Why Cave Art?


 I grew up around the foothills of Mt. Diablo, near San Francisco, following deer trails and imagining what life was like for the first humans. I've always been fascinated with how closely ice age peoples lived with nature, and knew the animals. We can't read writings they left for us, all we have to guess what life was like in the long ago was their startlingly modern-looking art. Why was it so important for people in the ice age to create beautiful and life-like images of animals?

Thirty years ago, I was working part-time at the U.C. Berkeley Paleontology Museum while studying Fine Art. The two became indelibly linked in my imagination. Later, after seeing some of the caves in France I was disappointed when I couldn’t find any art souvenirs that captured the magic and feel of the caves. I thought I could do better, so I have been researching, experimenting, and creating cave art ever since.

I spend hours at the stone yard, looking at the colors and textures of stone, looking for the forms of animals or people that lie in them. The next step is to bang up the rocks with a hammer and chisel into evocative shapes. Once I’ve roughly shaped a stone, I rub it with another stone to smooth the surface and edges, brighten the colors, open the pores, and give the stone a weathered ancient feel. I use the same painting techniques that paleolithic artists used, the main difference being I use an airbrush to blow light fast paint onto stone, rather than spitting pigment mixed with cave water out of my mouth; and my paintings are smaller than the originals for portability. I use the same pigments, and sgraffito scraping techniques and am constantly exploring paleo art imagery and symbols, trying to recreate non-literate communication, and beauty, on stone. 

Some designs are as close to originals found in France and Spain as I can make them. Others designs are my own creations in the tradition of European cave art. We will probably never know why Paleolithic artists felt compelled to paint in caves, but I know why I do. The hills that I used to hike in are now cut into suburban patterns, the wildlife harder to find, or gone. I need nature and animals in my life, like I need sunlight. These weathered stones with primitive paintings on them are my attempt to capture a little piece of nature for the home.

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