THE SUBWAY PSYCHO POMP
by William Eckhardt Kohler
When I first got to New York in 2011, I began a series of paintings that used the subway as a metaphor for the descent and journey through the underworld. Hermes/Mercury is the God that rules Communication and Transportation and also serves as the psycho pomp, or guider of souls, leading the initiate, or the deceased, as the case may, be through the descent into the underworld.
On Greek funereal vases, used for pouring libations, there is an entire image type consisting of Hermes with his caduceus and often accompanied by a small moth-like figure floating in front of him; the soul (psyche) of the deceased. This can be seen psychologically as relating to the cyclical emotional descent and ascent of the soul.
The every day offers many opportunities to experience the mythic for those willing to really look, to open up and pay attention to and experience life in all it’s strangeness, it’s depth and mystery. Living mythically offers opportunities to achieve a deeper sense of connection to oneself, to others and to the earthly realm.
So often Mercury retrogrades are spoken of in a negative way. However when we consider that the retrograde is an essential characteristic of Mercury’s fluidity we can choose to go with the flow. It’s also possible to see how this energy can be used to reflect on where one has come from and also project on where one is going, what one is creating.
Part of what inspired me to start the subway/psycho pomp paintings is that in the mid 80’s I had done a handful of subway paintings based on trips to New York and I always wanted to explore this idea further. As a young painter, still in art school, I was wrapped up in all the enthusiasms, excitements, hopes, dreams and discoveries of a new world, the art world.
Nearly thirty years later, when I began revisiting this theme, I was keenly aware that I was likewise embarking on a journey and an adventure in my life once again. Being new in town I had few connections in the art world. It was exhilarating and strange. From where I sit today I can see also how afraid and lonely I often was.
This very Mercurial move was giving me an opportunity to revisit core insecurities, doubts and fears, albeit from a place of greater experience and self-awareness. I was making a new beginning at the age of almost 50. This was a life initiation and without a doubt, at that time, it was a descent. It seems only natural that I would be drawn to the literal descent of the subway, where I would fill sketchbooks with drawings, looking for the forms that could express effectively my inner life.
Today, I can see, how going through this experience, confronting it, engaging with it, has guided me to the ascent that followed. I now have a community of artists with whom I share ideas and thoughts. I have developed relationships with many gallery dealers, participating in group shows, and have my first solo show in NYC since 2001, coming in March.
Looking forward I’m holding a vision of where I want to go and how to grow my career and as an artist. I am living a life beyond my wildest dreams!
The point is that this is not, was not, a linear process. There have been setbacks, false starts, turns, dips, jumps, leaps, and pauses along the way. The lesson of the Mercury retrograde is to ride the wave with as much surrender and love as possible.