Chiaroscuro Candor

I’ve gotten kind of used to it. I make a lunch date with someone who lives in San Diego to meet halfway in Newport Beach. The thing is, she’s always late — blame the Southern California traffic. Or not. It’s become our tradition to rendezvous at Fig & Olive on Fashion Island. (How Orange County can you get?) But if you’ve ever been to a Fig & Olive, you’ve seen the bookcases. I’m not so naïve that I don’t realize that the book-look is just the work of a some savvy interior designer, but damn — those shelves are stacked with some inspired titles and gorgeous art books. Kudos, whoever you are.

With my lunch date was running late once again, I decided on a radical act. And I don’t mean the midday cocktail. I am referring instead to taking one of these perfectly posed books off the shelf. This was to the horror of those around me, who looked at me like I was holding up the restaurant. Did they think the book collection was made up of fakes or that we weren’t supposed to get our figgy/olivey paws all over them? I guess they just didn’t know that I am an actual grown up with library cards from around the country who can be trusted with even your most cherished book.

I reached for the title that was calling to me, Chiaroscuro — a word I hadn’t thought about since Art History 101. This is the distribution of light and shade in drawing and painting made famous by Leonardo da Vinci and Caravaggio and it got me thinking about the upcoming total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017.


When I cracked open Chiaroscuro by Troy Little, I quickly discovered that it was a graphic novel and almost shut it immediately, as if I was looking at completely indecent. It’s a genre I’ve never even remotely been interested in. Call me old. Or small-minded. Or a more aptly, a convert. I have to admit being completely taken with this weird and wonderful black and white world. The universe inside this black linen hardcover demanded to be recognized as a formidable work of art. It spoke to my angsty-artist self and the emotional and financial insecurities that come with the territory. Reading Chiaroscuro was exactly what I needed that day — a beautiful metaphor for the known and the unknown, the seen and the unseen. And here’s the important part: the word itself doesn’t simply mean light and dark. Translated literally, chiaro means clear and oscuro means obscured. So thanks for being late that day Ma, and putting me on to this.

I began to wonder if anyone had written about the concept of chiaroscuro in relation to total solar eclipses. In my web search for this combination, wouldn’t you know that a page one hit was from a professor/astrologer who’d written about the astrological birth chart that had been done for the film Moonlight. What’s that, you say? You didn’t know they did charts for movies?? C’mon, now. It’s the 21st century! (As much as some would like to have us believe otherwise. )

Landing on this astrologer’s page was significant. The character of Chiron in Moonlight is played by our family friend, Ashton Sanders, who my daughter met when the two cute kids were starry-eyed freshman actors at The Theatre School at DePaul in Chicago. Here’s a photo of me and Ashton taken on the set of a music video I produced with him in the starring role before he was a RBD. (Really Big Deal). You can see it here and marvel at how joyfully Ashton plays his role in the video and then watch Moonlight if you haven’t already seen it (all will be forgiven) for what is maybe the breakout performance of the decade, with his portrayal of the teenage Chiron.


My pal Ashton before he was a Calvin Klein model

Professor/astrologer Demetra George makes some pretty profound observations about the Moonlight natal chart:

“The interplay of light and dark shadows characterizes the visual phenomena of eclipses, and the cinematography of Moonlight was a study of this chiaroscuro effect of light and shade. Eclipses portend fated events, the revelations of secrets, and sudden unexpected reversals. The events that take place on eclipses have a destiny that are carried forward in time.”

You won’t have to think too long about this year’s Academy Awards and the sudden unexpected reversal that occurred when Warren Beatty read the wrong film for Best Picture before the wrong was righted. Back in November, I met a brainy grad student who was a big fan of Moonlight and he told me that Chiron is also a constellation of a centaur. I texted Ashton to share this fun discovery — that the centaur from Greek mythology was known as a great healer, respected oracle, and master of the healing arts. When Chiron could not heal himself from his own physical wound after being shot with an arrow, he willingly gave up his immortality. Chiron’s half-brother Zeus rewarded him with a constellation in the sky that would immortalize him. I told Ashton that I also had no doubt that Moonlight would win Best Picture, to which he replied, “It’s written in the stars.” Literally and figuratively.

If you’re at all dubious about astrology, I only ask you to consider this: As mere mortal humans, we are much more able to easily predict the movement of celestial bodies (astrology) than we are the day to day weather over our own heads. Remember the Reagans’ astrologer, Joan Quigley?! She consulted on matters that went well beyond normal every day President stuff — offering her astrological advice on matters of diplomacy, Cold War politics, and the timing of Ronnie’s cancer surgery.


It is my very firm belief that Monday’s total solar eclipse has the same potential to bring forth sudden unexpected reversals and I think we can all agree that one may be needed like its never been needed before.

The impending eclipse has much to teach us about our world and our place in it. One thing is that we all have a shadow side — our own personal chiaroscuro. I know many of us are terrified of it. But there’s too much other scary stuff in the world to be afraid of our own damn ourselves, as “normal” as that can feel sometimes.

The brilliant Frida Kahlo recognized that our shadows  have great power. If kept in the dark all the time, Frida believed that they would have “the potential to haunt our lives like hungry ghosts.” I looked up a review of the graphic novel Chiaroscuro, seeing how I was never able to finish all 233 pages of it that day at Fig & Olive. The first one I came across at went like this:

Chiaroscuro tells of a young man haunted. By ghosts, by mystery, by his inability to fill a canvas.”

The wisdom of Frida is endless. It can be seen in the way she seduced her own shadows out of the darkened corners of her psyche and brought them into the light of her paintings. Just like the myth of Chiron, Frida is an archetypal symbol of “the wounded healer.” The same can be said of the Chiron from Moonlight — a centaur of a different kind who was incredibly wounded but whose very existence served to heal others in his orbit. For Frida, the accident changed everything, but her pain didn’t begin or end there. It’s notable that she named this painting Tree of Hope. As a wounded healer, she would not give up her hope for a sudden unexpected reversal that only nature could provide.


Arbol de la Esperanza (Tree of Hope)

What is the gift of the wounded healer for humanity? It’s an archetype that provides us with a lens to view our own suffering, so that we too, may draw enormous strength from the wounded healer to live openly with our vulnerabilities. Ignoring our own fears and shadows doesn’t erase them from human existence; it merely gives them more power over us. As author Bradley Thomason writes in his eye-opening work, Potentialized:

“Unfortunately, most people these days do not have a conscious relationship with their fears and so they allow fear to run their lives. We must develop a new relationship with fear. We must challenge it. Question it.”

Frida knew that our shadows carry rich secrets for the journey.  By boldly painting her suffering, she revealed her pain, liberated herself, and liberated all of us. By giving us her body of work, she encourages us to embrace our shadows and what is difficult in our lives. Unwanted agonies, like the state that our union finds itself in — can also be one of our greatest teachers.


With the shadow of the moon upon us on Monday, my greatest wish it that we all be flooded with insights and epiphanies that couldn’t have occurred without the momentary darkness. For those in the path of totality, I wish you clear skies so that you may drop to your knees and weep! It has been said that no matter how prepared the intellect is for a total eclipse, the body will have its own response, being made up of up to 75% water, that is ruled in some way by the moon. While many of us can appreciate the workings of the solar system and the vast nature of time and space, a total solar eclipse makes itself felt on a visceral level.

Umbraphiles are eclipse chasers who travel the world to witness eclipses because of their life-changing effects. If you’re willing to travel to the far-flung corners of the earth, you could catch a total solar eclipse about every 18 months. I like the other name for these people even better… shadow lovers — like Frida.

The fact though, that THIS eclipse is happening here in the United” States for the first time in a hundred years is simply no accident. It seems painfully clear (chiaro) that we are in desperate need of a once-in-a-century event to set things right. Are we in for a Moonlight style sudden unexpected reversal?

When the sun turns black on Monday, perhaps those who have lost their way (oscuro) about who we are as a human family, will come back into the light of awareness once the shadow retreats. Grab your glasses and take in the show that just might provide the universal shift many of us have been waiting for. I’m thinking Debussy’s Clair de lune for the soundtrack to a fully mystical eclipse viewing.


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