Ora Cogan – RETURN OF THE CREATURES
Salt Spring Island Exhibit
“Wildabeast vs. Deer”
We Three Ewes were recently on Salt Spring Island for Ora Cogan’s new art show, “RETURN OF THE CREATURES – Oil Paintings by Ora Cogan.” BC Ferries staff were very courteous but kept insisting we clear out of the cafeteria seating area to make room for other sheep who hadn’t yet eaten their overpriced yam fries.
E. Weever writes…
Well, it is no wonder that we are able to sense, in Ora Cogan’s work, both the fleeting dance of a deeply mortal woman as well as the infinite pulse to which she dances. In her name we find our clues, for “ora cogan” is at once “an oar cog” – in service to the great boat of life – as well as a free ocean swimmer, inviting us to witness “an orca go.” And so..let us witness…
This painting, to me, finally visualizes the sentiment I detect in much of Ora’s music – the voice of one ancient soul speaking to another in a way that communicates without ‘teaching’ and embraces without clutching, all against a background of animalistic myth and dream-soft focus. One can almost hear the figure on the left quietly singing, “You’re just a ghost in your own house of troubles / I’m just a friend knocking down your door” (“Worry” from the album “Tatter”).
We see an owl spreading its wings behind the heart-shaped cloud-cuddle, perhaps swooping in for the unannounced kill. If it weren’t for the obvious serenity in the piece – or perhaps because of it – I would say these figures are on the cusp of death. The painting then, a ‘liminal ode.’
It’s the first work I’ve seen that presents me with the unique question: do we all truly die alone, or might it be possible for two beings to die together?
The imagination trembles at this unusual possibility – that one might fully experience another’s death alongside one’s own.
Altogether, and naturally unbeknownst to the painter, I see that what has come through here is, quite obviously, a 21st century update of William Blake’s famous work, “Ancient of Days.” Where before we had the mythic force of a single, masculine (directional) figure, here we witness an expanded conception of a primal creative source that includes both male and female energies – the equal play of curvature with direction, of nocturnality (owl) with prismatic day-glow.
As I sit before this piece I feel a strong sense that I am gazing upon an event based in sanity – the impossibility of retreat or blind aggression. I feel the effect most directly in the heart, legs and lower abdomen.
Sound: ((((( reverberation )))))
I find it interesting how many times I’ve overheard humans mention to one another that some of their most memorable life moments have been when they held a stare – seemingly magically – with an animal.
On some profound level humans simply want to be truly witnessed? Perhaps as confirmation that they do, in fact, exist? Or an attestation to the fact that they, when fully absorbed, do not?
To stare into the eyes of a creature who has no masked agenda – no motivation other than the impulse to gaze back – therein may lay the apparent magic. I can only speculate – I am but a humble ewe.
In any case, this painting of a human looking into the eyes of a pillar-like bird certainly seemed to draw attention at the art show. It resonated with something.
I have the sense that this stoic bird has beak-beckoned the woman near. She leans in, right shoulder forward, eyes slightly lower but equal in power and active worship.
With feathers extending from her hair I cannot shake the surreal perspective that she is in fact the bird’s wing, held up in some great moment of lucidity. Much like when I was fourteen and examined one of my shit-caked hooves for the first time, imagining a mind inside the hoof looking back. All sense of division immediately crumbled and I became perfectly whole, just for that moment.
Contributing to this surrealistic impression are the high frequency, blended colours so characteristic of Ora’s artwork and music. We see here the careful use of turquoise, blue, green/jaune (I cannot say ‘yellow’) – pale dust of sun. The scene suddenly transforms into miniatures magnified from within the petals of a Cascadian flower. The colour mixture fractures my sight and I begin to perceive.
One cannot stand before this image for long without it deepening one’s curiosity about what the human-animal relationship really is on this planet. With assumptions and previous understandings thrown aside, what new information is presented?
Does one finally see that animals are human ancestors in modern form? That each animal corresponds to an aspect within the human psyche and that to love a given species is to open, heal and transform that psychic aspect? That animals, and especially sheep, are just as sentient, intelligent – as divine as humans? I wonder..
Sound: wind chimes.
The mountain has two paths. The moth flits before a tangerine-like ball of fire.
Moths occasionally land but spend most of their lives as residents of the air. They are drawn to light, which often kills them. This moth is pulled toward the sun? Will it fall as did Icarus? Or charge into the fire in order to escape the far more painful burn of life, with all its seemingly intolerable transitions and sorrows?
We are gifted relief from pondering the moth’s fate in the delicate oranges, lemons and greens of this piece. With wings at equal angles, the eyes on the tail seem to stare into each other, marking again Ora’s current fascination (a soft way of saying ‘obsession’?) with mirrors and mutual witnessing. Though I should not just say Ora in particular, as this is a mark of life’s current yearning – of consciousness wishing to finally see itself unveiled, indicated everywhere from the inane walls and halls of ‘facebook,’ to the central matter in the recent film, “The Artist is Present,” in which the principal character creates powerful art with simple eye contact.
If this painting were sand it would fall in the glass for roughly 42 million years.
I receive it most strongly in the shoulders and throat. Truly, if I were to rename this piece for Ora I would title it, “The miracle of defenslessness.”
Sound: the cracking open of hard earth, followed by a low warm hum!
I do not spend long with this one as tigers frighten me – a traumatic carry-over from a former life in which I was a lamb eaten by one of the beasts. Actually it was a man in a tiger suit. I’ve been eaten by men in tiger suits no less than 17 times. Wonder not about the purpose of such repeated fate – alas, it is my karma.
This image is mirror-like, but do not mistake it for a mirror. Look more closely.
The tiger’s paws seem stitched together, as though the 3D object has been split and spun out to display in 2D. Is this the ‘secret tiger’ Ora keeps wishing to communicate? What are we to know of her – to know of ourselves through this deeply reverent image of a bowing tiger? Is this the secret – that strength, no matter how ferocious, must answer and serve a higher energy? That we should aim to gather power only so that the greatness of our surrender is increased?
One is obviously struck by the Egyptian imagery at the forefront of this piece. On each side we have a bird-headed man who one takes to be the Egyptian Sun God Ra (marked by the head of a falcon).
Ra is held to be the God who made all creatures, calling them into form by speaking their secret names.
And with this in our awareness the painting transforms into a creation scene wherein the tiger is brought into shape through its ‘secret name’ which, though hidden from language, is depicted visually as a smiling diamond face peeking from behind a large purple orb (as some ‘night time sun’), overlooking a pyramid’s geometry (the focusing of the mind) and an illumined earth-kiss (‘the spotlight of majestic intuition’).
If I were to paint a scene given only this description as instructions, it would likely resemble a yo-yo spilling egg snot onto a dust pan.
Sound: fingers fumbling over loose twigs.
The last piece I will review is the one Ora chose as the cover of her newest album, “Ribbon Vine.”
As we sit in front of this painting I am moved to tears. Mae Dew, meanwhile, is chewing on a piece of waxed leather and humming ‘my little baby goat does crow’ to some tiny, private audience.
(We meet Ora at this point. The exchange is brief. I am unusually awkward. She wants to know if we are reviewing for a magazine. We tell her ‘No – we are sheep.’ She is very friendly and seems to understand.)
A nude, winged woman with the antlered head of a deer sits cradled in what appears to be arbutus branches. Behind her wings are feathers – eagle, or owl, or both. Her crossed-legs are depicted as the heads of two foxes (perhaps wolves), and a lotus is superimposed. Two moon-like planets are seen in the lower corners, craters poc’ing each surface. The symmetry of the image gently ushers the viewer’s awareness upwards to meet three-dimensional hoops or ‘ribbons’ of light which encircle a collection of carefully placed translucent orbs. The entire piece seems to overlay a faint rendering of the Flower of Life and absolutely throbs with energy. Spectacular energy at that.
The hand of magic is difficult to miss in this offering. It is as though I am peering into an alternate, vegetal realm, yet this is all around us. The vision is of something simultaneously hidden yet completely obvious. So large our life depends on it yet so small millions are born and die without knowing it exists.
The vine enfolds me, takes me in.
And I feel deeply, deeply loved.
E. WEEVER THUS CONCLUDES.
A few more of Ora’s paintings from the exhibit:
The Sheet Pope writes….
Mae Dew writes…
‘ora cogan’ spelt it ‘a gran coo’ too. coo coo achoo. did u ever stare contest tha walrus? i thot she mix’d th e one color. how many paints did you use? i lik the one calld wild abe from the east against a deer that wun really happened an im pree shure wild abe is the winner. did you ever pee on tha canvas an make em kinda anteekish look like? she did that art show an i think she drew some of the art too shes so good. they had a samwich wif a pickls. shees a girl what sings an ‘ribbons vines’ is crossed up to show how nature as a bit of a present, like ribbuns at chrismas cept this time all wrapt over vines so its says ‘here one goes enjoy my nature for christmas’ an only now. so thangs goobye.