More Aztec Whoopee

Here we go again! My informational art exhibit YE GODS! ICONS OF AZTEC DEITIES will show for the fourth time at NEW MEXICO HIGHLANDS UNIVERSITY in beautiful Las Vegas NM from September 30 to November 2, 2019 at BURRIS HALL GALLERY, 903 National Avenue.

In 2018 the first 15 icons showed at El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe and at Northern New Mexico College in Española, and in 2019, with the addition of #16 (TECCIZTECATL & METZTLI, Deities of the Moon), they were displayed at Santa Fe Community College. This iteration at NMHU will include another new icon, #17:  TEPEYOLLOTL, Heart of the Mountain, the god of caves, volcanoes, and a bunch of other neat stuff.

Currently working on the next icon for the coloring book, #18: XOCHIPILLI, Prince of Flowers, I’ve broken out of my alphabetical sequence to manifest the splendid deity that I consider my personal patron (appearing above in my website banner).  I’m also breaking several Aztec iconographic conventions for this one, not the least of which is running wild with floral motifs.  One of my favorite details is a tiny Aztec bee:

Aztec Bee

You’ll just have to wait a while to see the rest of this literally iconoclastic icon.

Along with the NMHU show, I’ll give a slide lecture on the Aztec Codices for their Art in the Americas class and a gallery talk for their Día de los Muertos celebration on November 1, just ahead of a concert to be directed by my music prof friend Andre Garcia-Nuthmann. Of course, Mictlantecuhtli, Lord of the Land of the Dead, will be featured, as will Tepeyollotl, Heart of the Mountain, who guards the entrance to Mictlan.  That dire place is always shown as the mouth of the monstrous, hermaphroditic Lord of the Earth, Tlaltecuhtli:

Entrance to Mictlan

Meanwhile efforts continue to line up more venues for the show, including other educational institutions around New Mexico. If anybody out there has hot ideas for presenters anywhere else, sic them on me!  I’ve been trying to interest places in surrounding states but so far have struck out.  (Read that as:  My approaches have been roundly ignored.)  I’d really love to hang the show at Mexico City’s National Museum of Anthropology, but I expect the materials should be translated into Spanish, actually not such a bad idea…

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Exultate Jubilate

I’m totally exultant! Yesterday I discovered that in July wonderful WordPress has started registering downloads.  This is a ginormous deal since for the past five years all I could do was hope (pray and wish) that you folks out there were taking the fabulous stuff I’ve been trying to give away on this website.  Now I’m jubilant that you apparently are indeed and may actually have been accepting my gifts in the past.  Not to be greedy, but I’d love to get some comments back about my artwork and writing—appreciation, criticism, gratitude, or whatever.

There were some splendid surprises in the first six weeks of download data. I’d been pleased with getting an enormous number of hits (from literally all over the world) on my Aztec materials, and now I find that they’re being downloaded like hotcakes.  To my joy, the treatise The Aztec Codices and encyclopedia The Aztec Pantheon seem hugely popular, but even better, the YE GODS! coloring book is flying out the door, both as the collection, The Aztec Icons, and as individual black and white images.

Through Google Image searches, I’d already observed that my earlier four-color images of Aztec deities were being used for various purposes like T-shirt designs and other graphics, and now I see that they’re still being downloaded frequently. As hoped, my art is now truly taking on a life of its own in the wide world—beyond the several exhibitions of icons I’ve managed to organize.  The next show will be at New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas NM this October.

The other thrill is that folks are also taking my books. No longer do I feel like a writer scribbling invisibly in the wilderness.  Folks are downloading my first novel Bat in a Whirlwind, my first memoir There Was a Ship, and the nonfiction books: Remember Native America, Celebrate Native America, and Getting Get.  My second novel Divine Debauch is only available through an online publisher, but some have linked to that too.  Weirdly, my most popular book seems to be the biography Ms. Yvonne, The Secret Life of My Mother.  Go figure.

Now I can even look forward to reports of folks accessing my Pre-Columbian artifact drawings and related Indian Mounds photos, as well as images of my sculptures, photographic art, shorter writings, and my long, fascinating, and sometimes sordid life.  Of course, you can also feel free to download my shorter, but still fascinating and sometimes sordid blog posts—like this one.

Now back to work on my next memoir titled “Lord Wind, My Second Coming Out” and on Aztec Icon #18, Xochipilli, Prince of Flowers.

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Jaguar of the Night

I really must devote a word or two to a favorite detail from my Aztec Icon #17, Tepeyollotl—just in case it slipped your notice. It’s my rendition of the Jaguar of the Night, one of the various manifestations of the Heart of the Mountain.  The divine Jaguar leaps at the rising sun, greeting it with its roars (those odd wavy sound symbols).

Jaguar of the Night

                             From Icon #17                                          Model from Codex Nuttall

One reason I’m showing you this drawing is to sing the praises of my sweet graphics program, GIMP.  (You can Google it for free download!)  It really makes me feel like a magician.  I took the splendid image of a jaguar from Codex Nuttall and with a few adjustments in proportions and position turned the rampant figure into a leaping one.  Of course there were many pixels to wrestle with, but that’s the name of the digital drawing game.

Also: I’m quite pleased with this drawing of my totem animal and rather proud of it.  Hope you like it too.

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Icon #17 – TEPEYOLLOTL, Heart of the Mountain

So… It’s been another long haul to complete the next icon for my coloring book YE GODS! Something like four months, but no apologies.  I’ve had to take a lot of sanity breaks—to continue writing on my next memoir and to deal with the sorrows of life.  Namely, in late March, at the tender age of 18 my eldest grandson Ike chose to end his life.  We know nothing about why but can only respect, accept, and lament his decision.  That’s my reason for tearfully dedicating this Icon #17 – Tepeyollotl, Heart of the Mountain to him.

Tepeyollotl, Heart of the Mountain

Tepeyollotl (Heart of the Mountain) {te-pe-yol-lotł} is the god of caves/mines and echoes and causes earthquakes, avalanches, and volcanos.  As the Lord of Jewels and underground treasures, he is the male spirit of the earth and a nagual of the hermaphroditic Tlaltecuhtli, Lord of the Earth.  A deity of witchcraft, he cures and causes diseases and guards the entrance to Mictlan (the Land of the Dead). Tepeyollotl is the ancestral were-jaguar and may be the God L of the Maya. Also a nagual of Tezcatlipoca, he is the Jaguar of the Night whose roaring heralds the sunrise, and as 8th lord of the night he is sometimes depicted as a jaguar leaping toward the rising sun.  

I’ve already posted a couple pieces about this icon in process, The Divine Volcanoes and Jaguars Changing Spots, and the above caption gives the rest of the information I’ve learned about this deity. On the coloring book page I’ve now listed a free download of it with caption and models, and when it comes back home to me in vectors from Bangladesh, I’ll add the two versions for sizable prints.

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Jaguars Changing Spots

I seem to be at my stellar best when I’m boring folks with useless information—or at least with stuff they don’t give a rat’s patootie about. The following verbiage may well fall into both categories.  And since it’s on the Internet, there’s the distinct possibility (but minuscule probability) of boring millions of readers to tears.  What more could I hope for as I hold forth on jaguars’ spots?  I bet you’ve never given that esoteric subject even a nanosecond’s thought.

But I have. For some years, as you likely don’t know, I’ve been drawing digital icons of Aztec deities for a coloring book called YE GODS! Since the jaguar is a major mythological figure for most of the ancient cultures of the Americas (see A Roar of Jaguars), I had to come to terms with how it was depicted in the iconography of those cultures.  In fact, as the Lord of the Animals, the jaguar was my first try at digital drawing.

Already well versed in the iconography of the few Aztec codices that survived the Conquest of that empire by the Spanish, I wasn’t terribly impressed by their renderings of the unique and complex pattern of the jaguar’s pelt. For the most part the ancient Aztec artists made do with a simple scattering of spots looking a lot like those of the Old World leopard.In the Codex Borgia, a more elaborate picture-book, the pelt was sometimes depicted in greater complexity. I chose to use two of those stronger patterns for figures in my later icon of the deities of the moon, but the first pattern was just too weirdly abstract, if oddly more realistic.

For my first digital drawing (eventually used in the icon for OCELOTL), I pompously tried to reproduce a naturalistic jaguar pelt—and believe I did a decent job. It convinced me of the amazing power of computer imaging and kicked off the whole coloring book project.  Having mastered the pattern, I used it also for a seat-cushion in the icon for the goddess CHANTICO (also see the icon for MICTLANTECUHTLI), and for a detail of a jaguar-warrior in that for the god CHALCHIUHTOTOLIN.

Chantico and Jaguar Warrior

At present I’m in the final throes of the icon for TEPEYOLLOTL (see The Divine Volcanoes), who is a were-jaguar (an anthropomorphic creature), appearing in a number of the codices.

Here comes another sneak preview. There are two jaguars in this icon.  I chose to use the Nuttall jaguar, radically restructured, for the leaping one and the Vindobonensis figure as model for the god himself—with a pelt based on one of the Borgia examples.

Leaping Jaguar and Tepeyollotl

This illustration shows that I haven’t yet completed Tepeyollotl’s face, though I have already given him an aesthetic nose-job. While the open-ring pattern may not be any more naturalistic than the plain spots on the Vindobonensis model, I did that on purpose—for the coloring.

I’ve only given explicit directions for coloring the icons in a few cases. First, for the pelt in OCELOTL, I described the animal’s range of coloration from rusty gold to white.  For the icon of EHECATL, I explained that scallop shells come in black, white, and all shades of the rainbow, though very dark and dusky like in the last hues of twilight.  For TEPEYOLLOTL, I will direct the colorist to make those open rings various colors as in these almost hallucinatory images:

In this second Telleriano example, the spots are inexplicably green, and in the psychedelic Aubin figure red, blue, and gold. (By the way, the general Aubin style of illustration might most kindly be called “casual:” Note the incomplete claws, stubby tail, and curious wrinkles on its back.)

The rationale for vari-colored spots on my Tepeyollotl is that, among several other mythical qualities, he’s the Lord of Jewels. Also, any deity worth its salt really should be hallucinatory, psychedelic, and/or surreal.

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The Divine Volcanoes Popocatepetl and Itzaccihuatl

For too long I’ve telling folks I’m still plugging away on Icon #17 for the YE GODS! coloring book, and now I can change my tune. At last I’m on the home stretch!  Just one more vignette and the figure of Tepeyollotl Himself, the Heart of the Mountain.  (I seem to have been keeping the deity itself for the last to be informed by the story of the surrounding details.)

So now it’s high time I give you something in the way of a sneak preview of #17: the Mountain.  Actually it’s the two divine volcanoes that loom dangerously over Ciudad de México, deified as Popocatepetl (Smoking Mountain) and Itzaccihuatl (Obsidian Lady).

Popocatepetl and Itzaccihuatl

Here they are shown in the style of Codex Nuttall, Popocatepetl in its smoking majesty and Itzaccihuatl as a bonafide, stern-visaged goddess. Her codex model is iconographically notable being one of the few full-faced figures to be found in Aztec 2-D graphic art.  The Maya also preferred profiles (those marvelous foreheads!).  3-D sculpture was of course a different story.

The stylized sigils appearing in each of the “hills” are authentic names of real places. Apart from the self-evident symbol for Popocatepetl, I don’t have a clue what places the others intend.

The above is my second treatment of the divine volcanoes. The first was for a vignette in Icon #7 Huitzilopochtli, Hummingbird of the South, showing the arrival of the Aztecs at Tenochtitlan:

Arrival of Aztecs at Tenochtitlan

In the upcoming icon, beneath these volcanoes resides the Heart of the Mountain. Don’t let this be a spoiler, but you need to know that Tepeyollotl, as most often depicted in the Aztec codices, will be a were-jaguar, an ancient mythological being with possible roots three thousand years before in Peru.  Check out this boggling image of the Raimondi Stela from Chavín de Huantar.

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Aztec Icon #16 – TECCIZTECATL and METZTLI, Deities of the Moon

It’s been about nine months since the last addition to my coloring book YE GODS! Icons of Aztec Deities, #15, Quiahuitl, God of Rain. After completing it back last April, I had to focus on setting up the two-month Ye Gods! exhibition in Santa Fe, as well as prepare and deliver several lectures.  Then everything else, including work on my second memoir, had to be put on hold while I concentrated for three months on re-translating an opera from Russian (which will be produced by the New Orleans Opera in February, 2020).  Meanwhile I also set up the exhibition for another month in nearby Española.  Busy boy, no?

Finally by late November, I got back to drawing, and now I’m thrilled to announce that #16 is finished at last: Tecciztecatl and Metztli, Deities of the Moon.

TECCIZTECATL & METZTLI

Tecciztecatl {tek-seez-te-katł}, the son of Tlaloc and Chalchiuhtlicue, is a god of hunters and appears as things shining in the night. In the Nahua cosmology, when Quetzalcoatl and Ehecatl created the current Fifth Sun, Tecciztecatl wanted to become the new sun, but he hesitated to jump into the sacred fire, whereupon the young god Nanahuatzin leapt into the flames to become Tonatiuh.  When Tecciztecatl followed, he took second place as the moon.

Metztli {mets-tłee} is the ancestral moon goddess probably inherited from ancient Teotihuacan and/or the Maya’s lunar goddess Ix Chel.  Long after the Nahuas demoted Metztli to merely being the consort of Tecciztecatl, the later Aztecs tried to replace her with (the head of) Coyolxauhqui, the sister dismembered by their supreme god Huitzilopochtli.

Tecciztecatl joined Metztli in the sacred calendar (tonalpohualli) as patrons of the thirteen-day week One Death, which is shown in the encircling day-signs.  It should be noted that there are thirteen days between the full and dark of the moon.  The Mesoamerican cultures saw a rabbit in the full moon (top), and the serpent of the night devouring the rabbit (bottom) represents the dark of the moon.  Incidentally, the nocturnal jaguar was closely connected with the moon, and the conch shell was the standard symbol of the moon.

I fired the drawing off to my dear friend Sagar in Bangladesh for him to work his vectorizing magic on it, and he did the trick.  I’m currently (in January) posting the jpeg version with caption and sources on the coloring book page and have now (in April) have added the vectorized versions to the list of various sizes available for free download.

In my strict alphabetical sequence, the next deity to tackle is Tepeyollotl, Heart of the Mountain, who has several dramatic aspects.  You can check out my earlier image of this god among the Aztec images from the old book on the calendar.  If the creek don’t rise, I’d like to get his icon done by April.  Once again meanwhile, in my multi-tasking fashion, I’ll be arranging more venues for the expanded exhibition and lectures—and forging onward in my memoir. Call me driven, but I’d love to finish that by next year.