The Travels of Icarus

This monologue was pulled from the vault and is now getting a new lease on life.

What began as a single self-contained painting soon became an epic voyage of self discovery as each successive image flowed out of the preceding one and became a sort of metaphorical narrative firmly grounded in Jung’s idea of psychological archetypes.

The Archetypes are a kind of symbolic blueprint imbedded in the Collective Unconscious and are the subconscious basis for (and connecting link with) all of the various mythological stories (and in fact all of the best stories) from around the World, which is why all of the titles refer to Roman and Greek mythology.

Another basic idea is what Goethe in Faust called the “Eternal Feminine”. In the story, Faust, the archetypal academic scholar, having absorbed “all worldly knowledge”, is still dissatisfied and makes a deal with Mephistopheles wherein the Devil gives him anything he desires, Faust betting that he will never gain that satisfaction. In effect, if he becomes content with Mephistopheles’s “gifts” his soul is forfeit.

Faust embodies what I’ll call the “eternal masculine striving principle”, and in the end his soul is redeemed by, of course, the “Eternal Feminine”, embodied by the character of Gretchen.

At any rate, these paintings are a man’s attempt to express the various aspects of the Eternal Feminine archetype and an exploration of those “female” aspects of my “male” psyche which Jung termed the Anima, and the quest for wholeness surrounding that yin-yang duality.

As a “quest for wholeness”, the series is also indicative of a kind of quest for God. The pertinent archetypes are really the same. In fact, the nature of these images is such that there is no one definitive interpretation. One could make up their own stories and they would probably be right. Because of their subconscious origin, I’m constantly thinking “Oh yeah, that’s what this one is about also!”

The Adoration of Diana by Herb Leonhard

THE ADORATION OF DIANA was intended as a sort of general, semi-erotic “worship” of the “Feminine Mystique”, that unique and primal power that women have over men. Intuitive and atmospheric, Diana, the Goddess of the Moon is in harmony with the rhythms of the Moon and the Sea. As a kind of Pagan offering, the water in my hands can only reflect the moonlight.

The Paradox of Apollo by Herb Leonhard

THE PARADOX OF APOLLO is the masculine flipside of this. However, it’s an acknowledgment of the limitations of the male psyche. Apollo, the brother of Diana, is the Great Macho Ideal, that need that men have to impose a sort of quantified logical order on everything. Obviously, this can only take one so far, and under the barren light of reason the feather of Icarus falls into the Sea of Death far below.

The character of Icarus is a recurring theme in my work , highly symbolic of the aforementioned Eternal Striving Principle. The idea of the wings lightly held together with wax until he flies too close to the Sun is something of an obsessive concept for me.
At any rate, while all of this is happening, there is a tree of latent and organic creative energy waiting to be “planted”. The roots are balled in the stranglehold of self-imposed male emotional repression but the Anima is there just out of reach.

The Gift of Venus by Herb Leonhard

THE GIFT OF VENUS. The Goddess appears, offering the revivifying gift of the Water of Life and Love to the fallen Icarus, as well as the stormclouds of emotion to the previously bland sky.

The Smile of Proserpine by Herb Leonhard

THE SMILE OF PROSERPINE. Proserpine is a goddess who is associated with the coming of Spring and the return of the Sun and growing things after the long Winter. The warm Summer breeze picks up the feathers of Icarus and sets them flying once again, this time under the guidance of the wind. This touches upon an aspect of feminine psychology that a lot of men have a real hard time grasping: that “stopping to smell the roses” sort of idea. The appreciation of the here and now while sitting in a field of wildflowers.

The Mightiest Labor of Hercules by Herb Leonhard

THE MIGHTIEST LABOR OF HERCULES is basically the achievement of the aforementioned ideal. Having come with difficulty through the Roses of Venus, which are now pure white, the big burly macho man must reach the Lily without clumsily crushing it.

The Promise of Gaia by Herb Leonhard

THE PROMISE OF GAIA. Having achieved an appreciation of the Eternal Feminine, the real reunification must come through a voluntary sacrifice of the old self to the source, to the Earth, to the death out of which comes rebirth and resurrection. What started out as Pagan has now acquired additional Christian and Buddhist elements as well. There are many paths up the same mountain.

The Dawn of Athena by Herb Leonhard

THE DAWN OF ATHENA. The Easter Lily is blooming and the Icarus feather has been “purified”. Also, the hands of the Anima have now assumed a kind of birdlike shape, intimating that the “mechanical” Icarus wings have become the “organic” Phoenix.

The initial impetus for this project was a series of paintings called The Hound of Heaven, by R. H. Ives Gammel, based in turn on the poem of the same name by Francis Thompson. It is interesting, in retrospect, to note that at roughly the same time (May – September, 1995) as I was immersed in the project, a number of other artists, primarily musical ones, were working on projects along similar mental lines, most notably Peter Gabriel’s album Us & subsequent CD-ROM EVE, Tori AmosBoys for Pele and Rush’s Counterparts. A good argument if ever there was one for the Collective Unconscious manifesting itself in the mid-nineties.

Each of the paintings is acrylic on plywood, 16″x32″.

This series of paintings and subsequent essay date back about 20 years. It’s interesting to note that in the past several years I have gained a renewed interest in the subject of deities and their attributes as well as what could be termed a general “spiritual awakening”. Looking back on this whole project I’m somewhat comforted to discover that I can find very little to argue about with that younger self…at least in terms of this particular line of thought. There are plenty of other things that I would like to slap that guy about…but that’s another essay…