Byzantine Archetypes and NASA Navigators

Following an exhibition in July I have been continuing with my exploration of the Cosmic and the Byzantine Archetypes and have created several compositions. Below are a few small thumbnails of my favourite ones. I have been making quick sketches of these using the traditional ‘cartoon’ technique of gum arabic and dry raw umber pigment with colour washes. It is a fabulous medium – so viscose, able to be layered, more forgiving than watercolours and quick – so I’m able to work on a much larger scale more easily.

I find I keep returning to the traditional Byzantine interpretation of Celestial Beings, I have tried others – but there is something about the simplicity, the directness, and the abstract naturalism – that holds the mysterious.

I’m walking a fine line. Negotiating a territory that could easily slip into fantasy art, new age art, science fiction art.  And I am also wrestling with the orthodoxy of an established canon of Byzantine imagery – which I respect, try to understand, and work with sincerely. I do feel that my work is perhaps a small representation of an evolving cosmic spirituality – I see that Eastern Christian Orthodoxy has something to offer, as much as NASA has (!) – in helping us along this journey. I’ll leave it at that for now.

Just as I try not to tamper with the archetype as handed down by generations of Byzantine Icon Painters, I also try not to tamper with the recordings made by our modern high-tech celestial navigators. I’m forever hopeful that in this way the truth of both is maintained – even while a new original story – full of possibilities is created.

Don’t Be Afraid of Your Own Voice

1. Five principles of inspiration for sacred art creation.

  • Acknowledgement of Divinity
  • Love of Wisdom, as the essential basis of civilization
  • Spiritual vision as the life-breath of civilization
  • Maintenance of the revered traditions of mankind
  • Understanding of tradition as continual renewal

These are five of the main principles of the Temenos Academy – which seeks to give space to poets, artists, writers and thinkers who subscribe to the belief that we are firstly spiritual creatures with spiritual needs which have to be nourished if we are to fulfil our potential and be happy.  They also have a journal devoted to the arts of the Imagination. ‘Temenos’ means a ‘sacred precinct’.

2. A few of Artist’s Kirsty Deetz’s writings on the “Artist’s Guide for True Engagement in the Creative Process”. I’ve just chosen a few to avoid complete plagarism. But I recommend you read them all here!

  1. Lazy Boy Recliner on the Edge of the Great Abyss
    Be comfortable with not knowing what you are doing.
  2. Sisyphus Says
    Be willing to start over any number of times.
  3. Order out Chaos
    Organize your time obsessively.
  4. Knievel’s Leap
    Take risks in your work.
  5. The Voice of Terror
    Don’t be afraid of your own thoughts.


Kirsty Deetz, 2009-2012. Lazy Boy Recliner on the Edge of the Great Abyss. Retrieved from: University of Wisconsin–Green Bay; Wisconsin, USA.

The Temenos Academy, 2013. Retrieved from: Kent: UK.

The Studio Desk: 4 April 2013

10 April 2013

DESK 1: CHRISTCRACK SERIES exploration continues – currently, I am involved with the materials:

The Gesso Ground – Cracked and blistered or sanded and smooth? Carved and scratched or burnished like marble? I’ve added china clay and ground up egg shells to the standard whiting and rabbit skin glue mix. I have also experimented with agate burnished cracked gold on hessian and muslin, with interesting results that I am still deciding whether I like.

The gesso surface is an important part of the process in the construction of a sacred artefact. Made with sacramental matter/materials – animal (rabbit skin glue, chalk, calcium) and organic (wood, h20, clay). Transformed via mysterious alchemic processes – from millions of years as diatoms become chalk, to five minutes as rabbit skin becomes glue. It is the Base, it is the Luminous. The light is coming to the viewer from within the image, and not just reflecting off it. ‘This luminosity is vital for iconography, because the way an icon is painted should mirror the paradisiacal world that it depicts … radiant with the light of its Creator and Sustainer.’ (Hart, A; p. 130) Also, the gesso can be seen as the Created Light, while the gold mirrors the Uncreated Light.

I am also experimenting with the shape of the ‘crack’ – which include squares, torn rectangles, and circles, as well as with the layering of gesso, gold, gesso again, etc… Plus the embossing of gold and the mixing of gold with tempera as in Sue Viner‘s work. I am yet to apply colour.  See gallery:

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G. Barnes, 2013. Template Drawing 'St. Francis with Five New Zealand Birds' [graphite on paper].
G. Barnes, 2013. Template Drawing Detail ‘St. Francis with Five New Zealand Birds’ [graphite on paper].
I’m still painting (writing) the icon of the Platytéra – [the Mother on Earth who contains within Her womb the Creator of the Universe – Him whom even the Heavens cannot contain] Am thinking of a title. And also thinking of exhibiting it juxtaposed with moving image – the Apollo Titan rocket launch, for example.

I have also started an icon of St. Francis. It can’t be helped. He needs a voice.


My short film ‘The Mobile Meat Processing Unit’ is to screen in May in the Green Film Festival in Seoul, and also in MashRome in Italy. It had an outing in the Yukon two weeks ago. I watched it on a really really big massive screen in Hoyts two nights ago, with the new DCP protocol, and found myself thinking wistfully of new ideas for digital cinema – particularly derived works, using found footage…. TBC.

Microcosmic Gesso

Gesso was once alive. Chalk is the main substance in gesso – it is a soft, white, pure form of limestone (calcium carbonate) with a very fine grain. Combined with white pigment (whiting) and rabbit skin glue – its an excellent absorbent prime coat for paintings. Chalk is made up of tiny skeletons or fossils called coccoliths – microscopic plates that were once phytoplankton – an algae living in the ocean millions of years ago.

Limestone = Cocolith
Microcosm Chalk