Thursday, October 16, 2014

New Cave Art


After viewing the cave paintings of Altamira, Pablo Picasso said "after Altamira, all is decadence."

Enamored by  the cave paintings of Altamira and Lascaux, I used to collect photos of cave art—I couldn't get enough of them. Usually they were poor, grainy, or worse, in black and white on newsprint.

Now we can zoom in and visit detailed images via the internet. And now there are more sites added to the list....I loved the photos of penguins in the walls at the Chauvet, France site—discovered in 1994. I'm still waiting to see a photo of the horses panel.

Celia Woloch and I once traveled the long backcountry canyons of Utah to see spectacular wall art there, petroglyphs—and also Kokopele, the water sprinkler at Los Alamos, New Mexico.

And Mouse's Tank, a winding canyon in The Valley of Fire in Nevada is a virtual garden of petroglyphs leading to a rare natural cistern in a land of no water.

I never knew about Magura Cave, Bulgaria. It even has a a solar calendar. Or the Cueva de las Manos in Argentina—a forest of left hand stencils done in the same style as Kakadu, in North Oz. Or Laas Geel, in Somalia, depicting a once lush North African landscape.

And now, the hand stencils of Sulawesi, Indonesia joins the Paleo-art hit parade.

I use Paleolithic hand stencils as an intro to poetry when I teach kids. Those stenciled hands, the first "I Am" ever written. A petroglyph of a swirled hand was once the logo for California Poets in the schools, an organization I work for, but the poets of color felt it was too negative, and now Peets coffee cups sport it.

What was the sidestory in The English Patient? The Cave of Swimmers in what is now desert? It still haunts me. All that memory of water, red deer, aurochs, mammoths, painted and written in stone. A decadent testimony on the cave walls, the megafauna that met their demise, were also immortalized by the hands of those first cave painters.

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