THE BELLY OF THE BEING by jean pronovost
Majestic mountains are a spiritual symbol of strength and perseverance that inspire us to climb higher and higher to reach the sky. But just as we seek to elevate ourselves, we also sink ourselves deep into the ground for less noble reasons, like greed. In its abundance of poetic symbolism, this painting reveals to us the clash occurring in our world between the spiritual and the material, and then asks us to pick a side.
This landscape imaginatively brings together and demonstrates the deep connection of the terranean and subterranean, as well as the world of the living and the world of spirit. The natural mountain with its peak in the clouds inspires the artificial mountains of the rollercoaster and the skyscraper; however, these manmade elements will not stand the test of time or survive our neglect. The rollercoaster is rusted and falling apart; something once fun that allowed us to soar is now toxic and dangerous. It is covered in vines and other foliage; however, this is a sign that nature is reclaiming and overcoming it. The earth is stronger than us and will go on.
The vegetation across the center of the painting moves from that found on Coney Island to that experienced in a Mexican dessert. There are three cactuses, representing a pyramid of protection, and they stand on sacred Huichol ground. One has an eagle on top, the symbol for the spiritual state of mind. Over to the right are a pack of hyenas, they carry a dark spirit and are surrounded by poisonous pollution coming up from the subway pipe. They have come from the city to challenge the eagle. The hyenas here represent the power of greed and materialism, and all that corrupts our spiritual side.
The underworld pulls us deeper into symbolism. On the left, there is a mineshaft. Through activities like gold and silver mining, we strip the earth of its minerals and resources as quickly and cheaply as possible, and a great cost to human life and the environment. Just as we can rise up to new heights, we can also sink to new lows. Moving over to the center, the heart of a Mayan god is the root of the cactus where the eagle sits. These three together reveal the powerful connection of the underworld to the spirit and the land. The crocodile skeleton has a vibrant aura, a kind of eerie spiritual energy, and he appears to be heading upward. On the right, we see the subway tunnel, which is also a type of mineshaft: it too is a hole in the ground, but here the profit comes from fees charged to riders and getting to work faster to make more money. Regardless of whether you are underground or above it, the truth to be grasped here is that everything is living and connected; you just have to wake up to see it all around you. There are lights in the tunnel, a subway car approaches: are you getting on this ride or not?