DRUNEMETON AND THE RAVENS by jean pronovost
This painting reflects an epic pilgrimage to England by the artist, an unexpected journey that reads like a tale woven by the Fates. He felt drawn to the coastal region of Cornwall, to wander and experience the ancient and mystical places where Celts once roamed. For years he had envisioned such an adventure, and it happened as if by will and destiny. He arrived in London not knowing exactly how he would get to his intended destination – no car and no public transportation that ventured there in November. Yet – with absolutely uncanny happenstance and the kindness of strangers – he had the good fortune to see all of the magical sites he desired to visit. As if by design of nature, and contrary to the typical rain and damp cold in the area at that time of the year, the weather was sunny and clear.
The Wistman Woods, the forest that profoundly inspired this airbrush work, is a place the artist felt overwhelmingly compelled to explore – as if pulled by nature herself to witness one of her most hallowed and enigmatic sites. Drunemeton – ‘sacred oak grove’ – captures the majestic, telluric power of this place and the significance it had for the Celts. In Celtic mythology oaks were considered sacred, which is why they feature prominently in their symbolism and medicinal practices. As a preserved site cut off from modernity and industrialization, this wooded wonderland is a realm concealed from the contemporary world. Here we enter into a dialogue with the distant past, into a conversation with a lush forest filled with bent, entangled branches festooned with vines, moss, and lichens. Everything is intermingled and interconnected into a unified matrix – into a complete system, as the Celts conceived it. These trees are entrenched in a bed of large rocks reminiscent of the Tors erected by the Celts, sacred mounds composed of boulders cut and dragged into place for many centuries before the Roman invasion. Bearing very much an imprint of the earthly, this locale is deeply suffused by the other-worldly. Its sublime magical vibes can be felt through every speck of green; they rise up from the ground and send an enchanting surge through body and mind. The air is everywhere tinged by a thin whisper of fog, as if constantly haunted by spirits, and the scents that fill the lungs conjure up an effervescent blend of green moss, earthy fungus, embers of a long-spent fire – of alchemy and wisdom.
This enchanted wood reveals a shadowy cavern opening that appears to lead into an underworld. This feature of a magical gateway can also be found in some of the artist’s other works – witness La Llegada de los Antepasados – and suggests in a similar vein the truth of what is unseen. The world below, which we never seem to notice and at times decline to see, is as rich, vibrant, and magnificent as the world above. But we should not conceive of these as two distinct worlds; for the Celts these were a single living entity. Here we see roots transforming into trees, the cloud-filled sky morphing into a watery surface, and both trees and rocks transfiguring into the liquid sky above. By entering this cave, we encounter the old myths in which the profoundest meaning of life and nature, and the truths of ancient civilizations are revealed. The insights they reveal deliver an emancipation from our modern myopic, and therefore shallow perspective.
Congregating at the door to the underworld are two jet-black ravens. These birds have a rich symbolic history that spans several ancient and contemporary cultures, and typically represent transformation – spiritual, emotional, or physical. It is a bird known to be a clever, insightful, and watchful creature. It is no surprise that ravens – sometimes mischievous, even downright tricksters at times – have been associated with witchcraft and dark omens. For Native Americans, ravens are a positive symbol – as highly intelligent cleansers of both land and mind. In Shamanic traditions the raven was the spirit animal of choice because it was seen as possessing magical powers of shapeshifting, and of manipulating the laws of the physical universe in general. The Celts also saw these beautiful birds as creatures of magic and prophetic wisdom and endowed with great transformative powers. Due to their deep connection to Lugus, the deity of creation and sun, it was a felony to kill a raven under Druidic law. For the Vikings, Odin was guided and advised by two black birds, named Huginn [thought] and Muninn [memory]. In Norse mythology, ravens were not just a figure of wisdom, but also a trusted messenger who flew all over the world and gathered information to bring back to Odin. Like in the depictions of the birds mounted on Odin’s shoulders, here the two ravens also face us with one eye clearly open.
One raven has already spotted this enigmatic gateway, settles near the opening, and appears to beckon its friend to have a look as well. The other raven seems to descend in acceptance of its kin’s invitation to investigate this odd marvel in the rocks. When we focus on the raven swooping down, we notice that it emerges from a watery atmosphere into a clear sky. This signals a kind of transformation – from matter to spirit. The trees too seem to turn into an ethereal mist when they begin to graze this liquid ceiling. There is also the diffusion of water into an evanescent vapor. Even the rocks appear to blend into the blue. A kind of alchemy is at work before our very eyes. When we trace the ripples of this aqueous surface, we begin to notice the emergence of a strange perspective. The sky around the center of the painting seems to be shifting towards the right; the trees and rocks appear to be directed contrarywise. A face created from branches looks to be staring at us. How curious! Trees growing near the left wall of the opening appear to metamorphose into roots, and there is an orange shadow that looks irreal. It is a shadow that is no shadow because there is no sun to cause it. Curiouser and curiouser!
DRUNEMETON AND THE RAVENS - THE PROCESS
- This work of art looks like our world, and yet feels like another. It is a vision that functions as a key for unlocking an underworld – a key to the world of the ancestral Celts. This is a place which offers a perspective that is different from what it seems to be; it discloses to us that the world we live in – the one we believe ourselves to occupy in our everyday concerns – is not the totality of what is real. Our eyes are so habituated, so mesmerized, that we can’t see the magic surrounding us. The trees in this work bend to form a novel perspective of the world as a whole, a perspective that we humans need to twist our minds into in order to understand that world. We should not demand of nature that it bend itself to our needs, but rather reprogram our minds to see it as it truly is. This sacred oak grove offers a new door of perception. It calls on us to understand that nature far exceeds what is given to ordinary vision. Our eyes must surrender to this wondrous wooded place and the ancient ways of the Celts. The two ravens can see the real existence of world – in all its dimensions, configurations, and comprehensive truth. Through their guidance they can help us to see the things themselves!