The Lion Is Awake

(click on image to see extra large)

I’ve tried to describe the worlds in my paintings as places where many stories can exist…where memories, imagination, and subconscious can all come together. This painting is a good example of how that works for me.

On the most basic level, this is about our  trip to Lucerne, Switzerland last year, where I had an exhibit in the Fumetto festival. The large twisting lake through the center of the town, full of swans, and the old bridge and tower that cut across it. The cranes and construction projects. The storybook buildings with decorative spires and flags.

Our first few days we stayed in an apartment with a little table and a row of tulips outside.  Later we migrated to a room on the 6th floor of the adjacent hotel, where I could look out the window at the snow-capped alps and the grand castle-like hotel on a hill.

We enjoyed being tourists, feeding the ducks, snapping pictures of the swan’s nest and shopping at the farmer’s market, taking a boat ride along the lake.  We took a little trip to Bern and watched an old bear climbing around on a dead tree.

There is a famous monument of a dying lion in Lucerne. You may have seen it as it often appears, in the form of a bookend. My mom has one on her bookshelf. The real one is carved into the side of a sandstone quarry. It was created to commemorate the swiss guards massacred during the French Revolution. We never got a chance to see the sculpture. There was a lot of work to do with setting up the exhibition…

…(some pieces of the installation are seen in the window on the left side of the painting), and after a few days of sunshine, rain clouds rolled in and we had to stay in town and indoors. But it was mentioned so many times, that the lion feels like it was there, like it was part of our trip.

While working on this piece, I found a little handmade pottery sculpture of a lion in a thrift store. I loved the way his mane was made out of pressed clay shingles, and his serene expression carved deeply in. It was on my desk while drawing this, and ended up replacing the hill that the castle sat on. In the painting, he woke up, and can see me looking out at the world.

Because I was thinking of lions, my mind drifted to the character Sam the Lion, played by Ben Johnson in the film “The Last Picture Show.” I always loved Sam’s monologue about time passing, and things changing. It takes me to the same nostalgic place that making a painting does, because I am sitting there processing all these memories. So I found a place for him to sit in this painting too.

On Sam’s head is a ladybug. For some reason there were a lot of ladybug-themed gifts and ladybug shaped chocolates in the windows of the shops in Lucerne.  And while painting this, there was also a major ladybug invasion in my studio. Ladybugs were often crawling across the paintings and climbing over the sculptures. It seemed like they wanted to be in the pieces, so I painted and sculpted a few of them in.

Also, being in Switzerland reminded me of when I was 11, and I went to Europe with my family for the first time. My mom was the same age as I am now, driving us 4 kids around in a Volkswagen Vanagon. I include a little version of this memory in the bottom left, with us kids being crazy, and driving my mom crazy. (Somehow the van turned into a sort of bus/limo in the process).

And in the very bottom left, another portal.  A way out of, or back into this world.


  1. A wonderful tour of this amazing painting! I hope the show goes well.

  2. well this piece is beautiful.

  3. Pingback: O Leão Acordou – Uma pintura de Souther Salazar « Nós, da crítica especializada

  4. wow, thanks for sharing! most artists don’t take the time to give such a detailed look at the influences in a single piece. i am an artist too, but my work usually doesn’t have as many layered stories as yours does. it was inspiring to read about how moments and thoughts from your real life seeped into the painting. the viewer doesn’t necessarily have to know all of these details when they view the painting, but it adds depth and hidden narrative to the work.

  5. Amazing. I just purchased a print for my bedroom. It’s hanging above my bed where most of my subconscious adventures occur. I spent a long time looking at all the characters and details in the piece and I’m glad I stumbled upon your explanations.

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