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June 30, 2017

Chalchiutlicue | Aztec Goddess of the Sea

Chalchiutlicue - Watercolor, Ink - 9 in x 6 in - Johnny Perez
Chalchiutlicue - Watercolor, Ink - 9 in x 6 in - Johnny Perez

What happens when you dive into the rabbit's hole?  You discover a massive fountain of potential inspiration perhaps?  I've been into mythology since I can remember going to the library, I mean its the closest thing to fantasy in the real world.  Ancient cultures sacrificed lives for these beings, and whatever your beliefs, the pantheon of gods in any religion was as real as night and day.

That being said, I had only ever paid attention to the Greek pantheon because that was the only book our small library had.  The internet was *gasp* not a thing in my grade school years.  But lets face it, I feel robbed.  I mean I knew of ancient cultures but where was the WEALTH of stories and information that seemed to be in abundance in the Greek mythos.  I was neck-deep in Xena: The Warrior Princess, and even comic books made reference to these gods.  That was all fine and well, but here I am thirthy-*ahem* years old and I'm just now learning of my own cultural roots!

Which brings me to my painting of Chalchiutlicue.  I've had an affinity for water since forever, and mermaids rank top of the list of favorite things to illustrate.  In recent years I've heard many references to African gods, more specificially Orishas.  I'm not near as educated in cultures of the world as I'd like, but it seemed odd to me that I'd hear this word so often in everyday conversations and in popular media.  Yes I love black culture including music and television, so this could be why.   But even when I was listening to Spanish music all day long and trying to practice my Spanish by watching novelas on Univision, I never heard any reference to anything other than Catholicism or namely La Virgen.   Of course I come to expect this from the deeply rooted seed of religion in Mexican culture.  Maybe its because I didn't grow up in Mexico, but even then, there's a passing knowledge of the pantheon, but there's no reference in popular media or entertainment.  I don't know, am I not really paying attention?

Chalchiutlicue codex (left)Beginning sketch of Chalchiutlicue (right) Johnny Perez
Chalchiutlicue codex (left)  Beginning sketch of Chalchiutlicue (right) by Johnny Perez

While browsing a list of water deities in different cultures, I ran across the Aztec title.  And then it hit me like a ton of bricks!  Why don't I know about the pantheon of my beloved Mexico?   Why has it taken me to long to finally run across this information?  To be fair, I've had a book of Ancient Mexico on my desk forever, but at the time I was only interested in the aesthetic.  I've always been fascinated by the codices, but have never delved into them beyond admiration.  I probably saw the relief sculptures in Chipotle before fully appreciating the beauty of these up close (which I find are actually part Mayan if not all.)  It's no wonder at times I feel so distant from my roots, not to mention the sting of ridicule from Mexicorn-born folks.

I could be content with my American birth and seeing remnants of culture at Chipotles, and Starbucks, and first-world problems, but then I hear this, "Know thyself."  It pops up many times in motivational speeches and writings about success.  I'm not gonna delve into that except to say, I take it to mean more than just know who I am, but to know where I'm from and how I got here.  I'm also a believer in "Knowledge is Power."

Art making is about the journey, and is one thing an artist can hold onto as theirs alone.  To say that the process of working on this portrait was meaningful is an understatement.  In the small spark of inspiration I had from looking at the above codex, I was taken to an ancient time where I learned of Chalchiutlicue's story and legend.  Her acts as a goddess are the stories that must've been told to children and embedded in the hearts of elders.

WIP Chalchiutlicue - Watercolor, Ink, Johnny Perez 2017WIP Chalchiutlicue - Watercolor, Ink, Johnny Perez 2017

It was a privilege to learn what I could and I have set things in motion to learn more of this ancient culture as well as others.  To be certain the mythology was under my nose for many years now and it seems crazy to think of how my interests have led me to something so ancient for inspiration.  As I said before the journey is mine, but I hope you enjoy the result in this portrait of this fierce feminine figure.  If you want to see my process you can find my time lapse video below!

As with many water deities, Chalchiutlicue was associated with serpents, pictured above in the book with a serpent head.

Chalchiutlicue in detail

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