A little more backstory for some of my more popular images:
Of all the images I have yet created, the most unexpected life has sprung from my interpretation of Melek Ta’us, the Peacock Angel, a tutelary divinity of primary importance for the Yezidi of Syria, and for the Feri culture/current of witchcraft. Before I created my image of Melek Ta’us, there was no image of Melek Ta’us-- as such--considered apart from simple images of peacocks, or cognate images like Krishna or Murrugan. Now this image is to be found all over the (internet) world, taken originally from scans of postcards I was selling back in 1995. I have no doubt it has been a belwether for the world at large to picture him; the full story of how this image came to be can be found here; and for stories and comments from others, please click here.
The Divine Twins began as a group commission by the grateful students of T. Thorn Coyle in both Europe and the U.K. Knowing how important these particular Feri deities were to their teacher's outlook and philosophy, they asked me to interpret them in iconic form for her. Feri sees the Twins in a special way that is quite challenging to grasp intellectually, despite the fact that the Divine Twins appear in many world mythologies, representing almost every polarity that can be imagined: Light and Dark, Male and Female, Above and Below, Plant and Animal, etc. Because little visual precedent existed for a specifically Feri concept of Them, I engaged all of those students and my friends in the Feri community to help "kindle" a living authentic image by giving me a "critical mass" of potent bits of lore, visions, personal experiences. I used their poetry, narratives, stories, ideas and samples of other arts to "jump across" into the imaginal field.
The physical painting was preceded by a crystallized vision-image, which contained elements like the square, circle and triangle shapes that evoked a level of meaning beyond my conscious intentions, as well as variations such as the respective colors of the Twins, who are often thought of as Bird and Snake in Feri (their union in the person of the Peacock Angel resonant with Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent). In my vision I saw the Bird-Twin as golden rather than red or blue or black, paired with the green Snake Twin. The golden color may signify sunlight, coming downward from Above, as the green color is that of plants, rising upward from Below. In esoteric teachings the point where these energies meet in a human being is said to be where kundalini manifests in that person.
At the last minute, I found my model, Henry, who can also be seen in my Camera Paintings. I find it auspicious that Thorn's receiving the finished painting preceded the publication of her current book, Kissing the Limitless, which makes important use of the symbolism of the Twins.
The Divine Androgyne was created to companion a piece I wrote
As often seems to happen, the creation of Dionysus was paralleled by ritual activity on my part, in this case the preparation of my horns and persona in order to become the embodiment of Dionysus in a large public ritual in Minnesota on Oimelc/Candlemas, 1997. It took 6 weeks from start to finish in December 1996-January 1997, working several hours almost every day. I love to work while listening to stories, and recall that I listened to Mary Renault's retelling of the story of Theseus, The Bull from the Sea and The King Must Die, for the first time in this process-- how wonderfully appropriate.
Brigid is special because the image was inspired by the first authentic "Drawing Down the Moon" (or in this case, Flame) that I witnessed, at Candlemas 1989. "Drawing Down the Moon" is an ancient phrase to describe the possession of a priestess-votary with the Divine Personality of her Goddess. From a contemporary view the experience is similar to high magic workings that invoke one's own Higher Self, and also like the "riding" of the human votaries by the Lwa (spirits-- "mystères") of Vodou. The woman chosen to represent the Goddess for this rite had been gowned in a flowing bridal dress and crowned with candles. The Goddess Brigid indeed had come through her, and sang to us, her priestess her instrument. To this day I have had few encounters that match that experience.
Oshun was initially inspired by tales and stories of this Orisha, when I realized that avatars of Oshun could be found elsewhere. A famous singer, who embodies the generous, joyful, and regal qualities of this Goddess, became my template for her creation. As the painting progressed I remember showing it to Luisah Teish in 1996, when she had come to Minneapolis to teach. It later became the album cover for Ancestor Energy, who in 2009 presented a showed entitled "Fathers and Daughters" in which homage to Oshun through dance, story, poetry and shrine also made use of this image.
Kali started off with another Pagan artist friend saying to me, "with all the Goddesses you have done, I wonder why you have never painted Kali?" That made me wonder too, and it started to evolve into a journey of meditation on the Goddess whose name means "Time." The culmination was an image that incorporated both the more commonly known Bhairavi, the Terrifying Kali, the bringer of Death to what is Alive, who dances in the ashes of the cremation grounds, with the supernal Kali, Digambara, "Clad in Space," the supremely beautiful Mother of the Universe. Almost as soon as this image appeared in print, its future collector contacted me to acquire the original. As a devotee of Kali, she has written a fascinating story of a Kali vision kindled by meditation work with the painting.
The Peri began as a sketch in a life-drawing circle, of a beautiful girl named Angel whom I had persuaded to model for Gallery Gorgon in New Orleans. The director took a look at the finished work and said, "That looks like a Paul Rucker painting," to which I said, "...you're right." The painting persona evolved out of my perception of Angel as being like a peri, a faerie/angel hybrid from Persian mythology, and an entire narrative scenario evolved from the static posture. Interestingly, when I have read comments on blogs about this painting, some appear to have taken my addition of peacock wings (as I did with Melek Taus) as a literal echo of authentic Persian tradition, though here I confess I got this idea from a woodcut image a woodcut image from an American Fairy Dictionary (1936), which was my first exposure to the idea of a Peri.