Okay so if you're familiar with my work you will know that much, dare I say, all of my inspiration comes from ancient tales of heroes faced with impossible tasks. Ever since I was a wee lad the stories of gods and monsters from around the globe consumed me. I wondered what led me to this fascination and why it continues to this very day. So with the arrival of my 51st birthday I decided to try and trace my fascination to some of the key influences.
Momotaro, the Peach Boy - When I was a wee lad between the ages of 2 to 7 I lived in Hawaii, and because of that I was exposed to a variety of Asian influences. During this time mother used to read to me the Japanese legend of Momotaro the Peach Boy. This is a tale of a large peach that floats down a stream into the possession of an elderly couple. The couple go cut open the peach but to there surprise a young boy pops out (actually I think that would surprise most folks). This strange incident was, of course,destiny; little did the elderly couple know that one day an adult Momotaro would set sail of on a mission (with a dog, a bird and a monkey) to defeat a band of treacherous ogres that plagued their lands. This particular publication had spectacular illustrations...especially the ogres. I suppose this sort of tale resonated with me because there is something seductive about the concept of being born to fulfill a cosmic mission. This is called the "hero's journey"'; it is the basic formula of most myths and legends. A naive person wanders into the a dark and unknown situation and must overcome some challenge or villain and when the battle is won, they return but... they have changed...they have attained growth and enlightenment. Perhaps, what is fascinating to me is how early this idea resonated. I'm not saying that I understood the complexities but the basic ideas were obviously compelling to my tiny brain. To this day my mother still has that book and I wonder how many times I have perused those pages...probably thousands. This book was the start of a long journey.
Jason and the Argonauts - Late one night, while visiting my grandparents in the Los Angeles, I was up way past my bedtime for a 7 year old, watching Fright Night with host Larry Vincent (aka Sinister Seymour). This was one of those Creature Feature shows which showed monster movies on Friday or Saturday nights. The room was dark and I was curled next to my grandmother as I watch the most amazing thing I had every seen. It was a stop animation film by Ray (this guy is the shit) Harryhausen called Jason and the Argonauts. In the film, Jason is sent on a quest by the gods, and in doing so he must face a variety of obstacles...really cool obstacles like harpies, a seven headed hydra, a battalion of skeletons. I'm pretty certain this was my very first introductions to Greek gods. Harryhausen is also famous for his Sinbad movies, similar idea (though his he had a tendency to mix and match his mythologies) where the hero battles everything from Cyclops, to Kali-Ma effigies, to sabertooth tigers. About five or six years later, to my delight, he returned the the myths of Greece made the unforgettable Clash of the Titans with togas, gorgons, and the Zeus releasing the Kraken.
The Golden Book Encyclopedia (yes, you heard me right) - Somewhere in the span of time between Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans, I was up late doing some heavy duty elementary school research in my illustrated children's encyclopedia when I came across an entry for "Days of the Week". This was now ho hum entry...instead there were images of helmeted deities, mostly Norse, who the days are named after: Thursday is Thor's day, Friday is Friggs day etc. The really cool part (at least at the time) was that the article cross referenced a number of other articles... "see Greek gods" or "see Roman gods". So this "Days of the Week" entry l had me dancing around the encyclopedia checking out all the various mythological entries from around the globe. . At that moment I was faced with the concept of variant pantheons; suddenly my interested wasn't limited to Zeus and Poseidon, now I was surrounded by a plethora of wild and fascinating deities from all over the globe. Kali, Shiva, Maui, and Quetzalcoatl were now creeping there way into my creative mind. It might sound strange that an simple entry in a children's encyclopedia had such an impact...but it's true.
The Power of Myth - Fast forward to my sophomore year in college. I was an art student struggling to find my artistic voice. It was a Sunday afternoon and I was sipping on a Corona watching reruns of Monty Python's Flying Circus. After the episode was over I was about to flip the channel when something called the "Power of Myth" popped on the screen. I decided to give it a watch. Holy crap! I was hooked. Bill Moyers interviewed one of the most compelling people on the planet...Joseph Campbell, a expert (dare I say maestro) of comparative mythology and religion. To be sure he was one smart dude, but he made the information so yummy and down to earth. By this time I had a fairly good understanding of various religions and mythologies but what this interview did for me was to reveal the strange connectivity culture to culture, religion to religion. I watched the entire "Power of Myth" series in awe, and I was reminded of the story of Momotaro, the child floating down the river inside a peach, and how similar that was to Moses being set adrift as infant, or the baby Perseus abandoned to the sea inside a wooden chest. All of which, destined for great things beyond themselves. Different parts of the world, but the "hero's journey" quite similar in nature.
Joseph Campbell said, "It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure". Through the years my obsession with myths and legends has worked it's way rather prominently into my art. Very few pieces (if any) don't have some kind of nod to a magical odyssey. Afterall, I tend to view myths are metaphoric clues that help humanity through the complexity of life. The journey of my life and each challenge I must face is no different than that of the peach boy. In fact, you could even say that every piece of art I create follows the same hero's journey: I start off naive and confused, and set sail to uncharted waters to battle the demons of self-doubt until I find resolution. Ultimately, Momotaro and I are one and same. So...if you'll excuse me, I have ogres to defeat. Don't we all.