“Democratic” Deconstruction Of A Pompous Western Mythological Legacy

God-Sun is mightier than manhood. Can manhood be mightier than God-Sun?


Francis Picabia – “Apollo and His Messengers”, 1935

Picabia’s Apollo is like hidden semantics becoming discernible despite the tradition of windstorms of light enveloping Apollo’s human body, which we need to see glorified – a body transformed into a shining knot of a blinding power. Indeed, transforming the human body into eternal vitality of a blasting light of immortality is the innocent vice of human immaturity, playing with reality in order to feel reassured. Picabia’s Apollo, on the other hand, instead of being the sun-beaming god is… a black or brown – not just earthly, but earthy. He looks like soil, he is from caves and mud, not from clouds. Isn’t the painter “attacking here our sacred cultural monuments? And now he is hiding his intentions behind the murky colors of his painting”.

Let’s look at the painting more objectively. Apollo looks tired. He is sitting resting in his carriage which is visually mixed with the dark rocks behind. He is in the company of his horses. He has dark curly hairs. He doesn’t have any interest towards the world. His gaze is lazy and only pettily alert, perhaps spotting some human females. The tiny winged horse in the upper left part of the canvass is a humorous tribute to the traditional mythic Apollo, but something like 99% of the painting’s space belong to a severe demythologization of the classic Apollo myths.

Demythologization as an anti-traditional aesthetic strategy which Picabia puts to use in his “Apollo and His Messengers” is, it seems, of three types. The first type is the simplest but not less daring than others. It is a physically deflated version of a previously deliriously aggrandized Apollonian glory. It’s the tiny “naturalistic” representation of one of Apollo’s mythological horses, which looks at us with A surprise – it cannot yet digest what her banishment from the center to periphery of the world: from the main representational space, can mean. The horse, probably feels like the 1% of the Americans today – the richest minority when they give themselves to the fear that one day the majority will be able to restore democracy in the country.

The second strategy of demythologization Picabia uses here is that of drastic reduction of mythological parameters of Apollo to insultingly realistic frame of reference. Yes, Apollo is represented as not white-skinned. First, it is the reference to the fact that we all ultimately came from Africa, it means, that we all genetically mixed regardless of we like it or not. But the second reason is from the area of aesthetic truth – the sun of our perception is not white, it is rather yellow and even orange with strong darkening skin power. To have a relation to the real world, even as god, means to have a relation to reality which is not directly metaphysical – white, but always “dirtied” by the spots of darkening – the traces of living on earth.

Picabia deprives us of the image of Apollo’s flower with penetrating power of the sunbeam, with petals pinker than rose’s magic. More, he allows himself to laugh at us – he hints at its presence on Apollo’s body in distorted way – in intentionally wrongly identified area: Apollo’s pearl becomes a trivial part of the banal flesh. The painter, probably, had a fun of imagining how some of viewers worriedly looking for it in the painting. He makes Apollo a kind of castrated – he knows that such representation will create in many of us phobic worries. Identification with traditional figure of Apollo makes us all feel like a great womanizers beyond our ordinariness, unconscious guilt, tiredness or wilting age.

The third aesthetic strategy of Picabia in his “Apollo…” is hyperbolic emptying of representation, like, for example, in depicting always ready heavenly horses – the sign of Apollo’s movement from place to place, from the flesh to the fresher flesh to inseminate life and earth and resurrect human hopes. Heavenly horses in the painting are as brown-dark as Apollo himself, and they are dark because they are transparent to the landscape. They are just a dynamic aspect of a monumental world. They are, as if, the rocky sounds of Apollo’s carriage mixed with the visual idea of Apollo’s horses creating one holistic visual-audial image parodying today’s flying super-technology.

With his left hand Apollo keeps the wooden leverage by which he is directing his horses with a habitual gesture of the working man whose destiny is to follow his job description which has been assigned to him by the order of things. As a worker Picabia’s Apollo is quite an obedient creature – he is not putting the “wheel” of his moving aggregate down even in the moment of his rest – he is always ready to fly up-and-ahead again, but he is not hiding his boredom and even sadness. He is real. Here he is creation of the art, not of mythology, of the truth, not pleasing illusions.

With his disrespectful deconstruction of Apollo’s myth Picabia takes away from us a lot of pleasure (which provided us with self-aggrandizing excuse through unconscious identification with god.) As an artist Picabia is putting under a radical doubt the very value of human gesture of mythologizing reality, be it done in obviously mythological art and/or in political ideology. For eons we, humans, have only lived under, by, through and with myths. They help us survive psychologically and physically, but they also have made us what we are – matter-of-factly cruel, belligerent and indifferent. Our unconscious, semi-conscious or cynically conscious identification with Gods has radically destroyed our potential for having humility in front of other people and the world at large. Our fixation on gods made us feel ourselves as a kind of semi-gods. We unconsciously mixing gods with billionaires and generals. People like Francis Picabia are those who are trying to save us from ourselves by pointing towards a necessary transition from human self-aggrandizement towards humility more congruent with our life with other humans and nature.

Of course, to prevent the possibility of democratic humanization of humankind, inseparable from giving ourselves to humility, sobriety and rationality, we, seduced and corrupted by megalomaniacal profit-worshippers – invent new gods – with manifold heads of multifarious technological inventions for playing and fighting, for self-entertaining and killing.