones that a soothsayer throws on the ground, or a flight of birds at the moment a question is asked, or the interpretation of a sacrificed animal’s entrails, or the three coins disbursed with a consultation of I Ching, the essence is in the coincidence, not in cause. Reading and interpreting Arturo Rivera’s pictures cannot, then, be based on artist’s intentions so much as on the speculation the paintings inspire. As if before an oracle, one is looking at a conveyance of truth rather than a strict revelation of truth.

Three pictures bear me out on this: The Island of the Dead, an extraordinary conveyance of what Arturo Rivera saw in Arnold Böcklin‘s homonymous work, a vision. In North, bipartition again mates animals of different species, not to produce a monster but to depict a re-orientation, expressed here by the archetypical change of skin, and the image of mature man overcoming death and ascending to a higher plane of existence. Legatee, conveys androgyny offering milk from the breast. Arturo Rivera’s paintings revive one of art’s ancient functions: making the viewer experience something that surpasses him in space and time, keeping the myth alive.

Text by Jaime Moreno Villareal

 
 

Fall, 1997

Gesso colors on canvas

 
 

The Island of the Dead (Homage to Böcklin), 1997

Oil on paper/linen

 
 

North, 1997

Oil on wood

 
 

Legatee, 1996

Water-colored pencil and water color on paper

 
 

Capricorn, 1996

Sanguine on paper

 
 

Saturn, 1997

Water color and oil on linen

 
 

The Empty Room, 1997

Gesso colors on paper

 
 

July 17, 1975, 1 p.m. : On the Docks of New York, 1996

Cold encaustic on canvas

 
 

Medusa, 1996

Oil on canvas/ wood

 
 

The Temptations of Saint Anthony, 1997

Egg tempera and oil with metal inlay on paper/wood

 
 

Epilogue, 1997

Gesso colors and oil on canvas

 
 

The Shaman’s Collection, 1997

Oil on wood

 
 

Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dogson’s Fantasies, 1997

Oil on canvas

 
 

Arturo Rivera (Mexico City, 1945). Assiduous visitor as a child to the Chopo Natural History Museum, from an early age he coupled his taste for drawing with a passion for dissecting animals and studying bones. He studied painting at the Mexican National School of Plastic Arts, the San Carlos Academy (1963-68), and serigraphy and photoserigraphy at the City Lit Art School of London (1973-74).

Rivera traveled through South America and the Galapagos Islands. He lived four years in New York (1976-79), where he exhibited in the Francis Gallery and the Jack Gallery in Soho, as well as in the Walton Gallery in Chicago. In 1979 he met the Surrealist painter Max Zimmermann who invited him to be his assistant for the courses he was giving in the Kunstakademie of Munich. There he increased his knowledge on traditional painting techniques and how to handle them. During his stay in this city (1980-81), he exhibited in the Haus der Kunst. Rivera returned to Mexico in 1981 at the invitation of Fernando Gamboa to exhibit in the Museum of Modern Art (1982). Since then he has had a number of one-man exhibitions in Mexico and cities abroad.

The Artistic Side of Death

View of a Skull, Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1489

 
 

Saint Francis in Meditation, Caravaggio, 1605

 
 

Skull, Albrecht Dürer, 1521

 
 

La Calavera Catrina (Dapper Skeleton or Elegant Skull), José Guadalupe Posada, 1910-1913.

Much memento mori art is associated with the Mexican festival Day of the Dead, including skull-shaped candies and bread loaves adorned with bread “bones.”

 
 

Self-portrait With Death Playing the Fiddle, Arnold Böcklin, 1872

 
 

Engraving by M.C. Escher, 1919

 
 

Untitled-Death Outside the Head-Paul Eluard, Salvador Dalí, 1933

 
 

Head with Broken Pot, Georgia O’Keeffe, 1942

 
 

Sin esperanza (Without Hope), Frida Kahlo, 1945

 
 

Detail of Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central, Diego Rivera, 1946-1947

 
 

Three Study Portraits of Lucian Freud, by Francis Bacon

 
 

Artwork by Sergio Toppi

 
 

Drawings by Edward Gorey

 
 

Knowledge of the Past Is the Key to the Future: Some Afterthoughts on Discovery, Robert Colescott, 1986

 
 

Riding with Death, Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1988

 
 

Black Kites, Gabriel Orozco, 1997

 
 

For the Love of God, Damien Hirst, 1997

 
 

The Orientalist, Walton Ford, 1999

 
 

Painting by Pascal Vilcollet

 
 

Confetti Death, Typoe, 2010

A Paradoxical Identification

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

William Shakespeare

Hamlet, 1,5, 166-167

 
 

Arturo Rivera, Hamlet, 1997

 
 

Arturo Rivera (Mexico City, 1945), often manifest in his paintings through an exceptional creature, the androgyne, a unit having the characteristic of both the male female sex.

Androgyny is totality. Its clearest manifestation appears in Hamlet, 1997 portrait of a beautiful actress in the role of a prince, a paradoxical identification.

Portrait of a Mother

Anna Mathilda McNeill in Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1 (Whistler’s Mother) James Abbott Whistler, 1871

 
 

Shushan Adoyan by Arshile Gorky, 1936

 
 

Cornelia Nobel in Woman I by Willem De Kooning, 1952

 
 

Ginevra de’ Pozzi by Guido Reni, 1612

 
 

Marguerite Merlet by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1860

 
 

Eugénie-Desirée Fournier by Édouard Manet, 1880

 
 

Ernestine Faivre by Georges Pierre Seurat, 1883

 
 

Marie-Francoise Oberson by  Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, 1838

 
 

Lucy Read by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1797

 
 

Laura Catherine Bjølstad by Edvard Munch, 1899

 
 

Countess Adèle Tapié de Celeyran by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1883

 
 

Katherine Kelso Johnston by Mary Cassat, 1878

 
 

Sophie Maurice by Franz Marc, 1902

 
 

Marie Soukupová by Egon Schiele, 1911

 
 

Anna Cornelia Carbentus by Vincent van Gogh, 1888

 
 

Alina Maria Chazal by Paul Gauguin, 1890

 
 

Anne Elisabeth Honorine Aubert by Paul Cézanne, 1866-67

 
 

Barbara Holper by Albrecht Dürer, 1490-93

 
 

Neeltgen Willemsdochter van Zuytbrouck by Rembrandt, 1630

 
 

Gemma Cervetto by Giorgio De Chirico, 1911

 
 

Elizabeth Griffiths Smith by Edward Hopper, 1916-20

 
 

Anne Mary Hill was the inspiration and model for Mother Tucking Children Into Bed by Norman Rockwell, 1921

 
 

María Picasso y López by Pablo Picasso, 1896

 
 

Laura in Mum by David Hockney, 1985

 
 

Lucie Brasch by Lucian Freud, 1983

 
 

María del Pilar Barrientos by Diego Rivera, circa 1904

 
 

Flora Angulo by Fernando Botero, 1990

 
 

Felipa Domenech Ferrés by Salvador Dalí, 1920

 
 

Julia by Andy Warhol, 1974