SERIES: Mother Lode Cowboys


[Cowboy Life in Tuolumne, Calaveras & Amador Counties. California’s Mother Lode. Historic & Current.]

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“Why Mother Lode Cowboys”, “Are Our Cowboys Westerns?”  &  “On Detailing Detail”.  (scroll to bottom)

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  • SELECT PREPARATORY STUDIES & SKETCHES RELATED TO OIL PAINTINGS: Graphite & Oil. Drawings sold matted. (limited discounts available)
  • ORIGINAL DRAWINGS (not related to Oil Paintings)
  • DISCOUNTS ON ORIGINAL OILS: Collectors, Broker & Galleries
  • Broker & Gallery Discount:  25% off List Price. (see charts below)
  • Added Broker & Gallery Discount: 15% off Prior Discount Price if purchased before completion, for a total Discount of 40%.  (see charts below)
  • Studio Sale (Collector) Discount: 20% off List Price. (see charts below)
  • Sales Tax: not included in the List Price. Will be added where applicable.
  • Shipping & Insurance for Oil Paintings (Original & Studies): Exact cost only, if not covered by buyer’s shipping agent.
  • Framing for Oil Paintings & Sketches, and Original Drawings: Not included in the List Price. If requested, exact cost only.
  • Matting for Graphite Studies & Sketches: Included in the List Price.
  • NOTE ON SHIPPING & INSURANCE: Oil Paintings & Sketches, shipped by UPS 2/day or FED EX 2-day. Exact shipping & insurance cost only. Drawings Insurance cost based on the List Price.
  • NOTE ON FRAMING: Framing available upon request. Exact cost of framing only.  (Note: framing will increase cost of Shipping & Insurance.)
  • ORIGINAL OILS:  Painted on linen/canvas.  Dimension varies.  Painted in the Artist’s signature style.  Limited palette used to bring out the fullness of Artist’s approach to theme and composition.  The Artist’s unique technique makes these Original Oils stand out and apart.  Original Oils are available framed, see Charts below.
  • SELECTED PREPARATORY STUDIES:  Graphite & Oil Studies.  Drawn on acid-free drawing paper: 100lb. (260 gsm.) wt; or, acid-free watercolor cold-pressed paper: 140 lb. (300 gsm.) wt. Medium texture, regular or off-white. Limited use of charcoal and colored pencil.  No pastels.  Graphite Studies are sold matted.  Oil Studies painted on canvas; sold framed or unframed.  Oil Studies done to work out composition and color themes. Selection made from multiple studies. (See charts below.)  Selected to highlight the approach, the attack, the cobbling together of the Original Oil.
  • SELECTED PERIPHERAL COMPLETED DRAWINGS (GRAPHITE): Drawn on acid-free drawing paper: 100lb. (260 gsm.) wt; or, acid-free watercolor cold-pressed paper: 140 lb. (300 gsm.) wt. Medium texture, regular or off-white. Limited use of charcoal and colored pencil.  No pastels. Peripheral Drawings are sold matted. Framing available.

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Prices and Conditions subject to change without notice.

Works purchased before completion are not subject to price changes and adjustments. 

CONTACT: 206-3758 (voice/text)

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The sequence of any list does not indicate order of production.

Entries under “Sources” to be posted when the work is placed on the easel.

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Original Oil Paintings and Preparatory Studies of cowboy, rodeo and ranch life in California’s Mother Lode (Gold Rush) Country.  Both historic and contemporary.

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Cowboy, Clown & Bull

“Cowboy, Clown & Bull (Version #1)” (Detail)

Cowboy, Clown & Bull
“Cowboy, Clown & Bull (Version #1)” (Detail)
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Cowboys in the Mother Lode?
Thought that place was all about the Gold Rush!

Ranch life has been in the Mother Lode from the beginning. Ranching families have staked out their own hoofed gold since the 1850’s.  Cattle driven in droves then and now.

We paint and draw the life of it: especially its annual highlight, the Mother Lode Roundup (Sonora). 

Our inaugural piece in this series is an epic (!) painting of that Roundup titled “Cowboy, Clown & Bull #3” (see second chart below). The painting’s subject is taken from an extraordinary image by local photographer, Rich Miller, Sonora, CA.

[The  image above, and the one listed as “Cowboy, Clown & Bull #2” are Oil Studies for the “epic”.]

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  • Big bad bull jettisoning cowboy over its head.  Clown not much of use.  Cowboy catches a huff and a snort before he hits the dirt.  The bull’s body overwhelms the image, but there’s something about the cowboy’s body which commands. When I first saw Rick Miler’s image I was struck.  A picture-perfect merging of subject, color, and composition.
  • It was while working out Rich Miller’s stunning photo image for “Cowboy, Clown & Bull” that I settled on my painterly ways. Doing the two oil studies has confirmed it. Now primed and pumped for tackling version #3.
  • Some say those ways and methods are “muddy” (thick mud, really), but the selected palette (and brush-stroking) fits Cowboys.  One could tag the fit “earthy”, but why trivialize. The cowboy’s life is about bodily flesh: its sheer presence and fullness. The painterly means to enflesh that life upon the canvas must be attuned, must be a willing student of that life. That takes careful listening and looking.
  • The palette was elected out of delight – sheer cascades of it.  The oils, when fingered, registered.  As the oils intercourse they breed such a lively brood of hues and tones that, in spite its limited palette, its last sibling has yet to be born.  Doubt if my working life will be around long enough to be introduced.
  • [continued below]
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(0301) “COWBOY, CLOWN & BULL (Mother Lode Roundup, Sonora) #2 (Oil Study)”
  • Oil Study for “epic” outsized Original Oil (see second  chart below). To be exhibited during the Mother Lode Roundup, along with its preparatory studies and related completed drawings (see chart).
  • Composition after an image by Rick Miller. This Oil Study is an interpretation of the image’s central passages.
TITLE: “COWBOY, CLOWN & BULL (Mother Lode Rodeo, Sonora) #2 (Oil Study)” (oil on canvas) 48 x 60 (orientation, landscape)
Control Number ITEM LIST PRICE Studio Sale Discount (20%)   Broker Discount (Oil: 25% Study: 30%)  Broker Pre-Completion Discount (Oil: 15%, total 40%) NOTE
0301 ORIGINAL OIL STUDY 6,800 5,440 5,100 4080  
0301a Study: Head of Bull #1 225 185 168.75 n/a  
0301b Study: Head of Bull #2 225 185 168.75 n/a  
0301.c Study: Cowboy, Left Leg #1 225 185 168.75 n/a  
0301.d Study: Cowboy, Left Leg #2 225 185 168.75 n/a  
0301.e Study: Cowboy, Right Arm #1 225 185 168.75 n/a  
0301.f Study: Cowboy, Right Arm #2 225 185 168.75 n/a  
0301.g Study: Cowboy, Hat & Head #1 225 185 168.75 n/a  
0301.h Study: Cowboy, Hat & Head #2 225 185 168.75 n/a  
0301.i Study: Cowboy, Shoulder, Shirt #1 225 185 168.75 n/a  
0301.j Study: Cowboy, Shoulder, Shirt #2 225 185 168.75 n/a  
PERIPHERAL DRAWINGS: see note on size and paper           
0301.k Wrestling the Steer: #1: graphite on paper 2,550 2,040 912.50 n/a  
0301.l Wrestling the Steer #2: graphite on paper 2,550 2,040 912.50 n/a  
0301.m Bull Bucking #1: graphite on paper 2,550 2,040 912.50 n/a Bull Bucking #2: graphite on paper 2,550 2,040 912.50 n/a  
0301.o Working the Cow: graphite on paper 2,550 2,040 912.50 n/a  
0301.p Horse Bucking: graphite on paper 2,550 2,040 912.50 n/a  

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(0302) “COWBOY, CLOWN & BULL (Mother Lode Roundup, Sonora) #3”

The “epic” version the oil studies above were waiting for!

TITLE: “COWBOY, CLOWN & BULL (Mother Lode Rodeo, Sonora) #3” (oil on canvas) 96 x 120 (orientation: landscape)
Control Number ITEM LIST PRICE Studio Sale Discount (20%)   Broker Discount (Oil: 25% Study: 30%)  Broker PreCompletion Discount (15%: total 40%) NOTE
0302 Original Oil96 x 120 12,600 10.080 9,450 7,560
0302.a Study: Head of Bull #1 225 185 168.75 n/a
0302.b Study: Head of Bull #2 225 185 168.75 n/a
0302.c Study: Cowboy, Left Leg #1 225 185 168.75 n/a
0302.d Study: Cowboy, Left Leg #2 225 185 168.75 n/a
0302.e Study: Cowboy, Right Arm #1 225 185 168.75 n/a
0302.f Study: Cowboy, Right Arm #2 225 185 168.75 n/a
0302.g Study: Cowboy, Hat & Head #1 225 185 168.75 n/a
0302.h Study: Cowboy, Hat & Head #2 225 185 168.75 n/a
0302.i Study: Cowboy, Shoulder, Shirt #1 225 185 168.75 n/a
0302.j Study: Cowboy, Shoulder, Shirt #2 225 185 168.75 n/a
PERIPHERAL DRAWINGS see note on size and paper
0302.k ( to be selected ) n/a
0302.l ( to be selected ) n/a
0302.m ( to be selected ) n/a
0302.n ( to be selected ) n/a
0302.o ( to be selected ) n/a
0302.p ( to be selected ) n/a
0302.q ( to be selected ) n/a
0302.r ( to be selected ) n/a
0302.s ( to be selected ) n/a
0302.t ( to be selected ) n/a

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(0303) “COWBOY HANDS #1″
TITLE: “COWBOY HANDS #1” (oil on canvas) 20 x 30 (orientation, landscape)
Control Number ITEM LIST PRICE Studio Sale Discount (20%)   Broker Discount (Oil: 25% Study: 30%)  Broker Pre-Completion Discount (Oil: 15%, total 40%) NOTE
0303 ORIGINAL OIL 1,400 1,120 1,050 840
0303.a Study: Hand, Left 125 100 97.50 n/a
0303.b Study: Hand, Right 125 100 97.50 n/a
0303.c Study: Saddle 125 100 97.50 n/a
0303.d Study: Full Composition #1 175 100 122.50 n/a
0303.e Study: Full Composition #2 175 140 122.50 n/a

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(0304) “SHEEPHERDER #1″
TITLE: “SHEEPHERDER #1” (oil on canvas) 18 x 36 (orientation, portrait)
Control Number ITEM LIST PRICE Studio Sale Discount (20%)   Broker Discount (Oil: 25% Study: 30%)  Broker Pre-Completion Discount (Oil: 15%, total 40%) NOTE
0304 ORIGINAL OIL 1,400 1,120 1,050 840
0304.a Study: Cloud & Range 125 100 97.50 n/a
0304.b Study: Herder 125 100 97.50 n/a
0304.c Study: Flock 125 100 97.50 n/a
0301.d Study: Full Composition #1 175 100 122.50 n/a
0301.e Study: Full Composition #2 175 140 122.50 n/a

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[Others work in this series to be Announced & Listed]

Cowboy Life in Tuolumne, Calaveras & Amador Counties. California’s Mother Lode. Historic & Current.

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[Cont’d: from above]


“Do you have a philosophy about painting picture?” An odd question, but at least they didn’t say “theory”. If they had I wouldn’t have answered it! (Those in the know about “theory’s” suffocating stranglehold on the Arts know.) Would never admit to a “theory”, because I don’t have one.

But I do, when painting, operate within a philosophy (of sorts). A word or two, now and then, may be of interest. If that interested, browse the remarks above and below on painting Cowboy Life. They can stand-in for an exposition. You’ll pick up a philosophical clue or two!

On the other Series Pages (Chiefs & Warriors, Historic California, The Provocatives) variations on the theme. Especially the later. Won’t say what’s there’s a shocker, but the remarks are revealing

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  • Why the “Mother Lode”?  Because the Artist lives there. May be that simple.
  • Why “Cowboys”?  Because mankind is the Crown of all Creation – even over Coast Redwoods and Delta Trash Fish – and the Cowboy can stand-in for Everyman as well as anyone.
  • Why Cowboys Crowned as Lords over Creation?  What’s that to an artist?   Because the artist’s calling is the same: Mankind’s duty of sovereignty over land & beast alike. Man was assigned sovereignty over Creation for being first creature among all creatures.  (God created Man to name the beasts, and they to serve himeven Delta Smelt trash fish!)
  • How does the Cowboy Exercise his Sovereignty? Man exercises that duty through his body. All praiseworthy work – even that of the artist – is an expression of our bodily lives. We meet our duty (as we do God) by means of bodily flesh. Even the attempt to abstract & perform artistic work outside (and in denial) of Man’s bodily life must rebel from (and with) the body. And the Cowboy – born for kingly land-grubbing work – is fit, like no other, to be our stand-in man, our ambassador. The Cowboy as our pictorial emissary.
  • Why the Cowboy, and not another, if anyone would do?  To that, why not? Who else better knows the working out of salvation upon the land – and within the flesh – than the Cowboy?  Since Mankind, through the good order of Creation, works out his fellowship with God through his body, who is more at ease, at home with bodily flesh, than the Cowboy?
  • Again, why the Cowboy? Why? Because this is the American West.  Our painterly duty is to picture-out the West without the suffocation of mythology. Too often, both who love the West and those who despise and abuse her, thwart the West from rising and speaking in its own voice. There is a story to be told about the West with its honest-to-God goodness (and, of course, of California).  Our work will do just that, this time by oil on canvas and graphite on paper. And, since no one can tell all, we have elected the Cowboy to do our storytelling.
  • Again, why?  Because there is in Cowboy Life a humility.
  • Why humility? Because, like the Cowboy, the Artist – again like God – must humble himself before “what is“.  First, humility is nothing less than a clear-eyed look upon the nature of things (of “what is“): things possessing their nature independent of our observation with its temptation to decree and declaim.  Because, second, humility looks upon human flesh as God does – as the place of meeting, as the ground upon which Mankind comes into his own. Eden sets the pattern here, the perimeters of what becomes known. God befriended man in his bodily life. God giving in, relenting to human flesh – as the place of meeting, was God’s own great act of humility. Mankind’s life and look-about upon the world is tethered to God’s own.
  • What’s humility to the Artist? What’s humility to the Artist? To resist this way of looking is Man’s great fall from true sight. It certainly is for the artist. When the artist refuses to stand squarely on bodily life (upon the very ground from which God sees and knows him, and he himself) the artist is snubbing the necessary humility to be taught, to be directed, to be motivated – and, in the end, to be seen. Eden is the ground floor from which we are fully seen and known; it is also the standing point on which the works of our hands receive their purpose and fleshing-out. That includes painting pictures. So, also with the hard work of choosing subjects and themes, of electing materials and painterly ways and methods. Knowing the proper standing ground upon which to choose and elect is the first chore to be done. It is almost as if one is attempting to locate the proper Natural Law of Art to obey. Maybe it is – for there is no better word! Regardless of artistic theme, subject or approach or method, that first prime chore must be picked up and completed. Unavoidable. To us, that means choosing Cowboy Life to work this all out. In our working him out there is something to be learned – about humility. The Cowboy knows how to live humbly upon the land, and with his own body – even in Mother Lode California.
  • And, don’t ask!  Have we, in all this thinking and doing, invented our own mythology about Cowboy Life, about the West? Are we storytelling what can’t be truly known and told? Not at all! Not one blasted iota. Not by one stroke of oil on the canvas. Go on a trek through our words and pictures – try it – you won’t find it. Our sight is clear. Our brush does not lodge like a beam in the eye.

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We give a nod of homage to Classical Western Art – forbearers, and all that. What’s happening here, though, is outside the genre – if only toe length.

Don’t read too much into why.  Classic Western Art stays close to the detailing of details, the reportage of what made up (and still makes up) the lived lives of (Western) others. Even when the subject is an event, such as desperadoes on a rampage or a cattle stampede, it is the massing up of details that matters in such works.

What matters in our painted-up Cowboys is the interior life, the West made manifest inside out.

What animates? What is it about Cowboy Life that resists the temptation to become the myth that others make of it?  How does the true interiority of the West – made manifest – snakebite all other myths?

The West (meaning, Cowboys) is secure in its singular solidity, assured of what it is. The West is fearless when the call goes out to stand up, to be pictured-out. Fearless, for who or whatever attempts to exhibit the West thwarts the manifestation (the coming forth) of its interior life at its own peril. The apocalyptic judgment against such will be monstrous!

Our graphite pencil and Hog-Bristle Brush has a sharp eye for the lines & hues of Cowboy Life. Our drawing and brushing respects & preserves; not to have one’s moral (let alone, pictorial) imagination beholden to “what is”, is an the unpardonable error. Almost an unforgiveable sin against the Holy Ghost, and Aristotle’s spirit!

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Made up myth-making is the civil war of cannibals: when the interior life consumes the bodily-life, when “what is” feeds upon the “itness” of a thing; existence satiating itself upon Being. Honest, nurturing myth can only be spun from Truth: Truth making the myth worth telling.

The Artist – when picturing anything out – serves cannibalized myth-making when he disregards the Natural Law of things, when he dismisses the liberating restraints of Truth. On its way to dethrone the greater – the lawfulness of what makes a thing a thing – the false (made up) myth-maker (Luciferian cast out angel, he) unseats its own voice: falls silent when there truly is a true story to be truly told, if only by fable & parable.

This has bearing on how Western Art defines itself.

Unlike many genres, Western Art, even when it fails in execution, is committed to truth-telling: when an attentive looking-about see things as they are in their selves, as things in their moral and ontological solitude. Not easily done, for the truth of a thing (or an event, or a notion) is best manifested in that borderland criss-crossed by bodily appearance and the interior life.

Western Art is often faulted with focusing on the outward “clutter” of appearance: in short, a painterly piling-up of excessive details (of being obsessively “true to life”). This may be so when the interiority of Cowboy Life is ignored, but, in itself, the concentration on the so-called “literalness” of surface things is no failing.

Still, such a way is not ours.

Our work anchors its easel firmly in that borderland crossed by appearance (that “clutter” of details) and the interior life of Cowboys: territory buffeted by winds of clarity and revelation. Here, there’s no hiding under details piled-up and laid down surface thick or fading into the shimmering sheen of glacial fields of abstraction. The tensions within the borderlands, the anvil striking, the forge fires – their hammered out heat buffeting the clarifying winds – makes for a better (and truer) art. It is ours.

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So, then, how do we paint them up, these Cowboys of ours?  We take them as they are – or were – as our eyes take to a wide-ranging look about them.

In looking at the whole our eye takes in the fullness of Cowboy Life. (No myth-making here!)  It is a life fleshed out with unencumbered, unpretentious ease in the midst of place, work and purpose.

Few working lives take to such ease as the Cowboy’s.

The Cowboy, putting on the flesh of work, enhances, eases his larger duty as son, husband, father, friend and patriot.  Fearsome and fearless in his singularity, this putting on of bodily form prepares the Cowboy to heed the greater calling.

Yet – and here lies the mystery – the Cowboy heeds the greater by staying put upon the singular, the particular of beast and land.

It is this that stave’s off any Luciferian rebellion – the war against nature, against “what-is“.

Being of the flesh, living upon the land, is Man’s glory. In all the mighty overabundance of the universe this is his place, his standing ground; in fact, here is the crossroads upon which all that overabundance meets and finds its purpose. The overabundant universe was made for Man, not Man for the universe. The billions of galactic stars, the eons of ages, has no other sign or meaning than to shine on the earthen plot God’s footpad impressed, to light up the paths he strolled with naked Adam and his wife. God knows this. God understand this. God had made it so. All to say, to do his Edenic will God does not ask us to disrobe our flesh, to fence off the land against the trespass of our labors and our bodily selves. If we ejected ourselves to another star God would not know us.

Of all men, the Cowboy gets the point; the Cowboy knows.

Of all men, the oils piled high on our Hog-Bristle Brush paints out the Cowboy’s abundant knowing. Living within and upon bodily flesh & the land the Cowboy he is simply fulfilling the law of himself, and offering praise to the Author of Overabundance.

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The desire to dismantle Creation’s goodness (that is, its boundaries, its limits and squaring off) is a failure of nerve and reason. This is Art’s Original Sin.

Materiality in the hands of relativists, abstractors and progressives, becomes a denial of the flesh imagination thwarted.

This is what sent Jesus to the cross: our abstracting, relativizing, progressive rebellion against God’s fellowship with Mankind in his bodily life. The Son of Man got spiked to the Tree because Man fell from the goodness of fleshly Eden.

To dismiss or belittle the flesh, with all its bodily fullness, is the unforgivable sin against the Holy Ghost. Yes, that one!

Cowboys know. Their flesh on beast and upon the land testifies.

Like soldiers taking to the ramparts, knowing the defense of the walls may ask for sacrifice; like men upon the birth of their firstborn, being born into fatherhood: the Cowboy heeds the law that there’s a point to both working and dying.

Out giving visual voice to the lived lives of Mother Lode Cowboys is enough reason for taking up the Hog-Bristle Brush.

We paint our pictures, thus.

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Above, we noted how our approach frowns on the massing of details, of the obsessive sort.

Reportage in painting has its place. In the best of such works all that piled up detail is a portal into past times, places, and, above all, once lived lives.

Details rightly placed never overwhelm.

But if not rightly imagined and reported, all those atomized bits-and-pieces too often heap up as pictorial mounds of this-and that. Always a tempting fault, a pile-on as is often seen in Pre-Raphaelite and Surrealist paintings – those two irritating, pesky painterly cousins.

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Are we simply dumping-on due to our own particular, peculiar painterly habits?  Habits of palette, of ways and methods, which refuse to yield to the mounting giddy oppression of overloaded or sign-less, signal-less detailing.

We take our working-horse palette, our ways and means, and ride across the interiority of the land, and the interiority of man’s work upon it. The Cowboy knows. As we put his flesh upon the canvas, this painterly fit of affection for the interior life (the line & hue of it) is the best muse by which to explore the lives of Mother Lode Cowboys.

In view of that, obsessive possessive detailing would be barbwire slung about, strangling the pictorial story of the West.

If not disciplined, obsessive detailing exhausts the work, the artist, and the viewer – at least that’s the tempting fault!  Obsessive details exhausts because – in the scrimmage to stretch pictorial intent outside and beyond the lawful nature of things – the craft fails in working properly, the artist fails in reading the subject properly, and the viewer fails in interpreting properly. The viewer, though, has the advantage, for trusting his habit of common sense he can note the failure and simply walk away.

In contrast, our chosen way of looking and doing triumphs. (At least we pray!)

Our elected ways and methods grounds our painterly efforts onto true flesh (always the truest of revealers), and, therefore, are able to (pictorially) resurrect the “what-is“, the “itness” of Cowboy Life – and ascend to Art’s larger purpose.

This defeats the shallow, illusionary surface trick of simply massing up details on the canvas. At day’s bloody end, all those bits & pieces (that heaping pile of details) are restored to their truer, more modest nature – things as they are in themselves.

Are we being too harsh?

It is never about this-and-that being here-or-there within the picture plane.  In the end, to hell with details – or not!  The work of oils, brush and canvas must exhaust itself in the telling of the story of the West – and the interior life of the Cowboy.

Here in the Mother Lode, nothing more is asked.

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Western (Cowboy) Art, they say, is of little account. It’s out there so it can’t be denied, but its territorial claim on our attention must be restricted. So they say.

Western Art is indulged in only to keep it safely in view and cornered; it is given a begrudging nod only if it doesn’t stray from the roped off back pasture assigned to it – fenced in by the art world’s anointed betters.

No more. Not to us!

What’s needed is a hard-eyed look at that corralling fence, that jailing rope of posts and barbwire flung about and around Western Art.

We, as Western Artists, must not yield to our assumed “betters”: must not permit one single post, one strung inch of wire, to weld (over us) the power assigned to it by an arrogant and dismissive art world. Their corralling ropes are not spooled from reality (of the craft, or of the West); their desperation to fence us out (or in) is a detail of their restless obsession to keep us disheartened and from public view.

Though their flung about & around jail imprisons, Western Art must resist the temptation to walk right in, cuff its painting hand to its angle-chain, shutting the door against the lawfulness of its true nature. So self-jailed, Western Art would then take to branding a false vision over its true sight. Yielding to the roping off, Western Art would then be imposing a deforming perimeter around its larger purpose and true calling.

Western Art must stand up to all the thwarters, reducers and roper-offers – both within and without its fellowship.  Painted, drawn, or sclpted, the Art of the West must rediscover the fullness, the freedom, of its true “itness“. Western Art must return to its genesis, to the American Eden of land & labor from whose soil & rib it was stirred to life. u

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We paint pictures yet remain wary of images! Or, more to the point, we hesitate before (against) our image obsessed culture: how our culture so easily abuses them, or, equally, how we are so quickly taken in by them. We, though, dig our heels into our hesitation; for images are so prone to be obsessed with totalitarian power. It is their failing fault.

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Felix Nadar, in the mid-Nineteenth Century, did not invent photography; yet he did, with bold imagination and near recklessness, create our reigning Culture of Image.

The lord of our age is not the word or text, but the image.

Our speech is no longer mastered by language, but image. (Witness the subtle – near tyrannical – authority of “social media”.) We are an image obsessed society; we communicate primarily through their seduction. Due to being swooned and spooned into their belly, rarely, if ever, do we judge the lure of their content, give second thought to the unbounded power of the image to clobber and cobble, at will, our minds and hearts.

Nadar god-fathered the explosive (near despotic) dominance images have over our relations with others – and, frightfully, with those who have power over us. (The tyrannical state pushes sheer existence under the sluggish weight of images.) The deluge of images, in our digital age, has capsized anchored & safely harbored ships of mind & heart. Images have become the watery adhesion floating our knowledge of self and others upon the tempestuous seas. Images bind us, then slips off and away as their watery bond washes into the turbulent seas. Images dissolve in the pixel ocean – and, we left drown-dead.

Worst, since images do not require thought or judgment (as they gather and dissolve at will) we are vulnerable to be fished and netted by those who prowl the flooding waters. Already drown-dead we yield to the lifting up and offer no rebellion against being flayed for the appetite of others.

All this, the price of toppling the judgment seat of Reason; of saying “yes” to the humiliation of the Word.

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Though Felix Nadar may have birthed our Image-Culture, he cannot be faulted for our obsessive submission to it.

Nadar understood how images can be for good or evil. Images bend to serve one or the other. Images yield to the good when their very visibility is a looking-glass to both the “what-is” nature of the subject and the Natural Law of the art and its craft. The liberty to act with or upon images – the license to create – is discovered only there, within the borderland between the two.

Images, like ideas, have consequences.

We cannot escape the brutal knowledge that images (once more, as with ideas) participate in the moral life.

Images, for good or evil, are moral things. To excise them from their moral duty blinds them, not only to a clear-eyed look upon the world, but also to mirror, for us, their vision of it. So blinded, images cannot be seen through, pass their obsessive gaze upon themselves and their presumed powers; so dead to sight, images have nothing to reveal; so eyeless, images are void and empty; so sightless, images are left wide open to be squatted by cast-out demons, little fox devils spoiling and soiling the vacancy with stone-blind darkness.

Images uprooted, unanchored in safe harbors are Luciferian things, their brightness brittle,, their light shattered and scattered.

To deny images their moral life is to gouge them of sight; it is to turn them into stone-deaf idols. The hands that had once hewed them now dismantle any good folded into their original making; the dark unmaking cannibalizing their now sightless eyes. In the end, the iron, stone and wood which forged them, are cast back into the fiery womb, the quarry and soil which birthed them.

All this, because, while turning images into idols we decree that images do not participate in the life of the mind, that they have no movement within the liveliness of the soul; for, as we foolishly did with ideas, we pronounce that images have no consequences.

Felix Nadar, in his studio on Blvd. des Capucines, Paris, revolutionizing the art and commerce of photography, resisted mutating images into idols. The great photographer understood that images move and have their being within the moral life. In short, images have a duty to “what is”, towards the Natural Law of bodily life: towards the overarching, underlying Logos informing the true nature of all “that is”. This is Aristotle & Aquinas’ beloved “itness”.

In his corner of commerce and creativity Nadar worked out both the moral and pictorial principles of the Natural Law, of living in the flesh. Nadar worked within the vital crosscurrent (the crossing over) of bodily life with the laws which govern its liveliness. And from that, discovering, through invention & imagination, how it might be represented. (Though the laws may not be free, invention & imagination is.) Nadar named this la resemblance intime: where Man’s interior and exterior existence (mind & body, soul & flesh) perfectly exists in union but without mixture or confusion.

We will quote him, taking liberty to tweak his words a bit:

The theory of [painting pictures] can be learnt in an hour, and the first practical steps in a day [   ] But what can be learnt far less readily is the moral nature of your subject . . . not some,superficial . . . reproduction within the range of the meanest [student], but the most familiar and the most favorable likeness: la resemblance intime.” [Richard Homes, Sidetracks; New York, Pantheon, 2000; p.64]


 © Stephen L. Golay

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