"Man in the Middle" 2014 Acrylic on Board 30"x72"

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"Man in the Middle" 2014 by Vajra, Acrylic on Wood 30"x72" is finally complete! This living totem pole consists of a man with an eagle perched on his shoulders riding a baby blue whale. The man represents humanities unique position of either keeper or destroyer of balance. Behind them is an hourglass bearing a Haida pattern for "sand". This represents the themes of evolution, extinction and the inevitable unfolding of the fate we create for the planet, depicted glowing atop the painting in a stylized Pacific-Northwestern Lotus. Prevalent throughout the painting is anatomically based skeletal imagery to highlight the fragility of life and the similarities we share beneath the surface.

I began this painting two years ago when I had the vision that sparked it: a yellow eagle on a red man riding a blue whale. However, after transferring the initial drawing and blocking in the painting, I realized the initial design was too cartoonish to do the vision justice. Two years later after learning much about the creation of a good painting, I redrew the image you see here and have finally completed the painting.

The image is part of my "Sands of Time" series in which I am collaborating with culture's from across space and time (in this case the various tribes of the Pacific Northwest) by vigorously studying their art, symbols and mysticism such that when I draw the final images, their lines shapes and concepts merge seamlessly with my own unique style. In fact, this vision inspired the series itself which includes

"Tzab Ek" - a mayan themed piece
https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=415357178567320&set=a.222819997821040.32297.198933913542982&type=1&theater

as well as "Vine of Spirits" - Inspired by the art of the Shipibo people of the Amazon
https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=403837396385965&set=a.222819997821040.32297.198933913542982&type=1&theater

I still have to build a frame for the image in the shape of an hourglass to emphasize the concept of the flow of time, but that won't be for a couple months. Upon it's completion, I plan to focus on Allied Vision (
https://www.facebook.com/alliedvision ) - a non-profit I am working to found that raises money and awareness for causes and organizations working to save our planet through a series of celebrity auctions of original visionary art. If all goes according to plan, our first event will generate funds for Sea Shepherd Conservation Society - a group which has been defending whales and other sea life for decades through a brazen campaign of direct action. Were it not for them, the world would have already lost tens if not hundreds of thousands of the last remaining whales. ( https://www.facebook.com/SeaShepherdUSA?fref=ts )

For the whole story behind "Man in the Middle" and Allied Vision please read my article in Culture Collective at
http://www.culturecollective.org/allied-vision/
"Man in the Middle" 2014 by Vajra, Acrylic on Wood 30"x72" is finally complete! This living totem pole consists of a man with an eagle perched on his shoulders riding a baby blue whale. The man represents humanities unique position of either keeper or destroyer of balance. Behind them is an hourglass bearing a Haida pattern for "sand". This represents the themes of evolution, extinction and the inevitable unfolding of the fate we create for the planet, depicted glowing atop the painting in a stylized Pacific-Northwestern Lotus. Prevalent throughout the painting is anatomically based skeletal imagery to highlight the fragility of life and the similarities we share beneath the surface.

I began this painting two years ago when I had the vision that sparked it: a yellow eagle on a red man riding a blue whale. However, after transferring the initial drawing and blocking in the painting, I realized the initial design was too cartoonish to do the vision justice. Two years later after learning much about the creation of a good painting, I redrew the image you see here and have finally completed the painting.

The image is part of my "Sands of Time" series in which I am collaborating with culture's from across space and time (in this case the various tribes of the Pacific Northwest) by vigorously studying their art, symbols and mysticism such that when I draw the final images, their lines shapes and concepts merge seamlessly with my own unique style. In fact, this vision inspired the series itself which includes

"Tzab Ek" - a mayan themed piece
https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=415357178567320&set=a.222819997821040.32297.198933913542982&type=1&theater

as well as "Vine of Spirits" - Inspired by the art of the Shipibo people of the Amazon
https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=403837396385965&set=a.222819997821040.32297.198933913542982&type=1&theater

I still have to build a frame for the image in the shape of an hourglass to emphasize the concept of the flow of time, but that won't be for a couple months. Upon it's completion, I plan to focus on Allied Vision (
https://www.facebook.com/alliedvision ) - a non-profit I am working to found that raises money and awareness for causes and organizations working to save our planet through a series of celebrity auctions of original visionary art. If all goes according to plan, our first event will generate funds for Sea Shepherd Conservation Society - a group which has been defending whales and other sea life for decades through a brazen campaign of direct action. Were it not for them, the world would have already lost tens if not hundreds of thousands of the last remaining whales. ( https://www.facebook.com/SeaShepherdUSA?fref=ts )

For the whole story behind "Man in the Middle" and Allied Vision please read my article in Culture Collective at
http://www.culturecollective.org/allied-vision/

Stages of Progress

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After more studio work, using thicker and thicker layers of paint, and many more washes, It starts to come together. After colors are put in place and developed sufficiently, I begin using clear washes of shadow, opaque bounce lighting, and opaque highlights mostly in naples yellow. The shadows and the highlight layers are really where the image comes to life and detail begins to crystalize.

Many steps were taken before the final image was complete, but this is the bulk of the work behind the central figure. One major difference between the version above and the final painting is the breech cloth. The initial painting featured a traditional cedar bark skirt of the pacific northwest. However, it was a little ambiguous and so I opted for a traditional painted hide breech-cloth depicting three tiers, blue red and yellow stars containing eyes. four bands separate the stars, featuring one eye each. in all, 64 eyes adorn the breechcloth representing the 64 tetrahedral space-time grid.

Once the painting of the totem pole was complete, I painted the background black again. Atop this, I overlaid a series of lines which I calculated and placed mathematically using the Haida pattern for sand to represent the ever-flowing hourglass of time, collapsing in the now behind the human's heart.

Atop the painting is a glowing earth, wreathed in tiers of pacific northwestern-style petals in three tiers of blue, red and yellow.
This is how the painting looked after Gem and Jam 2014. I used anthraquinone blue for the whale, an earthy, transparent blue, more perylene red for the man, and diarylide yellow and indian yellow for the eagle. burnt umber for the darks, and naples yellow hue for the bone layers. After establishing main colors, I washed the whole thing down with transparent red iron oxide, and indian yellow.
With the drawing sealed, I began washing the entire painting with perylene red, a completely transparent bright candy red. I used a transparent red to let the glow of the board shine through and to keep the drawing clear underneath the pigment layer.

I then began "sculpting" the 3d image, the value map, using titanium white where I wanted hard highlights, and many layers of zinc white, a subtly transparent white for the gradients and fades. I worked with two brushes, one to lay the paint down, another slightly damp, or sometimes dry-brush the paint into shape and to smooth edges and fades. Once a layer is down, lock it in place with a blow drier and apply the next layer. Once I had my underpainting done, I began the next layer of adding color
Before the image you see here, I began the project with a sketch that I eventually deemed too cartoonish. I transferred the image to the board, and blocked everything in, but painted the image black and put the project aside. I wanted to do what I saw justice, it needed work, refining, as did my skill as a painter.

Several Months later, after painting "Vine of Spirits" and "Tzab Ek" which taught me what I needed to paint "Man in the Middle" as I saw it, and do it justice with the technical finesse I previously lacked. I refined the drawing, basing the sketch more on anatomy.

I studied many images of blue whales, and visited a local museum where the skeleton of a blue whale is on display. I wanted to study a whale skull as it looked in perspective and spent the afternoon sketching. I invested in a plastic model of a golden eagle skull so I could overlay the eagle skull anatomy as a mask on the thunderbird. The body of the Shaman is based of photographs of a model and copious studies of human anatomy such that the lines of the body outline musculature as it would appear.

Throughout the months, I studied much art of the pacific Northwest, masks, painted hides, architecture, carvings and of course totem poles - art of the Haida, Tlingit, and Tsimshian to name a few. I drew their art, both past and present as accurately as possible such that when I sat down to sketch, they came to me naturally, making the drawing process a sort of trans-cultural collaboration.

Once the drawing was complete, I transferred it to a sealed, gessoed plywood panel. filling in lines with graphite. I then sealed the drawing with an acrylic spray fixative, and finished with a coat of acrylic matte medium.