Halloween, All Hallows Eve
As is known, the sacred character of the day has its roots in pagan and Christian practices which relate – when the harvest is in – to the appreciation of the cycle of life and death of plants and of humans.
Death is in focus at Halloween. The fright and fear of it.
Over a Philadelphia gate, 2019
This focus has been sharpened by the overlapping celebration in North America of the Mexican Day of the Dead which begins on Halloween.
Not death as frightful but death as a superpower which unites people with their beloved dead in a cycle of time uniting past, present and future.
The Mourner, 2019, acrylic on canvas and detail. Peter Paone, American born 1936
The primary motif of Halloween, though is the freedom from norms which ordinarily govern the expression of the self.
It is the occasion for the expression of our wished selves,
the alternative selves we hold in check;
the selves which may violate societal norms.
Detail from Mask 2, 2016, acrylic on canvas, below
For one day, the spirit of children become ruling enablers and guides.
And this for their lack of inhibition, their unfettered imaginations and their love of mischief.
For which attributes they are rewarded with sweet things.
Detail from Showoffs, 2019, acrylic on canvas, below
Pumpkins,the fruit of the season, often carved into grinning heads and with a lit candle placed within; and sometimes crowned with plants, decorate the front steps of houses and gardens:
detail from The Photograph, 2018, acrylic on panel, below
a pumpkin found by the Lady who posts poems on the front of her house in Philadelphia
a pumpkin in a shop window, Chester County, PA 2021
At nightfall on Halloween, witches, wizards, ghouls, and crones are prowling. Bats are flying. The sight of a black cat is such a catastrophe that people tend to safeguard their cats if they are black.
The Weird Sisters, 1785, mezzotint,
John Raphael Smith, 1751-1812, English. After Henry Fuseli, 1741-1825, Swiss. Baltimore Museum of Art
A garden in Arden, DE
A garden in Arden, DE
The Witch’s Procession (The Carcass), c. 1531.
Agostino Veneziano, 1490-1540, Italian. Baltimore Museum of Art
People put out brooms to encourage the witches and wizards to fly to someone else’s house.
The Four Witches (Four Naked Women), 1497, etching.
Albrecht Durer, 1471-1528, German. Private collection on loan to the Philadelphia Art Museum, 2019
A house in Arden, DE, 2021
The Halloween paintings of Peter Paone, American born 1936, were on exhibit at the Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania in 2019.
Peter Paone, a Philadelphian from birth, works in a figurative tradition rich in symbolism and colour connecting our every day and our imaginal lives.
Peter Paone’s Halloween is in earnest. The cats are all black.
His Merlin is resting. The Celtic guardian wizard is a master of transformation. He is resting now that and comforting a human being at the start of his transformative journey.
Merlin, acrylic on panel, 2019, and detail
The artist notes that human consciousness presents sometimes as multiple personalities. In a painting called Trans, which I was unable to photograph, the artist made the same point about the trans-gender process.
Multiple Personalities, 2017, acrylic on panel, and detail
The artist leaves a lot of psychological distance between characters in most of these tableaux. The ego being a solitary actor.
The repetitive, hypnotic patterns in these images hold the Halloween delirium in check. Prominent among them is the circle and the check/chess board pattern.
Loveliest ribbons play a role for their functional, decorative and connecting properties.
And then there is the multiplication of hands for their power to touch, connect, bless.
Ribbons and hands counter-balance the psychological distance in these paintings: an acknowledgment, perhaps, of the contradictory characteristic of Sapiens: a social animal with a solitary and self-possessed ego.
The clown, meanwhile, has been abused.
He has been punched.
And the cut-outs of his hat and clothing and left ear indicate that he is receding into the background on Halloween.
Punched Clown, 2018, acrylic on canvas; and detail
As to why this abuse?
Perhaps because the clown has license to remain with us throughout the year:
wearing Halloween-like costumes and demonstrating by the enormous range of his facial expressions and body movements
his mastery of the techniques of Halloween’s primary goals: human transformation to the end of psychological integrity even against the cultural norms;
with a deep understanding that there is always evil and sadness and suffering and death.
Maybe he should have shown a reticence, a delicacy, a restraint on this day and let others have the field. Like Merlin the Wise who is resting quietly.
Dark matter is clearly eating the clown alive.
The Party, 2015-2018, acrylic on panel, and detail
Witch 2, 2018, acrylic on panel
The Old Soldier, 2019, acrylic on panel, and detail
Night Out, 2018, acrylic on canvas and detail
Mask I, 2018, acrylic on panel and detail
Bat, 2015, acrylic on panel and detail
Witch 3, acrylic on panel, and detail
Cat Mask, 2018, acrylic on panel, and detail
Showoffs, 2019, acrylic on canvas
Mask 2, 2016, acrylic on canvas
Trick or Treat Night, 2018, acrylic on panel, and detail
Together, 2018, acrylic on panel, and detail
The Bat, the Fawn and the Mummy, 2018, acrylic on panel, and detail
Candle, 2019, acrylic on panel, and detail
Halloween Party, 2015, acrylic on panel, and detail. Private collection
Mother and Son, 2015, acrylic on panel, and detail
Detail of Witch No, 1, 2018, acrylic on panel
The Photograph, 2018, acrylic on panel, and detail
These fantastic shenanigans stop as soon as the new day arrives. November 1 is All Saints Day. Followed by All Souls Day.
Everything is returned to ‘order’.
6 thoughts on “Halloween, All Hallows Eve”
Another GREAT post!
Thank you very much for sharing… and happy Halloween to you too 🎃👻🎃
I a glad you enjoyed this, Luisa! We do say Happy Holloween although there are so many skulls and ghouls hung on our streets and through our windows that you wonder what is so happy!
Thanks again. Sarah
My feeling is that the skulls and ghoulish imagery are nearly meaningless in Halloween’s Disneyfied version today. Perhaps that’s as it should be. Terror satirized and sanitized becomes impotent. ( Hence “happy”.) But the trappings aside, as children we were ecstatic with the unspoken belief that our costumes enabled our transformation into beings other than ourselves. And it’s healthy and vital that parents encourage and celebrate the magic of make-believe. It’s something that creative adults cherish and nurture in themselves too, I should think, or die.
I understand what you are saying.
I no longer understand what Halloween means today except as an occasion for certain sectors of the economy – greeting card/decoration and sweet/candy – to make money. This is what Christmas has become also. Except Christmas is much bigger, of course with all the shopping which goes on for that.
The original meanings of Halloween have not only been lost but the very idea that there should be occasions in which aspects of ourselves not normally on view should be alllowed to display themselves in a ritualized fashion once in a while – that very idea would seem strange to many people.
I have the idea the values and focus of our societies have been flatterned out to such shallow levels of materialism and materialism alone that it is this shallowness, this lack of deep water for the soul to swim in that is one of hte sources of the unbelievable levels of violence which exists in the US.
Emptying the meaning of our old holidays and holy days is part of thiis sad and dangerous development, it seems.
I think that we must find the thing within us that can defeat the malaise and depression that our culture produces in the sensitive and thoughtful souls.
I think that you have found a healing balm in your love and appreciation for art and nature that you find around you. Not everyone does or can.
The last time I was in Philadelphia I was sickened to see an ugly statue of Christopher Columbus near the river that once was an authentic working port and has now been plastered over with a freeway. To add to the misery I saw a statue of “Rocky” at the Art Museum. But I was thankful to find a wonderful statue of Walt Whitman still standing on S. Broad St. towards the airport. It was sleeting and freezing at the moment but he was smiling and glorious in the miserable surroundings that he now finds himself in and I was lifted up too.
Thanks for your comment.
I was fortunate to be taught something of the history of art in the West. The bees and the birds I was not taught but it has certainly been a great pleasure to begin to understand a little about how they live.
That for many people, neither holds much interest is a signal of the malaise of which you speak: the workings of nature being by far the more important of the two.
The Rocky statue is still on the steps of the Phila Art Museum. Nobody dares touch it because it has become a huge tourist attraction.
The Christopher Columbus statue stands on a road which has long been the access road to the Port of Philadelphia. A plan to move it in the wake of protests following the murder of George Floyd was met with such vigorous reaction – some carrying arms – by members of the Italian-Amrican community that the whole thing ended up in the courts. The last court decision was that the statue should remain where it is but boxed up!
I have never seen the Walt Whitman staute, also in South Philly, but it remains where it was placed in the late 1930s.
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