Day Dreaming 92x76cm oil on canvas
It seems a little perverse to talk about the exhibition I had back in spring 2010, when I am just about to open my new solo show next month, but I think its because of all the obvious contrasts between the two that has made me mindfull of what I was trying to achieve with ‘Persephone’.
The rather tragic figure of Persephone, who divides her time between the two people who love her most, ie. Hades ruler of the underworld and Demeter goddess of summer, is all ancient history. But it is a very human and visual way to describe the seasons, and 2009 was a cold year here in Ireland, with lots of snow and ice that transformed the green and browns of my immediate surroundings to inspiring sepias, umbers and the glearing glinting light of snow. All this, along with the desire, once and for all, to try and nail white as a colour, was my background thinking to this collection of paintings. I know, I know, white is never described as a colour, we are all taught that white reflects back to us all the colours in the spectrum, but to me, as a colourist painter it is a colour. Infact white paint is so impactful and dominant when used in a block, that I have never used it as part of my palette, in the same way that I would use say, cadmium red, or cerulean blue, until that is before Persephone.
How I went about this was to use burnt sienna as a ground, which subdues the glaring white canvas down to the effect of an autumnal forest floor. White seems to love this contrasting bed fellow and coupled with my subject matter of snow sprinkled gardenscapes, bare silver birch trunks, crisp white linen tablecloths and white chrysanthemums I was away, and white is now my new colour.
But it is only now that I feel happy to talk about WHITE. As anyone knows, living in my part of the world, last year’s winter was even more extreme than 2009, and winter 2010 made most people’s lives here, hard and a little bit miserable. So I have been slightly thwarted in my new love for white, as until now it has been a tabou subject, white equals snow and ice and we would rather not allude to it thank you very much. But hey, it’s the new year now and so far we have had nothing what so ever that looks like the S… word, so we can all breathe a sigh of relief and know that the days are now getting longer, so whatever is thrown at us weather-wise, spring is almost round the corner.
‘Day Dreaming’ really encapsulates all that I wanted to achieve in this collection, as I have here, all the familiar characteristics of what I know makes up a good painting. It is balanced and timeless, quiet and contemplative. The interactions between the figure and the vase of flowers creates the illusion to space but still pays homage to the frontal picture plane, the outdoor landscape through the window, helps creates the concept of a ‘threshold painting’ ie, a domestic scene that represents expansion and development of the internal space, rather than entrapment and claustrophobia. The half eaten apple is a nod to the theme of Persephone eating the pomegranate seeds, so sealing her fate to live 4 months of the year with her abductor. The vintage wallpaper behind her head of birds and pomegranates, represents life and growth, and her internal thoughts of hope and excitement of a change of season.
Another favourite painting of mine from the Persephone collection is ‘Still life with yellow chrysanthemums’, for me it is very balanced compositionally and it has a strong feeling of ‘right-ness’ when I look at it. Here white is used as a colour and works as a colour but is so impactful that it also works as an emotion. It is so reflective that when I look at it, I start to think of strong sunshine, then the strong red earths of the pottery and the warm oranges and yellows transports me to the beautiful still life paintings of the 18th century Spanish painter Melendez. That’s what I love about looking at paintings, is all the visual references that keep art history alive for ever and permanently present; whether it’s an ancient wall painting or a smile on one of Raphael’s Madonnas, visual art is a living and evolving language, and touches all of us.