The Portsmouth Paintings of Inner Nature 1984-6: In Search of Montsalvat

by Alden Cole on July 16, 2016 · 0 comments

“I am not one who was born in the custody of wisdom; I am one who is fond of olden times and intense in quest of the sacred knowing of the ancients.” – Gustave Courbet (10 Jun 1819 – 31 Dec 1877)

MagicMountainWPMagic Mountain • oil on canvas 38″ x 26″ • collection of Steve and Karen Cole

1984: Although I was still employed full-time as art director for Samuel Weiser Inc. in Cape Neddick, Maine, commuting there from Portsmouth NH Monday thru Friday, I continued to draw and paint in my spare time. Choosing landscape and figure as my preferred subject matter, I explored the natural world around me through drawing from the figure a couple nights a weeks with a group of artists at Portsmouth’s Community Center as well as another group in North Berwick, Maine. Weekends I spent painting in oils; these were my preferred mediums at the time. After a couple years of sticking pretty much to portraying what I saw around me in as realistic a manner as possible, I turned once again to the imagination with a more ambitious project: a canvas 38″ x 26″ which was the largest blank surface I had contemplated painting on in several years, since leaving New York. As opposed to the smaller commercially-available standard-sized canvas-boards that I had used as surfaces for painting landscape and figure studies, as with those featured a few weeks ago in the blog, my larger canvases I prepared myself from scratch. Over the years I had developed a deep enjoyment of the process of preparing canvases, from the raw-linen state purchased by the yard, to a finely stretched canvas that could sound like a drum. The process had become a looked-forward-to ritual that I hadn’t experienced since my earlier painting days in NYC, before moving back to New England in 1980. So it was with a certain sense of excitement as well as trepidation sometime in 1984 that I first took up the brush to create what you see above, that appeared on the canvas in very few sessions.

DownRedRiverWPDown Red River • oil on canvas, 34″ x 22″ – collection of Nancy Wyseman

The painting at left was the first of the New England series to blatantly manifest the theme that had been the source of much of my early art, which continues as a stream to this day ultimately – the Search for Montsalvat:

“The name Montsalvat features in both German and English mythology. In the opera Parsifal by German composer Richard Wagner, Montsalvat is the castle, built by Titurel, where the Holy Grail is protected; and in Act III of his namesake opera, Lohengrin sings of it as home. In the English legend of “King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table”, Montsalvat is mentioned as the home of the Holy Grail. Montsalvat means ‘Saved Mount’ in Catalan. Though established only in 1934 by Justus Jorgensen, Montsalvat, an artist colony in Eltham, Victoria, Australia, has created its own myths and legends.”
The above comment, picked up today from an interesting Wiki article made me aware for the first time of Justus Jorgensen (12 May 1893 – 15 May 1975) and his Monsalvat; he was obviously a kindred spirit that I might have met if I really had moved to Australia, like I thought I wanted to do, after finishing up my time in the Air Force in 1968, rather than moving to NYC to seek fame and fortune. Besides the choice of the name Montsalvat, naming his son Siegmund, convinced me that we’re both lovers of Wagner. Would I have arrived there in time to be exposed to, let alone appreciate, his art before he passed in 1975? Only fate knows. Since I never made it to Australia back then, and I’ve always wanted to see the continent, perhaps it’s time for me to go check it out, almost fifty years late. Montsalvat, here I come!! 😉

RestingAlongTheWayWPRest Stop • oil on canvas 20″ x 65″ • collection the artist

Krockodile_IsleWPKrockodile Isle • oil on canvas 20″ x 65″ • collection of Barbara Oldenhoff

CrossingJordanWPCrossing Jordan • oil on canvas 23″ x 62″ • collection of Betsy Alexander and Burnell Yow!

The suite of three panoramic artworks at left were painted over a period commencing sometime early in 1984, lasting through late 1985. They were all painted while I was living at 54 Tanner Street in Portsmouth, close to the heart of town, hanging out with Robert Boardman, and still obsessively interested in trying to portray a vision of The Holy Citadel – that metaphysical refuge and sanctuary that lies in the heart of every artist, which Herman Melville talks about in one of my favorite passages from Moby Dick quoted below:

InsideLookingOutWPInside, Looking Out • oils on canvas, 43″ x 27″ • (unsigned) collection of the artist

“Consider the subtle ness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure. Consider also the devilish brilliance and beauty of many of its more remorseless tribes, as the dainty embellished shape of many species of sharks. Consider, once more, the universal cannibalism of the sea; all whose creatures prey upon each other, carrying on eternal war since the world began.
Consider all this, and then turn to this green, gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land, and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself? For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half known life. God keep thee!. Push not off from that isle, thou canst never return!”

TreeOfLife48x69WPTree of Life; Tree of Solitude • oils on unprimed linen canvas, 47″ x 69″ • (unsigned) collection of the artist

Continuing my exploration of archetypal imagery in 1985, I started a series of paintings which are still unsigned, like the five pictured immediately above, at left, and below, which are some of the largest paintings I’ve ever attempted. The lack of signature indicates that they’re still incomplete in my estimation, awaiting some final flourishes that will transform them from their present appearance into what I sense they have the potential to be.

SouthernDreamsWPSouthern Dreams • oils on masonite panel, 60″ x 48″ • (unsigned) collection of the artist

At left is the anomaly among this series in terms of content as well as choice of substrate – a masonite panel instead of canvas. Its content varies radically from the others, based as it is on trying to give form to a strangely insubstantial occurrence in my life: what is known as a “past-life regression” which I experienced at the hands of a psychic healer named Eleanor Moore, now deceased, who resided in Peterborough, New Hampshire, a two-hour drive west of Portsmouth. The experience for which my early upbringing did not prepare me, was one of the most haunting and startlingly vivid internal visions I had ever endured, reminding me of life’s poignancy, and revealing to me a depth of inter-human connection that I had previously been unaware of.

LipBoat#1-30x65WPLipBoat #1 • oils on canvas, 30″ x 65″ • (unsigned) collection of the artist

Inspired by visions of Viking burial ships set aflame and pushed out to sea, the painting at left took form, incorporating a secondary tribute to death and dying in the form of a pietà based very loosely on the great pietas of Renaissance master sculptor/painter Michelangelo, who was one of my earliest and most powerful artistic influences.

OldManoftheMountainsWPOld Man of the Mountains • oils on canvas, 59″ x 56″ • (unsigned) collection of the artist

“And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God, out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” from The Revelation of Saint John the Divine, 21: 2

Bringing it all back home. The images of a New Jerusalem made perfect, engendered from my very earliest memories of religious training, were the basis ultimately for this life-long search for Montsalvat – The Citadel of Peace – home of the Holy Grail – that sanctuary that lies at the heart of most mythologies. The search goes on…

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