I have been an art lover since a very young age. I was sketching and painting at the age of four or five, was suspended from the third grade when someone looked at my desk cubby and discovered a few nude female drawings I had drawn. Nothing lurid but provocative enough to keep me home for three days.
One of the saddest things in my life was when I got my cancer and had to give up oil painting, there is nothing else quite like it. Miss that turpentine smell, boy.
In any case I went from an art creator to an art curator somewhere along the line. Not quite the same but it still allows me to ply my critical eye and make a decent living.
I love art, signed, unsigned, what have you. I thought I was really slick once when I sold an unsigned painting of Monhegan, Maine for twenty two thousand dollars. I was less ebullient when I discovered that the painting had resold for a half a million six months later, turned out it was a Henrietta Shore.
My philosophy and criteria is more about quality of a work than authorship but this approach doesn't always pay the bills. Still, every human being is capable of producing something beautiful artistically at some point in their lives, this I truly believe.
Some paintings are cut and dried affairs, wrapped up tight as a drum, others lead to disquiet and searching, like jigsaw puzzles missing a few pieces. This is just such a painting. It leaves me with more questions than answers, me being a curious sort. The kind of prescient painting that is pretty far ahead of its time and will take a while for people to catch up to it. Or a painting that perhaps stands slightly outside of time.
The third reaction was very personal, it drew me back to the books by the esteemed psychoanalyst Carl Jung, Psyche and Symbol and Man and his symbols.
One of the books had a very similar image to the flowering heart in one of its plates, I forget which one.
But I remember that it showed the snake eating its tail, the ancient hermetic depiction of Ouroboros.
I believe that the particular plate showed a white lotus in the center of the image.
I remember the image quite vividly because there was a time about thirty years ago when I was getting bombarded by this image, tangibly and conceptually in a variety of forms and emanations for several weeks, in dreams and in waking reality. But back to that in a minute.
The fourth question obviously was, who was this artist, this Mary Navratil? I did some hunting and sleuthing and have a basic framework but one that once again, leaves more questions than answers. An artist of considerable talent, who somehow has fallen off the map and escaped scrutiny.
She was born in Iowa in either 1899 or 1901, I would guess the former as many of the distaff persuasion like to knock a year or two off their age, if I may be so bold. In 1940 we find her in Las Vegas, New Mexico, designated on the census as a catechist with six other novitiates.
Why did you stop painting and start writing? Or did you stop? How much painting did you actually do? Where can I find your writing? Were you always religiously involved? Why did you resign from the Old Santa Fe Association in 1969? And where did you end up? Were you a Jungian?
...a one man show of artwork by Mary Navratil has been hung in the offices of the New Mexico arts 120 East Marcy the show will continue until april Miss Navratil is a native of Santa Fe, she entered the Field of Fine arts immediately after receiving her degree in Interior decoration from the California School of Fine Art now the San Francisco Art in 1946 she received the Abraham Rosenberg traveling Fellowship awarded annually by the San Francisco As foreign travel was closed that she used the Grant to return to Santa Fe for research in Indian color and design through the medium of her study was made under the guidance of Kenneth director of the Laboratory of Anthrop her work since that time has been acquired for permanent collections of the Oakland Museum of Art and the museum of new as well as by private and has been a consistent prizewinner in juried shows of the San Francisco Museum of Art and she has just finished a one year residential Grant from the Helene Wurlitzer for painting and research which is reflected in the present exhibit of paintings and miss Navratils work for years has been philosophical in involved wholly with the archetypes and of the psyche, basic images of unconscious imbedded in man since earliest times and usually deemed religious in her Effort has Hen to organically through individual such images designs (sic)...
The Ouroboros or Uroborus is an ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragon eating its own tail.The Ouroboros often represents self-reflexivity or cyclicality, especially in the sense of something constantly re-creating itself, the eternal return, and other things perceived as cycles that begin anew as soon as they end (compare with phoenix). It can also represent the idea of primordial unity related to something existing in or persisting from the beginning with such force or qualities it cannot be extinguished. The ouroboros has been important in religious and mythological symbolism, but has also been frequently used in alchemical illustrations, where it symbolizes the circular nature of the alchemist’s opus. It is also often associated with Gnosticism, and Hermeticism.Carl Jung interpreted the Ouroboros as having an archetypal significance to the human psyche. The Jungian psychologist Erich Neumann writes of it as a representation of the pre-ego “dawn state”, depicting the undifferentiated infancy experience of both mankind and the individual child.
The alchemists, who in their own way knew more about the nature of the individuation process than we moderns do, expressed this paradox through the symbol of the Ouroboros, the snake that eats its own tail.The Ouroboros has been said to have a meaning of infinity or wholeness. In the age-old image of the Ouroboros lies the thought of devouring oneself and turning oneself into a circulatory process, for it was clear to the more astute alchemists that the prima materia of the art was man himself.The Ouroboros is a dramatic symbol for the integration and assimilation of the opposite, i.e. of the shadow. This ‘feed-back’ process is at the same time a symbol of immortality, since it is said of the Ouroboros that he slays himself and brings himself to life, fertilizes himself and gives birth to himself. He symbolizes the One, who proceeds from the clash of opposites, and he therefore constitutes the secret of the prima materia which […] unquestionably stems from man’s unconscious.
Ouroboros, emblematic serpent of ancient Egypt and Greece represented with its tail in its mouth, continually devouring itself and being reborn from itself. A gnostic and alchemical symbol, Ouroboros expresses the unity of all things, material and spiritual, which never disappear but perpetually change form in an eternal cycle of destruction and re-creation.In the 19th century a vision of Ouroboros gave the German chemist August Kekule von Stradonitz the idea of linked carbon atoms forming the benzene ring.
‘I was sitting writing at my textbook; but the work did not progress; my thoughts were elsewhere. I turned my chair towards the fire and dozed. Again the atoms were gambolling before my eyes. This time the smaller groups kept modestly in the background. My mental eye, rendered more acute by repeated visions of the kind, could now distinguish larger structures of manifold conformation: long rows, sometimes more closely fitted together; all twining and twisting in snakelike motion. But look! What was that? One of the snakes had seized hold of its own tail, and the form whirled mockingly before my eyes. As if by a flash of lightening I awoke; and this time I also spent the rest of the night in working out the consequences of the hypothesis.’ [August Kekulé, 1890]*
Regarding oil painting materials…. Several fine painters I know have switched to water miscible oils and find them very satisfactory. Clean up with water and soap. Thin with water or non toxic mediums. Many brands including Winsor Newton and Holbein.
Just a thought.
Wonderful article….went to the Agnes Pelton exhibit in Palm Springs early this year and it was stunning. I was surprised at how much I liked her more conventional paintings ( landscapes for her bread and butter). They were full of life and light.
This painting really hit me in the solar plexes. I did a little
digging and found something interesting. If you have a copy of the
catalog "The Spiritual in Art 1890-1985" from LACMA 1986-87, turn to
page 246-247 where there is a diagram by Jakob Bohme from his writing
"Forty Questions of the Soul". Mary was well read in spiritual
philosophy and probably familiar with his work. In the text is his
explanation of the diagram. If you don't have a copy, I'll bring you
my copy. We can have a cup of coffee and chew the fat about this. I
think you will be as surprised as I was. Also in her painting there
is a second bird head to the left. Have you been able to find any
other paintings of hers? Let me know when you have time. Do you have
the original painting where I might see it?
What a fascinating and well researched story. Thanks! The human mind is a very powerful thing.
I remember Mary Navratil. She was a friend of my mother's, until my mother decided she needed to end the friendship.
I recently found some artwork of her's and searched on her name to see if I could figure out if this artwork had any value. I would like to sell it.
Please contact me, Mars. I am interested in knowing more about her and seeing and purchasing more artwork. firstname.lastname@example.org
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