The art of putting some colored substance on any kind of surface goes back to the dawn of humanity. The oldest yet discovered cave paintings were found in 1994 in the Cave of Chauvet in the Ardeche, France and were made, not by Cro-Magnon hunters, but, surprisingly, by Neartherthals, some 38.000 years ago. And quite recently (2010) cave drawings were found in Romania’s Coliboaia cave. Discovered by chance during a routine expedition in a very remote area in Apuseni National Park, the 13 drawings, which represent animals such as rhinos, buffalos, horses and cats, are approximately 32,000 years old.
The famous paintings on the walls and ceilings in the caves of Lascaux (France) were made by human hunters between 28.000 and 15.000 years ago. They contain some of the best-known Upper Paleolithic art.
Altamira (Spanish for ‘high views’) is a cave in Spain famous for its Paleolithic cave paintings, featuring drawings and polychrome rock paintings of wild mammals and human hands. The paintings are about 15.000 years old.
Also in India North- and South America, Africa and Southeast Asia, cave paintings have been discovered dating back back at least 12.000 years.
Great ingenuity was displayed by ancient artists. At the Lascaux caves were found pestles and mortars in which colours were mixed, together with no less than 158 different mineral fragments from which the mixtures were made. There seems to have been no shortage of pigment large lumps have been found at some sites. Shells of barnacles were used as containers. One master employed a human skull. Cave water and the calcium it contained were used as mixers, and vegetable and animal oils as binders. The artists had primitive crayons and they applied the paint with brush tools, though none has survived. All kinds of devices and implements were used to aid art. Important lines were preceded by dots, which were then Joined up. Sometimes paint was sprayed. Stencils were used. Blow pipes made from bird bones served as tubes for applying paint. By these means, the more experienced Magdalenian painters were able to produce polychrome art. (http://www.artchive.com/artchive/C/cave.html )
The reason for ancient men and women to be painting is largely unknown. There might have been spiritual or religious meaning to the paintings or they just liked to make and experience art, just as we do. It might gave them fun, entertainment and excitement. In a way, these caves may have been the first ancient art-galleries and museums.
Closer in time, in the beautifully carved and painted murals of the Valley of the Kings at Luxor in Egypt, I somehow recognised on a much grander scale, a style of expression somewhat similar to my own. While they invented, I copy or borrow; we all stand on the shoulders of giants… Maybe I carried these ancient symbolic signs with me since I was very young, seen in books or learned in school or maybe I’ve drawn them out of Carl Jung’s collective unconsciousness, who knows… maybe I’ve been a Farao in one of my former lifes after all… Still, what remains is a sense of deja vu.
The ancient tombs of Egypt do not simply represent decorated burial sites or a grave-yards, they combine myth, legend, religion and spititualism with art on a level of the highest form, in an attempt to trancend the bounderies between life and death. To me they revealed something of the mystery of life on earth, of space and time.
Stepping into an ancient Farao’s tomb is crossing a tresshold of 5000 years. Almost all of the people and their doings, the battles, the politics and all worldly strivings have since long been forgotten. What remains is the work of some of the most highly skilled crafstmen and artists that ever lived, reaching out to us across the milennia.
The Colossi of Memnon on the Westbank of the Nile look like they have been created in another world. The vastness and age of these two statues, placed in the empty desert are bewildering and confusing my sense of proportions. They once guarded the entrance to a huge palace and each has been carved out of one solid block of stone. It seems vitually impossible for people living 5000 years ago to complete such a task without the help of modern equipment. The almost unearthly hugeness of these guardians of a lost kingdom evokes a feeling of alienation. They make me think of two alien cosmonauts, sitting on the bridge of their space-ship…
So, if you’re an artist, you might keep this in the back of your mind next time you start a new painting; you’re following an impressive tradition that goes back almost 40.000 years. Can you feel the inspiration of those ancient artists softly whispering to you through the ages? Maybe like them, you possess this unstoppable need to express, to make sense, to find a way to understand life on a deeper level by creating an image of what you experienced, something you saw or just felt a moment ago. Or maybe you looked at how the sunlight fell on a beautiful flower in a spectacular way and you sensed the desire to capture and behold that precious moment for all eternity…
So what can be the purpose of an artist’s strivings, this drive, this irressistable longing to fill the virgin white (or black) void with color and form? This human need to reflect, to materialise, to form, to bring to life, to become, to create…?
Scientist Freeman Dyson defines the universe as something trying to become conscious of itself. And thus mankind as one of the products of this purpose. One of the most elegant descriptions of the word God I’ve ever heard. Carl Jung stated something similar; God needs mankind to become conscious of him- or (her)self.
From the start, to me, painting has been a journey into the unknown, a voyage from logic into intuition. Big questions create the need for big answers. I have no answers, not in words. Intuition speaks without words. When we are speechless we start to visualize. Painting can reveal consciousness on a level beyond words. It’s another way of communicating while trying to understand something about the mystery of life on earth.