"Sekhmet the Eye of Ra"/ November 2014

"Sekhmet the Eye of Ra"/ November 2014
"Sekhmet the Eye of Ra"/ November 2014 / Extra fine watercolor, 22 karat gold, lapis lazuli, Austrian crystal

Friday, February 13, 2015

Kemetic Titan: The Art of Setken (Part One In A Series)

The Australian-born painter Setken, making waves even in the desert/ Photo by the author

Author's preface:  From Monday February 9 through Thursday February 12, 2015 I had the very great pleasure of playing host to Setken during his stay in Wendover, Nevada during the artist's extensive sojourn in the United States.  Setken's goal during his time in the US was to study and gather artistic inspiration from distinguished museums, art galleries and persons of interest who could contribute to his passion for reviving the sacred traditions of Ancient Egypt in the modern era.

It was a privilege for me to have so much intimate access to a fellow painter and Kemetic, who, at his own expense, had traveled to the "middle of nowhere" solely to engage with me on all things artistic and Kemetic.  For this I wish to express my deep gratitude to Setken, an artist of significant vision and importance for me.

On Wednesday February 11, 2015, in his hotel suite at Montego Bay Resort & Casino, Setken very graciously conceded to my request for a recorded interview, during which I had the opportunity to learn, in often highly personal terms, the source of the artist's drive and vision to reinterpret the theological canon of Ancient Egypt for modern servants of the netjeru- Egypt's traditional gods.  The following presentation of Setken's work and ideas (which will be broken into a number of installments) is drawn from our recorded conversations, and from my own observations and impressions of Setken's powerful body of work.

Note that the sections of text presented in red are the words of Setken transcribed directly from our recorded interview.  Words inside parenthesis are my additions added for the sake of clarity.

I strongly encourage interested readers to visit Setken's official artist website at www.setken.com , and to read the artist's own account of his neo-Kemetic works on his ongoing blog http://setkenblog.blogspot.com/.

Kemetic Titan: The Art of Setken

There is a spiritual movement that is growing ever stronger in momentum across the globe, and that movement is Kemeticism (known under a plethora of epithets including Kemetic Reconstructionism), the practice of Ancient Egyptian religious and/ or spiritual traditions.  This practice has at its center the goddesses and gods, netjeru, worshiped by the Ancient Egyptians, which are seen as living expressions of the natural and sacred world.  One might say that there are as many contemporary expressions of this ancient belief system as there are deities in its pantheon.  Online groups and temples abound, and this shows no sign of slowing down.  It is obvious- if one simply peruses the Internet- that the ancient religion of the Egyptians is calling to people from all walks of life, from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds, spread across the United States and Europe.

A significant aspect of the Kemetic or Ancient Egyptian expression of the Sacred is its art and iconography, which finds articulation most famously in its massive stone temples and golden tomb treasures.  The ancient Egyptians celebrated their gods most profoundly through their art, which was not decorative, nor an expression of the individual artist's personality, but was, rather, a spiritual mechanism through which the netjeru-gods made direct contact with the material world.  For the Egyptians, the Gods lived within Their creation as opposed to outside it (as one sees in the views of contemporary monotheistic faiths), and it was through "art" that this relationship between the Sacred and the mundane transpired.  The colossal temples, covered in lavish bas-reliefs, and ornamented with monolithic obelisks and royal statues, were meeting places between Kemet (Egypt) and her gods, and were, in fact, large magnets, drawing the powers of the Gods down to the earth in order to perpetuate the ongoing work of creation.

Modern practitioners of Kemeticism are finding a powerful connection with the living gods of Ancient Egypt through these very same art forms.  Though the scale and materials may be altered from those employed in antiquity, there is no mistaking the source of neo-Kemetic art.  The traditional canon of gods and hieroglyphs remains vital, the deity forms as potent and engaging as ever.  A number of artists are emerging as forces to be reckoned with in the reemergence of ancient Egyptian spirituality today, and one of these is the Australian native Setken, a painter in what he calls the "neo-Kemetic" movement.

Setken is surprisingly not of impressive height.  From his pictures I had envisioned him as something of a muscle-bound giant, the kind of man you'd want as your personal security guard.  The muscles are certainly there, but a giant he is not- at least not a giant who overpowers with his physical height.  Setken's power is the force of his personality, which pours forth from his well developed and compact frame.  His stare is magnetic, like something you'd encounter from a rock star, and the rest of his appearance just oozes self-empowered rock star charisma.  With shaven head, aquiline nose, and forceful chin sporting a tastefully manscaped goatee, Setken arrests the viewer's attention and holds it precisely where he wants it.  Confidence is his bedfellow, and one might be forgiven for thinking him a tad bit self-important; however, Setken's self-assurance is generated from the sincerity of his personal values and convictions, which are that human immortality is inevitable, and that one who is bent on attaining it must charge ahead without fear of the unknown.  "The Sacred is dangerous", he once told me during one of our many and lengthy conversations.

I must admit, in case you hadn't noticed, that I am unashamedly a massive fan of Setken and his work as a neo-Kemetic painter.  It was something like love at first sight, because for me Setken's work rages with the thirst for eternal life that dominated the ancient Egyptian world view.  However, Setken does not attempt to copy the temple and tomb repertoire of Ancient Egypt word for word, hieroglyph for hieroglyph.  There is no doubt that Setken's muse is the vast legacy of Kemetic art to have come down to us from Egypt's ancient monuments.  All of his paintings vibrate with the familiar crowns, scepters, deity forms and hieroglyphs that one might expect of artworks paying homage to the traditional Egyptian canon, and yet Setken surprises us in every instance with his unique vision for a Kemet reborn into the modern world.

"Downloading Netjer"/ Acrylic on canvas, 30" x 40"
In "Downloading Netjer", the artist presents us with a vision of himself that is part symbolic self-portrait and part fetish fantasy.  A muscular space age man stares out at the viewer from behind the startling red insect-like eyes of a military gas mask.  The lavender hexagonal background, for me, signals the honeycomb of a million bees who have vacated the composition in order to collect their nectar in outer space.  But it is the artist himself who is the bee collecting, for his body is attached to snaking tubes being fed by the mummiform and kneeling images of netjeru-gods, each enshrined in their own brightly illumined space.  The inference is clear to this viewer:  the artist is a modern man, who, in this day and age, is receiving spiritual transmissions from active deities who still have something vital to transfer to the consciousness of humankind.

This is precisely what excites me, attracts me, and forces me to pay attention to Setken's work.  Setken is not some decorative artist, creating pretty copies of the same old tomb or temple scenes already repeated a million times over on contemporary papyri and tourist trinkets (ho hum...my eyes rolling unavoidably).  He is a visionary artist with a direct connection (via gas mask and vacuum tubes?) to ancient and living gods, to a millenniums-old tradition that is feeding new devotees in the age of the iPad and Twitter.

Is this what Setken is saying to us in "Downloading Netjer"?  Isn't he telling us that the ancient goddesses and gods of Egypt are living right here, right now in our time and space?  Isn't this unusual painting pointing out the fact that gods are immortal, not fixed 3,000 years ago in the temples of old...but using humankind's current technological advances to transmit spiritual awareness to the contemporary body of man?  Setken affirms the truth of this view for himself:

"Maybe the modern computer age, which has come upon us very, very quickly, is teaching us new ways to think about accessing information, such as the concept of downloading, and maybe because we know that we can magically- through the wifi universe- download something onto our computer, maybe we can download things from outside our normal realm of perception that affect, for example, our spiritual well being or spiritual anatomy.  

"To be honest, I cannot remember how "Downloading Netjer" began.  Again, there was the hexagonal background.  I know that I was working on a sketch...where I was really putting the deities into a science fiction context.  I had seen Prometheus and was very influenced by that at the time, by that film.  I had wanted to incorporate my body into a painting somehow, for magical reasons, and also probably because I was moving out of the phase of modelling and entertaining...all that sort of stuff...and I guess was trying to transition to this new area of being an artist.  

"Well, I wasn't going to sit and draw a painting of myself the way (Paul) Cezanne or (Vincent) Van Gogh might paint themselves, and so this was a way to get me into a painting.  

"The gas mask, besides having that fetish element to it- and the fact that I like that just on a visual level- also suggested that we need to move into a different state in order to start to receive this download.  We can't just walk outside and say (snaps fingers): "Hey, let's download something from the netjeru".  There has to be a process, and I was starting to feel this process through the process of using natron (ritual purification salt), through the process of using offerings, through doing senuts (devotional rituals).  

"When I first came across these concepts, I was not comfortable with them.  I thought, you know, this is religious mumbo jumbo, but, you know...try it...see it...and then I realized that it was part of this overall technology that I'm finding is unfolding, that actually works.  I used natron, and I could feel shifting in my energy field.  It did something.  By doing something with an offering, it was opening a dialogue.  By doing the ritual of the senut, it was preparing me for magic further down the track...but it was also opening up that dialogue that I was beginning even more, so of course I wanted to explore that even more, and "Downloading Netjer" was a reflection of that at the time.  

"I think that the concept of downloading and being able to integrate something into our hard drives works quite well for the modern mind and is appealing, so I think that whilst that painting is not one that I consider my greatest, I liked that I was able to incorporate those kind of traditional images of the netjeru at the top inside their shrines, and then underneath them was this very science fiction kind of thing with fetish elements, et cetera...bringing it into a different thing again".

What Setken's work accomplishes with potency is reinforcing the continuity of the netjeru and the transmission of Their wisdom from distant past to present.  These images beg inquiry into the nature of the Sacred Self, the Soul, the spiritual consciousness, and how that consciousness can be fed and expanded by the Gods.  And just who or what are the Gods?  Setken's paintings tell us that the Gods are beings of infinitely expanded consciousness, beings who can and will give us the "download" of Their divine minds.  Far from being mere lifeless statues gathering dust in a museum, Setken gives us dynamic deities Who are actively engaging modern man in the process of becoming divine.

The art of Setken is valuable to modern practitioners of the ancient Egyptian religion because of its perspective that asks us to open up our eyes, both physical and spiritual, in order to receive the download of ancient Gods who may very well be the future of the human race.

Djoser Ab/ Acrylic on canvas, 36" x 48"

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