The ideas behind my Abraxus series first began forming when I lived in Philadelphia. Around 2008, or so, I was on the train to work, and ran across a folded sheet of very strange writing. The page was completely filled with frantic text, and highlighted with various colors. I found it fascinating. A few years later, I was on the same train, and I saw a very tall man, in beat up clothing, putting the same type of paper in the train schedule holders. He also put a grocery bag collage on a seat. I asked him if I could have one of the sheets of writing. He said, “For a one dollar donation.” I paid him, and he said something to the effect of, “These are words direct from God, and you won’t learn them in a church.”
This experience reminded me of two other Philadelphia visionary art-phenomena: The Wireman, and the Toyenbee Tiles. This may sound incredibly insensitive, but I would regularly find myself fantasizing about being a homeless artist, expressing my own bizarre ideas.
The majority of my art has had an over-arching theme of positive vs. negative psychology, or, more specifically, embracing the negative aspects of yourself. I remembered a documentary where Charles Manson talked about “Abaraxas”, which was his version of the Gnostic concept of Abraxas. I have never really been interested in mythology, or magic, but there was one part of this myth that appealed to me. Abraxas embodies both good, and evil, at once. I eventually discovered the following quote from Carl Jung’s 1916 book Seven Sermons for the Dead:
“That which is spoken by God-the-Sun is life; that which is spoken by the Devil is death; Abraxas speaketh that hallowed and accursed word, which is life and death at the same time. Abraxas begetteth truth and lying, good and evil, light and darkness in the same word and in the same act. Wherefore is Abraxas terrible.” —3rd Sermon
Over time, I developed the idea of making art as if I were a homeless person living here in Portland, Oregon, that made strange drawings on grocery bags, and left them around the city in an attempt to mutate into a higher being. This being is “Abraxus” (a Manson-esque derivation of Abraxas), who is an intersex creature with snakes for legs, that is the perfect balance between positive, and negative.
Part of the idea of leaving drawings in public was inspired by a cross between artist Dieter Roth’s use of decay, and irreverence of art, and “street art” in general. Street artists leave their work in public out of a creative need, and a hope of recognition. Roth often made art out of materials that decay, and later become nothing. I also found it amusing that maybe someone would pick up, and preserve one of these drawings that I normally would have charged money for. They had value, but only if someone connected the dots from clues I wrote on the back. A few of them are some of the best drawings I had ever made, and now most likely they are nothing.
I looked for a popular homeless camping spot, in Portland, for an impromptu performance to wrap up the series. I chose Laurelhurst Park, and found an area with a lot of trash from previous displaced visitors. I laid down my largest Abraxus drawing, poured a carton of wine on the piece, and left. There is a brief video document of this performance.
My photos of each Abraxus piece made up the artists’ book. I left the included text to simply one sentence from the previous Jung quote. That way, the book was closer to the experience a person might have had seeing the drawings where they were left. This text is for those who want to know more. Lack of information, and over-explanation wherefore is Abraxus terrible.
-Jonathan Canady, 2018/2019