Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Art for Carnivores

(hunting lions of Chauvet cave, France)

"One of the great mysteries of the human experience on Earth---if not the greatest mystery of all---is the appearance, around 32,000 years ago, of magnificent paintings, drawings, and engravings of animals inside deep and often almost inaccessible recesses of large Ice Age caverns in France and Spain (and a small number of cases in southern Italy). The art seems to have followed very specific norms: It almost exclusively featured animals; there were only a few humanlike figures, never portrayed in as much detail as the animals. There was absolutely no terrain---no trees, no rivers, no mountains, no ground whatsoever; the animals appear to be floating in space, and their images often overlap.

(Lascaux, France)

"Stunningly, this specific practice had remained perfectly unchanged for 20,000 years...the art in the decorated caves all followed this exact format. Then, around 11,500 years ago, the fecund artistic activity in deep caves inexplicably came to an abrupt end. The mystery of cave art is the question 'Why?'

"Why would the Cro-Magnon hunter-gatherers of Europe expend so much time, effort, and resources to penetrate into deep, dark, and dangerous caverns, where they might encounter cave bears and lions or get lost and die? Why would they often crawl on all fours for distances of up to a mile or more underground, over mud and sharp stones, through narrow jagged fissures in the stony entrails of caves, aided only by the dim glow of animal-fat-burning stone candles, to paint amazing, haunting images of animals?"

-Amir Aczel, The Cave and The Cathedral

I find these enigmatic works to be very beautiful, both because of the pure artistic/technical content and because they represent the evidence of the ability of the Cro-Magnon man to think symbolically. For the modern aesthete who wishes to cultivate a bit of the Paleolithic sensibility in his or her urban cave, there seem to be a few interesting options.

Artist and mountaineer Calvin Grimm has a colorful and lively take on cave art (http://calvingrimm.com/ancient.htm).

Sam Deuel makes fountains and sculptures that are inspired by Paleolithic works. I believe his stuff is carried by some galleries out in Arizona.

There are other works that I think manage to capture many of the same vibes, while using very different media and techniques. A friend recently sent me a link to a guy named Mark Evans (http://www.markevansart.com/)and I was really amazed at what this very talented Welshman is able to accomplish with just a set of knives and a large piece of leather. As he puts it, "Art doesn't get much more primal than etching animal skins with a big knife. I don't do 'pseudo-intellectual', I do art."

(Evans at work, using one of his only tools. He etches the bison images directly into the leather with knives)

While we are on the subject of knives, perhaps we should follow Angelina Jolie's lead and collect some high-end edged implements. Living in Orlando, I of course share Angelina's appreciation for Randall knives (http://www.randallknives.com/) as collector's pieces. The only downside is that the waiting period for a new Randall currently runs at something like 4 years. You can, of course, turn to the secondary market and pay a bit more. In any case, you'll need a suitable display case--probably something lined with slate or an exotic hardwood.

(a selection of Randalls...the beautiful, stag-handled Model 25 on the far left is my personal favorite)

Large photographic images can evoke the proper sense of the wild or ancient. Ray Doan (http://www.raydoan.com/) is a seasoned world traveler and gearhead who takes some very striking shots and will blow them up to truly monumental proportions for you. If you have a living room or library with the scale to handle it, a giant Doan of Machu Picchu or a group of Great White sharks may be the ultimate conversation piece. I have one of his photos of African wildlife and really enjoy it, but perhaps a big, almost surreal iceberg is next:


  1. Someone once told me you can always tell a former SOF guy because among his key possessions are a sports car, a Randall knife, a Rolex, and a divorce.

    Here's a photographer you would like:


    Very interesting guy, shares a lot of our general interests.

  2. Thanks for the link! There are some amazing shots on that Conrad's site, and the guy certainly has a very cool resume.