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Head Paintings Echo Mind's Hallowed Halls

Updated on January 25, 2010

In 2001, I created a series of four canvas paintings (each 5 feet by 3 feet) that came to represent both the ecstasy and irony of the human intellect. I called the series Headpieces.


INFINITY'S DREAM - original canvas painting by Robert Kernodle
INFINITY'S DREAM - original canvas painting by Robert Kernodle

Heads High On Themselves

Human beings place great emphasis on formal logic, reasoning and intentional actions. We bestow high praise and recognition upon our thoughts, hence upon our heads.

The human head is the housing of the brain, and the brain is the monastery of the human mind. We worship our heads. We place our heads on pedestals.

Reason rules. Math is master. Higher cognition is king. These attitudes comprise the overriding idea of Headpieces. Each painting developed as a slightly different vision of this idea.

I admit that I did NOT start out this way. My own higher reasoning did not give birth to such a clear idea. Instead, raw shapes and their relationships got me started. Primitive instincts eventually led me to pristine intentions. Crude insights came first—from somewhere outside my own head—from the ineffable, sublime ground of all being.


“The ineffable, sublime ground of all being”?

What does this mean?

“Ineffable” means, “incapable of being expressed in words.” “Sublime” means, “tending to inspire awe.” “Ground of all being” simply means, “all existence before we are aware of it and all existence beyond our awareness of it.”

What this entire phrase means, then, is that an awesome realm of the unknown exists where no amount of headwork (thinking) can reveal it. In other words, our heads cannot inform us completely. There are things beyond rational grasp, and there are other ways of knowing besides rational knowing. Thought arises from a vast expanse of non-thought.

Some people might call this vast expanse of non-thought “chaos”—I call it “pure creativity”. This cosmic mindlessness gives birth, first to individual perception, second to individual instinct, and only third to individual mindfulness. This cosmic mindlessness is the ultimate, creative way of the universe. All formal knowing is an abstraction from this way.

ASCENSION OF REASON - Original canvas painting by Robert Kernodle
ASCENSION OF REASON - Original canvas painting by Robert Kernodle

The most that we can know rationally is that we cannot know everything. What we DO know are limited categories—quotations of our own ignorance. Headpieces represent this truth.

From cloud-like amorphousness, through mysterious processes of growth, the human head develops to think of its own brain as the superior creative force. Rooted in primordial formlessness and nourished by creative chaos, the head sometimes forgets its beginning. The head looses touch with its greater place—NOT only atop shoulders, arms and legs, but also within the body of a being more extensive than human anatomy.

Symbols That Represent Sentience

Sentience is the quality of self-awareness that distinguishes a living, thinking organism from, say, a rock. Sentience is headstrong about its own importance. Headpieces are symbols of this headstrong sentience—NOT critical or derisive, but rather accepting, even celebrating this human foible as a colorful attribute of reality.

In these paintings, the human head represents the mind. The head symbolizes consciousness. Consciousness is a unique group of rhythms. The rhythms of consciousness define what we think we are. Our consciousness inspires us to wonder about the mysteries of our own existence. Our consciousness compels us to seek the ultimate truth.

The ultimate truth is that we can only know ourselves. We are limited by our own physical shapes and by our own mental dispositions. We can know only what our receptacles (heads/minds/bodies) can contain. There is an infinite, eternal existence outside these receptacles, beyond the grasp of comprehension.

The tension between what we know and what we can never know gives life its sense of awe. This sense of awe is itself a higher form of knowing beyond rational knowing.

MISTS OF PLATONIA - Original painting by Robert Kernodle
MISTS OF PLATONIA - Original painting by Robert Kernodle

Source Of Inspiration

Anatomy drawings by Burne Hogarth inspired me to create this series of paintings I call Headpieces. In these paintings, I tried to imitate Hogarth’s drawings without tracing them line for line. I redrew them by sight, allowing my personal flaws and distortions to make them distinct. I used my interpretations of Hogarth’s head drawings as foundations for the paintings.

I used Hogarth’s head drawings in new contexts, visually quoting an expert source, as a student might quote an authoritative research source to write an original thesis. I placed quotation marks around each head, because I felt that I was quoting Hogarth. I also credited Hogarth’s name in parentheses below my signature. This is why quotation marks appeared in these paintings—later they began to make thematic sense too.

The quotation marks exceeded their initial purpose—they came to serve as supporting symbols of my main idea. Again, that idea is as follows: Everything we say, everything we claim to know through logic or observation, everything we think we are, and everything we perceive is an excerpt from a deeper reality, a mere quotation from the greater book of life, which we can never read entirely (because of our physical limits).

Using mind alone, we can never get outside our heads. Raw perceptions, feelings and a sense of spirituality loom beyond the head’s rational grasp.

A HIGHER CALLING - Original painting by Robert Kernodle
A HIGHER CALLING - Original painting by Robert Kernodle

Technical Description

[Each painting]

  • Dimensions — 60 x 40 x 1 ½ inches.
  • Materials — high-grade art acrylics on gallery-wrap canvas, with neatly finished, painted edges.
  • Technique — paint applied with hand-held brushes, in a deliberate and smooth manner, built up in multiple layers, with no visible brushwork.
  • Style — hard-edged, human anatomical figures and geometrical forms on atmospheric backgrounds.
  • Mood — cheerful, positive color energy radiating through a serious theme.
  • Front Finish — smooth, even, gloss, reflective sheen.
  • Back Finish — wired neatly and securely to hang unframed.
  • Front Markings — my painted signature, and Burne Hogarth’s name painted underneath.
  • Back Markings — my painted signature again, catalogue number, title and date created.
  • Completion Time — each sixty hours, spaced over several months, except Mists Of Platonia (sixty hours spaced over a year).
  • Condition — mint condition.
  • Location — hanging on walls in the house where I live.


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    • Robert Kernodle profile image

      Robert Kernodle 7 years ago

      I appreciate your impressions.

      I have not painted in years. Without a society that values it more than it does now, I have come to view art as a higher form of trash -- trash that I like to write about, but alas, trash nonetheless.

      It speaks disturbingly of our times.

      Still postive about life, however, as life itself is our greatest artistic medium.


    • Obscurely Diverse profile image

      Obscurely Diverse 7 years ago from Tennessee, U.S., Earth, Milky Way via Cosmos

      Very nice depictions that show the possibility of being boundless while, at the same time, also showing the restraints of the human mind. ...Sort of like a conflicting journey that seeks spiritual freedom that is always battling the known versus the unknown.

      I enjoy artwork, as I used to do my own (drawing & painting - mostly landscapes & animals), but I never made time for symbolic work like this. I lost the time for it, while being caught up in this rat race within society.

      Good job!