Sunday, September 20, 2009
Rita Harowitz: Discovering the other
"My brother's son," Rita Harowitz, aka SeenyaRita, All rights reserved
There is no other time in human life as delicately suspended between two worlds as adolescence. Psychologists call it a liminal state -- outside the margins of child- & adulthood, slipping back & forth across the thresholds of both. It is an unbearably awkward time. And sometimes impossibly beautiful.
Look at this remarkable picture by my friend Rita Harowitz. You are pierced by the specificity of the boy, yet he seems somehow unearthly. His eyes shine with real affection, real intelligence, yet Rita's colorist skill & use of shallow focus make him seem to float in a glowing world without distinct boundaries.
Looking, I thought of mythic beings who have, in every culture, existed similarly between worlds.
When I was a teenager, I was fascinated by Irish folklore, particularly by the Sidhe (pronounced Shee), the people of faerie, who live in a kind of parallel universe with humans & sometimes emerge from portals in the landscape, called raths, to feast & battle with other Sidhe hosts. Occasionally too, the Sidhe have dealings with humans -- they bestow gifts & boons, also punish real or perceived insults. Both male & female faeries seduce & sometimes marry humans who take their fancy. Sometimes too, the Sidhe steal away human children, often replacing them with their own faerie children to be raised in human homes (see W.B. Yeats's "The Stolen Child.") The Sidhe, according to the stories, are tall and beautiful, a dream of nobility. They speak in silvery voices, a sound like music. They are like humans in many ways, but they never age & they never die. In Ireland they are referred to as "the gentry" and "the good people" -- though this is always a combination of true admiration and a sly propitiation of their potential wrath.
Detail from "Riders of the Sidhe," John Duncan, 19th c. Scottish artist
From An Encyclopedia of Shamanism, I found this: "In Celtic faerie lore there is a recurring theme that the beings of the Otherworld need human contact. For reasons that are not necessarily clear, the Sidhe actively seek to share their wisdom, power & secrets with humans. To this end faeries enter ordinary reality to be with humans and cause humans to enter into the Sidhe, into their realm. It is as if it is necessary for the survival of both species that we communicate & help each other."
I make no comparison of course between the actual boy pictured above & the Sidhe. Just that, for me, Rita's picture stirred a connection in my mind. Her artistry framed a moment that, for me, partakes of the same dream that created those Celtic legends.
Today's myths, it seems, are mostly freelance & transitory. Never without irony. Yet it is artists, as always, who reveal them.