Inspired by the female archetype, from saints to voodoo spirits, to the goddesses of the Greek Pantheon Dreams, Promise and the Divine is a creative exploration into the many forms these archetypes inhabit. They offer a plethora of possibilities of what it means to be a woman. “Traditional” feminine traits, such as kindness, passivity and general softness do of course feature, as so do icy determination, cunning, and everything in between.
Since childhood I’ve drawn mythological female characters. These have evolved and fed directly into the themes I work on in my current painting practice, which is primarily concerned with female identity, desire and mortality. The starting point for this body of work was an interest in how female spirits and goddesses could serve a way of externalising and giving character to many women’s experiences, making them visible and thereby legitimising them. These spirits, goddesses, and archetypes, felt very familiar despite being so far removed from contemporary life and seemed to be reflected in the many women I’m surrounded by. The culminating series was born from a playful interpretation of these ideas in which archetypal characters, goddesses and symbols were incorporated with images of my contemporaries.
Serpents have a long standing connection to female power and fertility. In many pagan cultures the serpent was a potent symbol of fertility, wisdom, transformation, rebirth and healing and as such was closely linked with many goddesses. These animals went from being sacred to becoming the symbols of evil and sin in the judeo-christian culture, mirroring the characterisation of eve/woman as being responsible for ‘the fall of man’.
Once a year the Gallery commissions a major exhibition of new work based on a concept or theme of our time. This autumn GOOD NATURE will be a celebration of our planet, its beauty and its fragility and the essential part we all play in preserving it.
Caroline Lucas MP, 2017
Oil, acrylic and charcoal on canvas
150 x 120 cm
Good Nature exhibition at Candida Stevens Gallery
16 Sept – 28 Oct 2017
The focus of my practice is centred on the human form, with a particular interest in portraiture and female identity. As such, my thoughts on the theme of ‘good nature’ immediately directed themselves towards the people making a positive contribution to nature. Those who dedicate their lives to protecting the natural world and the planet we live on, and Caroline Lucas instantly entered my mind. First MP to the Green Party and current co- party leader (alongside being VP to the RSPCA), she is an historic figure who has changed the face of politics, by providing a consistent voice of reason on matters concerning nature and our environment to parliament. Her politics and life’s work come from an understanding that we as a society and species can only flourish if we value and protect our environment.
She seems to me, to be someone who cares deeply, and fights tirelessly for what she believes to be right, even if this means standing at odds with the status quo; as seen with her arrest for participating in an anti-fracking protest in 2013. There is something refreshingly rebellious about Caroline Lucas MP, and with this first official portrait of her I wanted to capture the sense of fearlessness I get from her along with her ever questioning, fighting spirit.
The painting contains references to the natural world as well as the feminine creative force, together with clues to the methods used in the making of the piece at this very turbulent time in UK politics.
At this point in my life, I have become increasingly aware of a search for meaning, not just personally, but in the people around me. Many are having children, and many are deeply and finally fully committing to their art.
I feel that age plays a large part in this; fully emerging out of adolescence or youth and being firmly placed within adult life seems to bring with it a desire to create something meaningful, as it opens the gates to a burgeoning awareness of our own mortality. This sentiment is reflected in the title of the show ‘der Tod und das Mädchen’/‘death and the maiden’ which refers to the traditional Vanitas motif in which the young female serves as a symbolic reminder of human mortality. The title evidently also harbours an autobiographical element, whilst also alluding to my German heritage; allowing me to work through a theme which some of my favourite artists such as Klimt and Schiele have done before me.
The models for this body of work are a mixture of women I know, some of whom I chose because they have a vocation in creative professions such as music, art, make up and film; others I chose because they are mothers, and some, of course overlap. I was interested in their experiences relating to creating and mortality, and to see how they felt about their creative practice /motherhood and how these experiences provided them with meaning.
The process of painting itself almost always involved the paintings taking on several incarnations before they were completed. Some started out as one thing and became another entirely. Some are left in part abstract whereas some come into focus much more sharply, seeming more finished and figurative. The idea of resurrection is also reflected in the use of the initial source photograph, which almost acts as a silent witness to the process of painting taking place around it, and during it’s time discarded on the studio floor also becomes transformed. I then took these ‘damaged’, discarded prints up again, scanning and re-printing them, allowing them to become reborn in a sense; giving them a new lease of life.
The use of Copper in this body of work has to do with it’s close association with the goddess Aphrodite/Venus in mythology and it’s resulting symbolic associations with feminine beauty and artistic creativity. It is one of the oldest metals in use across cultures and is considered to embody the nurturing aspect of women along with their youthfulness.
This body of work uses portraiture as a vehicle through which traditional vanitas themes can be explored. Youth and beauty allude to their natural counterpart of death and decay, as well as the contemporary idea of a woman’s increased awareness of her own mortality, conscious that she faces a loss of visibility long before her actual loss of life. It touches on the power of the iconic image and it’s relation to our current obsession with our own reflection and the capturing of the ‘perfect’ selfie; as if this idealised avatar could make us impervious to the affects of time, imperfection and age; but primarily it is about the process of image creation itself, which seems directly to reflect the theme of desire and lack at the core of the subject.
The basic human desire for certainty and a sense of wholeness is in direct conflict with the finite, fragmented nature of being, giving rise to a perpetual cycle of desire and lack. The image making process in this body of work mirrors the same cycle; Initial elation at the idea of creating perfection gives way to inevitable disappointment caused by the impossibility of the task.
This cycle begins with the source photograph, which is partially destroyed throughout it’s time in the studio. These prints are then taken up again and reworked. ‘Unsatisfactory’ paintings are destroyed by whiting out. This layer is then also rejected and washed off, which re-activates the old layers of water-soluble ink, leading to a merging of the old and the new.
The ultimately futile yet unstoppable desire to create wholeness, unity, perfection or even in the simple case of art, a ‘finished’ piece, is laid bare in all its stages.
These works for my final MFA project explore the dynamics of desire and the role that iconised versions of ourselves and others play in relation to self-image and our search for continuity. Drawing on concepts of desire and lack situated within the contemporary everyday, in which self-mythologization and the creation of iconised images of ourselves are very much part of our daily experience via the use of social media; these works explore how the images of ourselves that we project outwards can become just as real as our actual being.
“Nowadays you can take 200 photos and if there’s 1 where you look kind of cool from one direction, you can slightly enhance it on Photoshop, and then you start to believe in those images...It’s like this surface, and every now and then somebody punctures it, not with a bullet or an arrow but with a photograph” CJ
RULES FOR CHOOSING A MODEL:
1. A woman who is close enough to me in age for me to be able to see myself in her (specular image) so +-10yrs
2. A woman within the sphere of my everyday acquaintances
3. Using social media, select the first woman fitting criteria 1. who appears in my newsfeed.
This series of works were born from dialogue between myself and my models, whom I chose according to their adherence to the principles I set for this series. The significance of images of women, beauty and self-image was discussed, and the interviews transcribed. (Please see Interviews to find out more). These very personal accounts then gave way for my process of creation to begin. The relationship between desire and lack in relation to the question of self-image, was then taken up as the starting point in which initial ideals were transformed and modified through the practical process of painting. The importance of the iconised virtual version of ourselves emerged as a key theme in the interviews, and interestingly enough each of my models went on to use the paintings as their digital avatar on social media.
To me beauty seems to be representative of the lost object – the ever-elusive promise of a complete sense of being, ultimately stemming from our difficulty to accept our own finitude. Unattainable beauty hereby comes to represent wholeness, an ultimate state of existence, and the iconised image can give us a taste of this, and through this, a taste of immortality. The image remains as it is, whereas the self is unstable, in a constant state of decline until it eventually disappears. My final piece consist of 3 separate pieces, which work as a set, each exploring different nuances on the theme. The choice to have 3 models, and present 3 works (1 relating to each model) refers back the number’s association with the divine and the historical use of the triptych in religious iconography. The work also references various traditional Vanitas motifs, such as the young woman, mirrors and precious objects (Der Tod steht uns gut) alongside other symbolic references to perfection, ideals, and the significance of the specular image. Please see The Specular Self more pieces from the series.
This is a series in which I started to engage the process of painting and image creation more directly with the tension between desire and lack. ‘Unsatisfactory’ images are covered by whiting out and washing off, the process of which re-activates the old rejected layers of water-soluble ink, leading to a merging of the old and the new. This technique begins to develop a visual language which reflects the cyclical relationship between the imagined finished image (desire), the dissatisfaction with the resulting image (lack), and the return to the image (desire) in an attempt to draw something new out from it.
These paintings develop through a combination of chance and active choice, and, through engaging with the processes of creation and destruction inherent to painting, begin to give expression to the constant cycle of desire and return to lack. Much in the same vein in which Francis Bacon and others approached image making, something must be destroyed, or covered in order for something new to form or emerge.
Please see Cycles of Desire for more paintings from this series.