Exploring the Ancient Kemetic world today through ideas, art and experiences

Monday, 28 September 2015

This Has All Happened Before And This Will All Happen Again

My latest painting is the first of a series created as a result of my trip to the United States early in 2015. 

It features a snowscape anchored in Central Park of New York City with the so called “New York Obelisk” (also called “Cleopatra’s Needle”) at the centre. 

Surrounding the obelisk are statues of 4 Netjeru: Bast, Ptah, Het-Hrt (classically Hathor), and Anpu (classically Anubis). These Netjeru are Themselves flanked either side by an outward facing Setian sphinx.

The obelisk of Djehutymose III and Rameses II in Central Park
The obelisk was originally dedicated by Djehutymose III of the 18th dynasty and added to by Rameses II of the 19th dynasty. Interestingly, the two most prominent warrior pharaohs of pharaonic history.

Despite having been to New York city twice prior to February of this year, I had not seen the obelisk across from the Metropolitan Museum Of Art before. Seeing it across the blanket of white with parts of snow nestled inside the bas relief glyphs haunted me. How strange that this artifact is now home in a land so far away in space and time from Ancient Kemet!

I had become intrigued by the obelisk after reading about it in Bob Brier’s “Egyptomania” last year. I found his rendering of the tale of the purchase and subsequent erection in Central Park in the 1800’s fascinating.

My painting shows the eastern face of the obelisk which is one of the better preserved sides. I have rendered the monument as it currently sits in Central Park, and used drawings by Champollion as reference. I also used reference photos that I took myself when I visited the monument in February. Evidence of palimpsests can be seen in the monument, perhaps one of the most notable being the 3 falcons at the top where the one on the far left looks dodgily rendered. (See more comments about palimpsests in the section immediately below).

The message of the Eastern face of the obelisk
I commissioned Egyptologist Tamara Siuda to translate / transliterate the monument as well as to check my renderings of the glyphs so the painting displayed hieroglyphic accuracy and was true to the message written by the ancients. I include her translation and transliteration below along with notes.

The text reads (beginning with the column far right and top to bottom):

Horus, [Strong bull beloved of Ra]
King of Upper and Lower Egypt (Userma’atra Sotepenra)
created by (lit.born of) the gods,
Founder of the Two Lands,
Son of Ra (Meriamun Ramessu)
Glorious child,
Beloved like Aten
He shines in the horizon (as)
Lord of the Two Lands (Userma’atra Sotepenra)
Son of Ra (Meriamun Ramessu)
Appearing as Ra.**

**NOTE: honorific transposition puts the n after the R’ instead of before it as it goes in the grammar
(aX n R’, “appearing as Ra.”) This is also the aX bird (Gardiner G25), NOT the s3 bird (Gardiner G38), as drawn in the original drawing!
Artistic note from Setken: I have left the glyphs rendered as they exist in New York now, so my rendering is the s3 glyph which has occurred as a result of palimpsests (see comment above also)

The middle column reads:

Horus, [Strong bull appearing in Waset/Thebes],
Two Ladies: placed as king like Ra in the heavens,
(Son of Atum, Lord of Iunu/Heliopolis,
his father who gave birth to him, Thutmose)
(he) created for them (a) great temple
for the beauty of their flesh/bodies/limbs,
knowing that which he made**,
(they) established (his) kingship forever,
(as the) king of upper and lower Egypt,
beloved of Atum,
the great God,
together with his Nine Gods (pesdjet/ennead),
Giving all life, stability (and) power,
like Ra, eternally.

**NOTE: or: “knowing what he would make”, the phrase is essentially timeless so it could imply foreknowledge, or past knowledge. The idea is that the gods were aware of what Thutmose did for them and so They blessed him with kingship.

The left hand side column reads:

Horus, [Strong bull Son of Khepera**]
king of Upper and Lower Egypt
(Userma’atra Sotepenra)
Golden Horus,
powerful/strong (of) years,
great in victories,
Son of Ra
(Meriamun Ramessu)
He went out from the womb
obtaining/securing the diadems of Ra
He birthed himself as (the) Sole Lord,
Lord ofthe Two Lands,
(Userma’atra Sotepenra)
Son of Ra
(Meriamun Ramessu)
appearing as Ra

**NOTE: sa Khepera “son of Khepera,” here written Xpri s3 due to honorific transposition, is not very clear on the drawing, it looks like an ib (heart) sign, a t sign, and a reed leaf; it should be a scarab above an r sign Gardiner D21) then the reed ( leaf for the i (Gardiner M17).  Setken's note; I have left it as it is in the original drawings made of the obelisk as that is how the glyphs look today.
For s3 here, instead of the usual bird (Gardiner G38), we have the egg sign (Gardiner H8) followed by a stroke.
****NOTE: honorific transposition puts the n after the R’ instead of before it as it goes in the grammar (aX n R’, “appearing as Ra.”) This is also the aX bird (Gardiner G25), NOT the s3 bird (Gardiner G38), as drawn in the original drawing Setken's note; again, I have left it as it is in the original drawings made of the obelisk as that is how the glyphs look today.

There is a fourth row of glyphs on the bottom before the striping and cartouches at very base; on both left and right goes from right to left across all three rows):

Given life forever, like  Ra.

Is there a Neter of snow?
As mentioned, Ancient Egypt's two most prominent warrior pharaohs are the authors of this monument, and both had taken expeditions to the Levant where they encountered snow. Perhaps the obelisk was communicating something to me across time when I saw those snowflakes nestling in the curves and shapes of the words that arrested me so that day?

This, as well as the notion that dialogue and messages from ancient Egypt are still being transmitted to us and have relevance today is why the words are rendered in red, as though activated and glowing.

The Neter of snow – Set – sits guard at the edges of my snowscape and His color is red.

My experience with snow this year was the first I had ever encountered in this lifetime. The bleakness of it, as well as the strangely fascinating capacity that it has to completely transform a landscape moved me. 

Another aspect of my trip was to address a romantic connection began 6 years earlier in San Francisco, and upon my arrival to NY it was clear that it wasn’t to be. This did impact my trip, and perhaps the bleakness of the snowscape and the austerity of the cityscape reflects this.

Eternal return in New York City
The sense of the ancient being repeated in a modern context has already been mentioned and as a philosophical branch is termed “eternal recurrence”. Nietzsche is the most recent philosophical giant to broach the subject but it is not a new concept. The Ancient Egyptians themselves were a big fan of this concept and it can be found through out what we refer to as their mythology.

The title really emphasizes the eternal return aspect of the painting. It is lifted from a phrase in the recent reboot of TV series “Battlestar Galactica” where eternal recurrence is a theme heavily explored along with reference to the Ancient Greek pantheon, no less!

The red glyphs are perhaps a nod to the cylons I will concede, but this is not to underscore the deep feelings I have of the transmission of Ancient Kemet in these times, and is a fitting start to my series “The Netjeru in America”.

Kemetic art and today
I am attempting to keep an inherent truth in my work that is relevant to Ancient Kemet and yet still appealing for today. The 2d-ness of the painting is still somehow maintained despite the fact that depth and perspective are featured in the piece.

The 5 Netjeru featured as statues around the obelisk speaks to how I feel Kemetic spiritually is manifesting today. I see Bast and Anpu very much as heralds, and note that Their cat and dog headed forms seem to strike a chord in modern psyches. 

Ptah seems to be perceived as an avatar of wisdom (Djehuti notwithstanding) and Baba Heru Ankh Ra Semahj said to me during my visit, "Don't be fooled by the B replacing the P". He speaks of the later religious deity Buddha's name sounding remarkably similar to Ptah's.

Het-Hrt in her beauty and divineness can be recognized in our obsession with beautiful women celebrities from movie starlets to pop divas most clearly in modern times and especially in America.

“This Has All Happened Before And This Will All Happen Again” is an entrant in the 2016 Blake Prize for spiritual and religious art along with my previous work, “Material Immortality”.

Related blog posts:

Friday, 7 August 2015


Likely because an obelisk is central to a painting I am working on, I was distracted by the tips of these as I walked past the Melbourne Cemetery yesterday.

Why are humans so fascinated with this shape? Why are we connecting them with our dead? Or is it perhaps a connection to the Duat?

Monday, 15 June 2015

Windows To The Sacred

Windows To The Sacred is an exhibition that I had been looking forward to seeing in Melbourne, as it had already toured to other Australian cities. 

Interestingly, this and the last exhibition I have seen in Melbourne along spiritual / religious / esoteric lines have been held in regional centres. The Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery is the host of this exhibit, and though it is a trek out of Melbourne, it is not a disappointing one.

Whilst not all pieces featured in the previous versions of the exhibition or tour book were featured in this incarnation, it was still a satisfying show to attend. (I was disappointed that Austin Osman Spare's piece was not included).

I had earlier this year attended a lecture in San Jose about the creation of Crowley's "Thoth Tarot Deck", and seeing some of his works in person for the first time was a treat. 

"Life After Dark" by Thor Engelstad

The below placard featured at the exhibition sums up concisely what the exhibition is about:

I feature below photos I took of work that I found particularly engaging.

"The Omen II" by Abdul-rahman Abdullah

"Isis Unveiled" by Kim Nelson

"Landscape And Jade Pagoda" by Aleister Crowley

"Beelzebub" by William Barry Hale

"Legion 49" by Barry William Hale

"A Moment In The Process" by James Gleeson

The Windows To The Sacred website is here. The exhibition runs until July 12, 2015.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Material Immortality

This is the story of my first complete work of 2015, Material Immortality.

Material Immortality; acrylic on linen 40" x 60"
My latest painting has taken the longest to complete of my works so far, with almost 10 months since the canvas was first prepared to when it was sealed with varnish. It has taken 3 residence changes, and gone through a name transformation.

When I was 19 or 20 I bought and read the two Her Bak volumes. The 2nd volume featured on the cover a work by Lucy Lamy that fascinated me entitled "Psychostasia". It is a Greek word that means "the weighing of souls", and featured a beautifully rendered painting of Ausar judging the deceased in the Duat. I believe that subconsciously this art has influenced Material Immortality.

This is the frontispiece of Her Bak: Egyptian Initiate, and is half the painting made by Lucy Lamy named "Psychostasia"
The featured Netjeru
There are 8 Netjeru directly depicted in the painting; all are glyphed with the exception of Nehebukau who appears as winged and two headed at the top of the sarcophagus. Nekhbet is featured twice.
The other deities are Hehu, Khepera, Set, Sopdu, Sopdet and Sokar.  The lion lid represents multiple male lion Netjeru - Nefertum, Apademak, Maahes, Shezmu, and Hutchaiui.

Description of the artwork
The piece centres on two primary figures: The Great Netjer Khepera - Netjer of existence, transformation and change - administering transformational energy to a sarcophagus. The lion lidded sarcophagus represents the physical form of a being, and the enshrined mummiform entities depicted on the side are the other 8 "bodies" comprising the living entity. I discuss this aspect of the painting in greater detail in "Kemetic Soul Anatomy" further on.

Detail of sarcophagus in Material Immortality
The lid also features an effigy of The Great Goddess Nekhbet in a position of protection. Nekhbet also oversees the process from the top left corner. The image of the lion effigy protected by Nekhbet is taken directly from the Temple of Seti I in Abydos, and the sarcophagus echoes the alabaster one that this pharaoh was originally buried in, now in the John Soanes Museum in London.

The alabaster coffin that Seti I was buried in, now in the John Soane's Museum in London
The Netjer of eternity, Hehu, sits between the wings of Khepera.

Detail of the Netjer Hehu
The Netjeru Sopdet and Sopdu - the Sothic star energy (which is visible with the ankhs in the divine beam coming from Khepera's ankh below them) are represented with Sutekh: immortal Netjer and Great of Magick.

Detail of the Netjeru Sutekh, Sopdu and Sopdet
Sokar sits below the piece as Netjer of the underworld and representing the hidden processes of the alchemy that the painting reveals. These latter 4 Netjeru are wearing garments of contraction as the process is realized in material form.

Detail of the Netjer Sokar
The two plant (papyrus and lotus) emblems of Ancient Kemet are represented in the background in a fashion I began with a work from last year, Mer Wer, and again reflected in the emblem at the bottom corner of Khepera's throne.

Kemetic Soul Anatomy and Physical Immortality
Physical Immortality is a subject that has occupied me for some time (see this post, and this one). I believe that the direct way to fully realize this state is by understanding soul anatomy, and believe that the ancients knew this at some point in their long civilization along with other technology that now eludes us.

This work is an artistic rendering of soul anatomy as expressed through Ancient Kemetic texts, and represents my current understanding of this complex subject. I had conceived a painting about Soul Anatomy some time ago, but the subject eluded me much and the concept for the painting evolved too many times for it to be rendered physically in art or intellectualized in further blog posts: I never followed up with further blogs on the matter, as the painting itself has done that.

Various researchers and Egyptologists put the soul anatomy component toll at differing figures: 5, 7 and 8 are common. I suggest 9 with my painting, and that includes the physical body (represented by the coffin lid entity)  and the "energy" sekhem (featured as one of the 8 shrine bodies).

As mentioned previously, the soul components are represented by mummiform beings inside open shrines, another inspiration form the coffin of Seti I, which also featured bright blue hieroglyphs on the then white alabaster when it was first discovered.

The soul parts from left to right top first are:
The Khat itself is represented by the lion headed lid and is designated so just under Nekhbet's wing. A simple understanding of the meanings of each can be found in the aforementioned blog post

The Hieroglyphs
Again, I commissioned Tamara Siuda to render the texts I wanted for the painting into Ancient Kemetic, as well as to check that I had the orientation of the texts correctly on the piece, and the Netjeru's names and the soul names correct.

The texts (from top left) read:

The Great Goddess Nekhbet in her glory blesses this process

The Great God Khepera activates this one with His divine transformative power

Behold my Akh
Behold my Ka
Behold my Sekhem
Behold my Khaibit 
Behold my Ba
Behold my Ab
Behold my Sahu 
Behold my Ren
Behold my Khat

Divinely activated my wings grow and I metamorphose into a starry being like Netjer
These things a million times true

The glyphs next to each of the smaller featured Netjeru say Their names:
Sutekh, Sopdu, Sopdet, Hehu, Sokar.

Jean Michel Bitar
An author from Portugal contacted me a year ago to say that he had read my blog and had written a book with very similar ideas to mine on Physical Immortality. Jean Michel Bitar had written "Material Immortality*" and sent it to me not long after I had begun rendering this painting onto the canvas; at the time it was named "Animation Of The Human Machine" . I liked his book - and the title - so much I began referencing the painting first as:
Animation Of The Human Machine (Material Immortality)
Animation Of The Human Machine  / Material Immortality
and finally
Material Immortality.
*Jean Michel has since renamed this book, and my strong feeling is that the name of it originally was meant to inspire me to name my painting the same

Material Immortality is acrylic on canvas 60" x 40"

Detail of the Netjer Khepera

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Jackal Gods

It interests me when people gift me Kemetic things. I am not the easiest person to buy for, so if I receive something that really floats my boat it is significant.

I received within a 4 day period in this last week 2 gifts of jackal Netjeru: a beautiful portrait of Anpu (called "Guide Dog") by my friend artist Paul Compton, and a particularly well rendered statue of Duamutef (bought from the Egyptian Museum in Turin) from a client.

"Guide Dog" by Paul Compton
Interestingly, these gifts coincide with finding and securing a new home - a process that has been long, exhausting and not terribly pleasant. I received Paul's gift on Friday (I had submitted my application to secure house), and Duamutef on Monday (I was informed I was successful in securing said house). As a primary purpose of getting this home was to have a room specifically for painting in, I can't help but feel the Netjeru's blessing in all this. (Of note also is that the place I "began" my painting in 4 years ago I felt I was led to by Wepwawet).

I first saw the Anpu portrait in Paul's exhibition in 2012 and wrote about it here. Paul and I had struck up a friendship when I frequented the art supplies store he works in and has been a solid "art" friend since. By this I mean we go to exhibitions of interest together, he guides me with arts technique and product I have no clue about, and is a supporter of my work, as I am his.

My client that gifted me Duamutef went to Italy recently for the Bienniale, and I joked that he should go to Turin - home of the largest collection of Egyptian antiquities outside of Egypt - and get me a gift. He had not planned on going to Turin and by a strange twist of fate ended up there with friends. They all visited the museum (I have seen the pictures and videos he took and it is AMAZING there) and he bought me the statue presented here.

Dua Anpu!
Dua Duamutef!

Monday, 6 April 2015

Trip To Ballarat Art Gallery Part 2

The author captured in the glass reflection of a work that forms the inspiration for a forthcoming painting
Radicals, Slayers and Villains
After enjoying the Eikon exhibit, I explored the rest of the gallery, including a fascinating exhibition of woodcuts, etchings and engravings called "Radicals, Slayers and Villains".

Featuring extraordinary prints from the Baillieu Library of the University of Melbourne, I was in for an unexpected surprise of themes dealing with the esoteric, macabre and dark. (Melbourne Uni library - who would have thought???)

I loved the range of ideas about death, Satan, hell, and suffering that this exhibition engendered. The liberal display of nudity (perhaps the notion of nude = evil?), other worldly beings and deities had me as engaged as the previous exhibit, but in a different way.

The following images are my personal highlights from this exhibition:

"Lycaon" by Agostino Musi 
An engraving from 1524, "Lycaon" shows the werewolf king of Arcadia about to attack Zeus!

"Eve" by Eric Gill
The sensuality of this silhouette is stunning. In many ways a simple, uncomplicated image, but it says so much. It is a wood engraving, and a brief read of Mr. Gill's background makes me think he would have been fun to meet.

"The raising of Lazarus" by Rembrandt van Rijn
This is an etching and engraving from 1632, and features my fave theme of non-death and physical resurrection. I wonder what happened after Lazarus awoke and what stories he told having been dead for so many days?

"Satan" by Lionel Lindsay
This 1922 wood engraving by Aussie artist Lionel Lindsay is quite likely what we Australians call "taking the piss" out of the Christian parable of sheep and goats where goats = the devil.

"La tentation de Saint Antoine" by Erik Desmazierres
"The temptation of St. Anthony" (St. Anthony of Egypt or St. Anthony the Great) is a complex and intriguing etching and aquatint. The Moroccan French Desmazierres has created a mutli faceted hell where all kinds of demons and torture abound. I have included a detail from it below. The figure below did remind me of a certain Netjer . . . . 

"La tentation de Saint Antoine" detail

Other parts of the gallery
I include below, sans commentary, other works that captured my eye as we wandered through the impressive gallery:

"Ajax and Cassandra" by Solomon J Solomon
oil on canvas (1886)
"Beneath the arena" by Karl Theodor von Piloty
oil on canvas (1860 - 1880)

"Wake up to the stink" by ELK
spray enamel on board (2009)

"Henry F Stone and his Durham ox" by Thomas Flintoff
oil on canvas (1887)

"Tracks" by Stanislaus Rapotec
oil on composition board 1956

The 8 + 1 painting
I wouldn't finish this post without mentioning the drawing - a mezzotint in fact -that inspired me so. I drew the sketches to interpret this as a painting whilst on the plane over to the US.

The piece is called "Satan presiding at the Infernal Council" and it is a delight to behold. John Martin was famous for implying enormous scale through his grand architectural renderings. Let's hope my homage to this piece can do it justice!

"Satan presiding at the Infernal Council" by John Martin
mezzotint 1827