José F. Grave de Peralta
MYTHS have inspired my artwork and provided me countless paths of understanding throughout my life. This page puts on display the many canvases and reams of paper where I have "gone" with these paths and places, some works dating back to the 1990s. Too much square reasoning about events in our lives of those of others seldom sheds any lasting light on the significance and workings of such events or figures, and I always think of Francisco de Goya's engraving == The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters == as one of the most cogent images in defense of Fantasy and mythological narrative.
The Lost City,
or the House of Asterion
48" by 30"
oil on canvas
The city in this canvas is my interpretation of Jorge Luis Borges' short story, ""The House of Asterion," itself inspired in the age-old myth of a minotaur (a creature half man, half bull) , who lived in a maze or labyrinth because he was so "monstrous." In Borges' s tale, the minotaur is presented as a noble being. Indeed the minotaur tells readers his story in his own words, full of pathos and clarity--- he is not at all an evil monster.
I painted the entire city as the labyrinth described by the man-bull in the tale.
El bombón de Elena
T h e r a p e o f H e l e n
32 " by 48 "
oil on canvas
Helen and Paris probably passed by Havana on their way to Troy!
Or so I was thinking in the early 1990s when I painted this canvas inspired in the story of the rape of Helen of Troy.
The painting's title in Spanish, "El bombón de Elena", comes from an old Cuban cha-cha-cha from the 1950s that I heard and enjoyed as a young boy in Cuba. The song's lyrics are superficial and silly, Elena come bombón,
¡qué bueno está el bombón de Elena!
Too often, the myths of classical antiquity are retold in too serious a manner, and this can hide the humor or irony that makes those very tales powerful.
W a i t i n g b y t h e s e a w a l l
30 " by 40 "
oil on canvas
There is nothing really mythological about this canvas, except perhaps the
horses' heads -- as horses were the animals of the sea-god Poseidon in
antiquity. The sea, indeed, OCEANUS, in the oldest poetic accounts of the universe, is our most ancient cradle.
El Minotauro Dormido
(The Sleeping Minotaur)
(Inspired in the story "The House of Asterion" by Argentinean author
Jorge Luis Borges)
36" by 40"
oil on canvas
The figure in this canvas is my interpretation of Jorge Luis Borges' short story, ""The House of Asterion," itself inspired in the age-old myth of a minotaur (a creature half man, half bull) , who was hidden in a maze or labyrinth by his family because he was regarded by them as "monstrous." In Borges' s tale, the minotaur speaks in the first person, narrating the story of his life and reflecting on his fate. Indeed the minotaur is the hero of the myth.
I see the minotaur as a symbol of man's complex nature (spirit/body, animal/human, etc.) and of how often
this same complexity is considered wrong or evil by society. His mythological essence is therefore often confined to "dungeons" and other rooms not seen by visitors of cities. In my painting, the creature's unabashed nakedness represents his vulnerability.
8" x 12"
While by most accounts, it was the world's first architect, Daedalus, who designed the famous Cretan labyrinth, Hungarian scholar Karl Kerenyi (1897-1973), a favorite mythographer of one of my most "mythological nieces, Patricia, assures us that a
series of dance steps performed by Ariadne in front of the Athenian hero showed him the "thread" of steps he needed to follow to enter and exit from the maze, in order to "defeat" the
Minotaur -- the half bull, half human creature who lived inside it.
In 1999, I travelled to Cuba with my mother Mercedes, and saw again for the first time in almost 40 years two "mythological" cities of my early childhood, which will forever remain as the most quintessential inner architectures and urban spaces inside my fantasy-enriched reasoning mind. In many ways my mother was both my Ariadne and the queen who asked Daedalus to design my own labyrinth. This trip back in time and space to realms eternal within me has not stayed frozen in those days of 1999. Other reflecting doorways to the same City Within have been San Salvador BAHIA, in Brazil, where one of my sisters, living in Sao Paulo in the 1980s and 90s, generously made it possible for me to go in the mid-1980s, shortly after our father's passing away at that time.
The City of Myth --below-- which I painted in pastel in 2008, resonated with elements of The Lost City on this same page, as well as with the figure of a Bahiana to the right, standing behind a stand of tropical fruit, as her son embraces her. On a pedestal to the left, my bull-figure of The Rape of Europe is that of a Minotaur.
A n d r o m e d a
30 " x 40 "
oil on canvas
Andromeda was a princess who was chained to a rock by her parents, two ancient Ethiopian monarchs named Cassiopeia and Cepheus. The girl was very conscious of her beauty, and she boasted that that her fine looks exceeded the beauty of all the
female sea-divinities or "nereids" in Poseidon's ocean. Offended, the nereids asked the god of the ocean to punish the princess and her city, and Poseidon sent a sea monster to ravage the country. Meanwhile, an oracle told the king and queen that Ethiopia would be spared if they offered their daughter Andromeda to the monster as expiation.
A n d r o m e d a and P e r s e u s, with the Wreck of the Medusa
30 " x 40 "oil on canvas1995
In the more "monumental mythological citiscape, I painted the moment just before the arrival of hero Perseus to rescue the girl and kill the sea dragon. (Perseus's face appears on the boat's sail.) Perseus would only be able to overpower the monster by first killing another monster or gorgon, the MEDUSA, by cutting off her head before she turned him to stone, which was the terrible gorgon's most deadly power. Anyone who looked at the face of the Medusa was literally petrified . . . or turned to stone. To represent Perseus's victory over Medusa, I painted a miniature version of French
painter Théodore Gericault's own "Raft of the Medusa" (1819) , not only as a reference to that great work of art, but as a reminder that an artist's challenge in composing a canvas is similar to the hero's encounter with the terrible Medusa. Great artists often go on to achieve the unachievable after they have faced some prior obstacle, like fear.
Various genre elements and architectural details in the setting again reflect my inner scapes of Bahia and Havana.
The 2nd-century A.D. work, by African-born Apulleius, entitled "The Golden Ass," tells the story of Lucius, a young man on a journey of self-discovery whose interest in magic leads
him to be accidentally transformed into a donkey.
In the course of his metamorphosis, Lucius ends up living with slaves who are in turn bought by a team of thieves, and thus he begins his caravan travels in the trade highways of the late imperial Roman world. One night, during one of his many stops along the road, he listens to a tale by an old female cook concerning the myth of CUPID & PSYCHE.
The subject of Cupid and Psyche is, on the surface, that of a young mortal woman named Psyche (this word in Greek means butterfly, as well as soul) whose great beauty not only eclipsed that of the goddess of Love herself on high Olympus -- Venus -- but it eventually led humans on earth to abandon the temples of the goddess. When Venus learns that the young girl from Mytelene is the cause of her falling from grace, she decides to destroy her.
From that point on, the narrative of Cupid and Psyche -- as a story within the longer, outer story of Lucius -- concerns the punishments inflicted by Venus on Psyche. The first of these acts of revenge backfires, as she entrusts her own son Cupid (Eros) with the task of making Psyche fall in love with a "dreadful monster." Eros, in fact, falls in love with Psyche, and what in a way is monstrous about him is that he asks the girl not to look at him in the light but to be content to be with him as a lover only in the dark of night. When Venus learns of their union, she tries to destroy it in every way. At this point even Psyche's own
sisters unknowingly team up with Venus and precipitate the breakup between Psyche and Cupid with one of the most dramatic scenes of literary narrative ever, where Psyche holds a
flaming candle to behold Cupid's fair face after he has fallen asleep, in order to see his supposed monstrosity. Of course, Cupid awakens and, seeing that she had betrayed his trust,
abandons the girl.
At this junction of The Golden Ass, the story within the story of Cupid & Psyche reads almost imperceptibly like a long formula for the healing of the human soul ... as the love-sick
Psyche, left to die of love by Cupid, goes to the ends of the earth and even down to hell, to seek respite. The way to hell -- or back to love, as it turns out -- is paved or negotiated by the appearance of one after another, and yet another, of the major Olympian gods (Juno, Ceres, Mercury, and finally Jupiter himself), and it even includes the physical flagellation of Psyche by two allegorical forces -- Tedium and Sadness -- sent by Venus to make the girl fall out of love.
Of course, this backfires and the saga of Cupid and Psyche ends happily. The couple celebrates their union in Olympus with a wedding feast attended by all the gods, even Venus, and from
their union is born a child named Pleasure, or Voluptas. Similarly, the larger "frame" narrative by Apulleius, wherein that of Cupid and Psyche is told, also arrives at a resolution, as Lucius himself gets out of his asinine predicament.
At the end of The Golden Ass, Lucius regains his human form and he decides to be initiated in the mysteries of Isis and Osiris in Alexandria, Egypt.
The sepia sketch -- above -- of Cupid and Psyche was drawn during one of my drawing lessons in Rome's Palazzo Altemps in ROME (circa 2014).
While drawing this ancient sculpture, my student and I noticed Cupid's femininity and Psyche's masculine stance. We also remarked how the sculptor had masterfully led Psyche's right index finger to almost be
touching Cupid's heart. It was for this
reason, too, that I decided to draw the
figure from the angle that I chose -- to
honor what I think is perhaps one of the greatest truths of the tale, which is that to enjoy her beloved, she must touch his heart.
19" x 25"
19" x 25"