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