Notes on a Superhero

Superhero at

Notes on a Superhero – Order and Chaos

Superhero – 2019

There have been questions presented to me about my painting “Superhero. “What does it mean?” is one; “Why do you call it “Superhero?” is another. Here are some of my thoughts about the painting.

There have been questions presented to me about my painting “Superhero. “What does it mean?” is one; “Why do you call it “Superhero?” is another. Here are some of my thoughts about the painting.

The painting began as (what I call) “spontaneous painting.” I painted it in one night in 2018. I began with a small canvas (9×12 inches) and started by simply working with color and shape, without any specific image in mind. I was basically playing with the planes of the image. I added colors in loose shapes and was mainly concerned with the interaction of the colors, the “push-pull” of the colors as they related to one another.

I added layer upon layer, looking for unusual interactions. I was unconcerned if the image was “pretty” or not; this was an experiment, rather like a Rorschach inkblot.

Rorschach ink blot -Notes on Superhero
Rorschach ink blot

“Rorschach!” The word triggered my memory of a “superhero” – the character Rorschach in the “Watchmen” graphic novel and movie. Rorschach, like the other superheroes of the story, is an agent of both order and chaos. He is powerful and unyielding. He is dedicated to the destruction of evil, and yet in the process becomes an agent of violent destruction. He is judge, jury and executioner all in one.

Watchmen Scene – “Dogs get put down.”

So the Superhero rose out of the chaos of the painting. His left hand was pointing to the heavens.

This “pointing left hand and index finger” was immediately recognizable to me as a classic symbolism. The traditional meaning was of “pointing to Heaven” but that is only when the right hand is raised. This has been decsribed as “the John gesture,” and is particularly seen in some of Leonardo Da Vinci’s major (and mysterious) works. However, when the left hand is raised with a pointing index finger, the meaning changes.

Here is some information on that John Gesture. It has both sacred, and esoteric, meanings:

“Other painters seem to have noticed this was one of da Vinci’s trademarks. Raphael depicted Leonardo as Plato in his The School of Athens, where Leonardo/Plato is depicted with the “John gesture”. That this “John gesture” is also present in many of the paintings in the Turin Cathedral, could be a mere coincidence, but we note that the “John gesture” is extremely rare to be found in iconography.”

“What da Vinci would have been after, if it was a signed, was an immediate sign of recognition for him or her with the “right knowledge”; those with eyes that see. The meaning therefore needs to be concise, and be set in a universal frame of reference. So let us focus on a more direct route in trying to understand the “John gesture”. Leonardo’s education and career in Florence coincided with the Renaissance, which was a “rebirth” of the Platonic ideas, a re-acquaintance with the Hermetic literature. The Hermeticum contains large sections on magic, which makes use of the traditional four elements (Fire, Water, Air, Earth), as well stressing that gestures and finger positions are key ingredients in the various rituals. The “magical finger rituals” are now best known through the so-called “Masonic handshakes”, but these are a quite recent example of an entire spectre of “finger magic”, most of which is now lost.”

“Hermetic finger magic” is clearly defined – thus meeting our “universal frame of reference” criterion set out above; each finger is assigned a specific element: the index finger with fire; the thumb with water; the middle finger with the Ether (the fifth and original element); the ring finger with earth and the little finger with air. Furthermore, the right hand is associated with the positive side (order), and the left hand with the negative side (chaos).

The Superhero then in my painting is not the clean, wholesome superhero like the Superman of the 1940s and 1950s. He is the Dark Knight, the vigilante, the obsessive compulsive do-gooder who takes on the role of the Angel of Judgement. He (or she) wields the powers of Chaos and Order singlehandedly, with no sense of accountability other than to his/her own conscience and sense of Justice.

Superheroes are by nature psychologically unstable. Here again, I refer to the Watchman graphic novel and movie, in which the heroes find themselves in morally ambigous situations, where they have the power to impose their sense of order on the mundane (and banal) world. They are confused, and perhaps even remorseful about their actions, but when given the opportunity, they put on the costumes, jump into their SuperShip, and fly off to save the lost, and to judge and punish the evildoers – which all sounds quite a bit like the old myths and stories, particularly the apocalyptic ones.

This is the Superhero: a manifestation of a mythical character, a creature of our subconscious, that arises out of the most basic and deepest caverns of our psyche. “Who is Right, and Who is Wrong, and what can I do to bring Order out of Chaos? Who lives and who dies?”

I love superheroes, in comics and movies, but the impulse that drives them is not necessarily of a noble and altruistic character. There is a line from the Watchmen, in which Rorschach is described as “a sociopath, practically a Nazi.” He is the last of the active heroes of the Watchmen group. He still follows his inner calling. While the others have retired from active duty, Rorschach prowls the city each night. His human identity is subjugated to his mythic identity: He IS Rorschach, and none other.

The painting then is about that power, a vague and enigmatic power, that surfaces in our psyches and often enough in the Real-time World.

The Will to Power

I painted the frame to pull the image into the world of “object.” It is not “framing a picture” because that’s what we do with paintings; the frame integrates with the painted image. turning the whole thing into something like a fetish or a household god.

And after all, for most of humanity, what is God but a cosmic superhero, who has the power to impose His/Her sense of order and justice upon the masses of humanity?

Final note: my process of spontaneous painting is much closer to automatic writing or drawing than to any method of formal studio painting. For me, it is like walking along a road and whistling a merry tune that I make up in my head as I go along. That tune might be happy or somber, but, after all, it is my tune and my tune alone.

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