Saint George & the Dragon

Saint George & the Dragon, 2021, oil on panel, 16 by 20 inches

The painting above was a bit long in the making, inspired back in October by a beautiful painting I so admired at the Art Institute of Chicago (link below) ; I knew I wanted to make a painting as visual arresting and as rich in allegorical detail.

As is so often the case concerning my work, I employ traditionally recognized allegorical symbols with a visual language of my own invention- frequently blurring the lines between the two to such a point that even I fail to comprehend them. I simply go into an automatic mode in painting , and then after the paint has dried, attempt to understand my own intention.

My fascination with narrative painting is frequently out of step with contemporary taste, more in keeping with 19th century norms, especially the intentions of the Pre-Raphealites, who, according to D.S.R. Welland’s The Pre-Raphaelites in Literature and Art (1953):”Their insistence on every picture telling a story was the first step towards the affiliation of painting and literature…”. That pretty much sums up my own aim.

Welland goes on to explain how the Pre-Raphealites created subtle “inventions”, highly esoteric images imbued and embedded into the painting with meaning elusive to the less informed public but to fellow Pre-Raphealites were capable of being “read”. As Ruskin points out (in discussing Holman Hunt’s The Awakening Conscience) that every subtle detail “if rightly read” can in fact accurately reveal the “story in it”. This blending of literature and the visual arts first led me to love the Brotherhood (especially the latter Burne Jones and company phase), and also to admire in general paintings admired for more than just their “plastic” qualities.

Saint George & the Dragon, detail

As I mentioned, I do not always know myself what I intend with my peculiar symbology. My poor husband David ,a wise and learned fellow and a sensitive and scholarly psychoanalyst , often simply doesn’t know what the heck to make of my paintings- leading to some hurt feelings on my part.

Fortunately I have a dear friend Sarah Parvin who possess such exquisite sensitivity towards art and art making (check out her Pinterest page The Curious One ,it is a treasure trove), fortunate for me, she can in fact, and does, “read” my “inventions” with the greatest fluency. The following is from my recent Facebook post, where after having posted this hard won painting, I received very little in commentary -good or bad. For a painting which you’ve imbued with such heart, silence which reads as indifference, causes no small amount of anguish. Sarah’s comments however were a balm to that anguish:

“I have spent the last few days looking at this painting, as you have given me much to wonder about in the magic circle of creation where artist and beholder meet. As an artist, you are never afraid to tackle both the sacred and the profane, but I will admit to being pleasantly surprised by the feeling of high romance that is blossoming in this painting. I am reminded of all that influences you in the art of Victorian and Edwardian Britain, although seen through your own visionary lens. 

During this time of pandemic, I find much symbolism in Saint George exhausted from battling a terrible foe, as others helplessly watch, or choose not to look, whilst both death and the maiden wait close by. When I went searching for the medieval symbolism of your Field of Gold filled with glorious yellow roses and humble turnips, I found that Dante makes the best-known use of a gold rose as a Christian symbol in ‘Paradise’, seeing the whole of heaven as an infinite Eternal rose. The predominance of the rose as a symbol of divine love is evidenced by the many miracles that roses have played a part in which are far too numerous to mention here. A golden rose blessed by the Pope was offered as thanks to important friends of the Roman Catholic Church on the fourth Sunday in Lent, a day still known as Rose Sunday, whilst yellow roses denoted Christ’s majesty after the Resurrection, which was believed to be expressed in the flower’s fragrance. In sharp contrast, the turnip in medieval thought represented poverty, peasants, flatulence, foul smells and the greed and the vanities of the material world. In a year where we have shared a collective experience of a deadly enemy, where both the best and worst of humankind has thrived, I cannot help but view your Saint George and the Dragon as an allegory for our times.

In the UK we remain confined to our homes and neighbourhoods until after Easter, so I am intending to aim my sights towards your castle in the sky. In my wondering and wandering across your strangely verdant battlefield may I find the grace of renewal and I hope, on arrival, what will await me are better days.

An artist really can’t ask for more.

Check out Sarah’s excellent page, a rich resource for art lovers.

So with those encouraging words ringing in my ear, I post further details of my “inventions”.

Detail , Saint George & the Dragon ; the “Damsel” and yellow roses.
Detail, Saint George & the Dragon: Death Cometh
Detail, Saint George & the Dragon; who the heck knows what he symbolizes.
Detail, Saint George & the Dragon: rutabagas and castles in the sky.

I will close for now, but given that it is Palm Sunday, I will close this journal post with today’s drawing honoring Christ’s triumphant ,yet fleetingly so, entrance into Jerusalem. Perhaps a few of my “inventions” might be “read”.

Daily Drawing: Palm Sunday, 2021
Saint George & the Dragon 2021 oil on panel 16 by 20 inches

Author: babylonbaroque

I am a painter and printmaker working towards creating a body of work that reflects my own developing aesthetic. New work ,first link. The second link is an on-line portfolio.

3 thoughts on “Saint George & the Dragon”

  1. Leonard, thank you so much for your kind words and for mentioning my Pinterest account, which over the last seven years has become my very own treasure house. I am so glad that in my taking the time to really look at your painting, and then to comment, that the result is that your spirits have been lifted. I truly admire the commitment you show to your art, and I also greatly appreciate the courage it takes to put what we create in front of the world, which is why I wanted to make sure that I made a considered response to your Saint George painting. I will admit to feeling a bit of an outsider on social media, as I am aware that in expressing my enthusiasm that I write much too much, but I have decided to go with what feels right to me and damn the rules! It has been incredibly rewarding in the last few months to receive feedback from yourself, and several other artists, who have appreciated me engaging with their work in my own unique (and intense!) way. Encouragement does go two ways, so getting this feedback has made me feel that I am not alone in still enjoying a more in-depth creative conversation than is allowed for on many of the more popular social media platforms.
    Social media has opened artist’s worlds up in so many ways, but with the ability to share so directly and immediately has come oodles of content. This means it can become not only a full-time job for an artist to create content to feed this hungry beast, and respond to comments/enquiries, but it is also more and more a full-time job to both see and properly show appreciation for what is being shared. This is the reason why I find it entirely understandable why emojiis and short comments are the norm on most social media platforms, even though it may sometimes not feel like sufficient reward for the effort that has been put into what is being shared. Despite my bouts of verbosity, I do spend most of my time leading a quiet life at Pinterest, which means I am grateful for any likes, emojis and short comments I get on the occasions I do feel sufficiently inspired to speak. I also appreciate that relationships blossom over time, even when they are being conducted in the hothouse of social media.
    As you know, I am in the process of creating my own website and blog, which has evolved from my virtual collecting and curating at The Curious One at Pinterest, where I often find that what I pin has a story I want to tell. My desire to write is often sparked by wanting to respond to people’s creativity, such as yours, as I find there are many treasures to be gathered in wondering and wandering to the place where imagining begins. Here I find the joy of engaging with the sensibility of another human being, even though many lifetimes may separate us. When my imagination meets a work of art, be it painting, poem, book or piece music, is when I tell myself a story of whence it came and its meaning to me, in order to best remember what I am experiencing.
    Science and art have long recognised the idea that perceptual experience depends on the involvement of the experiencer. In art history, this idea is sometimes referred to as “the beholder’s share”, a term popularized by art historians Ernst Gombrich and Ernst Kris. The beholder is the partner of the creator and becomes deeply involved in the process of bringing an image to life, so art and brain science can be equal partners in revealing truths about human experience. It is this meeting of two imaginations in creating meaning where my main interest lies.
    Given what you write above about often not feeling understood as an artist, it is my hope you will take heart from an idea which is central to “the beholder’s share”, which is that images that are more open-ended in their interpretation involve the viewer in a particularly strong way. Ernst Kris wrote, “Great works are great because they are ambiguous.” My wish for The Curious One’s forthcoming blog and website is that it will become a place where I can encourage artist and experiencer to meet and talk to each other in what E H Gombrich describes as “the magic circle of creation”. I would love to create an environment where acts of imaginative interpretation can occur, which I hope will then benefit everybody who wants to join me there. As Ben Okri writes, which I believe does not just apply to books, but to any type of art form we choose to engage with, “The reader should bring the best in themselves to meet the best in the writer’s work. There could be a greater potential for good in our lives the more one spirit of freedom dances with another.”

    1. Please pardon my tardy response.
      Yes, your responses are complex , rich and thoughtful and take time to fully appreciate. Your support has been so valued, far more than some “thumbs-up” emoji ( I’ve gone from considering emojis as hieroglyphs to the bane of civilization). That said, I understand completely your desire for conversation , even if clipped. You however cannot be clipped and will soar like the lark.
      Sending Easter greetings from here.

      1. Leonard, I do think the effect that social media can have on the creative psyche is what Carl Jung may have been foretelling when he wrote, “Instead of being at the mercy of wild beasts, earthquakes, landslides, and inundations, modern man is battered by the elemental forces of his own psyche.” I don’t think these words have ever been truer than in the last year, as we have a monster sitting right in front of us, whispering in our ear, as we read the constant stream of news, or find ourselves lacking, in one way or another, whilst comparing ourselves with others online. Meanwhile, at the door of the house another bigger monster is ever-present, threatening us with deadly invasion! This brings me right back to where I came in with your Saint George and the Dragon, so I am going to sign off by wishing you, David and Viola a Happy Easter and a Happy Saint George’s Day on the 23rd April!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: