Monday, June 6, 2011

Black Mirror

When I was designated visual themes relating to History and Culture for my co-op exhibition, I deemed folklore an appropriate gateway to exploring archetypes and their universal, timeless presence in life, nature and society. Lately I’ve been sifting through cherished myths from a plethora of world cultures, including Scandinavia, Africa, China, Eastern Europe and South America. My third completed painting to date tells the Nordic tale of Prince Lindworm, which survives in several variations. To summarize, a childless Queen is approached by a wandering crone who offers to remedy her troubles with simple instructions. First the Queen is required to take a two handled cup and bury it on its head in her garden. The following morning, she must retrieve the forsaken cup and uncover two roses from the inside, one white, the other red. If she chooses to eat the white rose, she will give birth to a girl, if red, a boy. But under no condition should she eat both, otherwise grave, unforeseen penalties will ensue. However, at the moment of consumption, the Queen was struck by indecision and ate both. She was pregnant with a boy, as promised. But while in labor, she gave life to another entity as well…a lindworm, a hideous reptilian creature. She kept her grotesque bane of a child a secret for many years, but as he came of age, he could no longer tolerate confinement. One day as the Queen’s healthy son prepared to embark to faraway lands in search of a bride, the lindworm slithered across his path declaring, “I am the eldest, I am to be married first”. Every Princess foolishly coaxed into marrying the serpent was devoured on her wedding night. The situation of the kingdom grew desperate as the lindworm gained a notorious reputation for murdering his wives. A farmer’s young daughter was given up out of destitution to be the reptile’s latest sacrifice. Wallowing in disgust and fear for her predictable fate, the girl was approached by the same crone that aided the Queen. She gave her a blood-curdling list of responsibilities for the night of the wedding. The procedure involved the stripping of the lindworm’s multiple skins, whipping his bare flesh and bathing the wounds with milk. The bride did so, grudgingly, and managed to release the spell that imprisoned the prince in the body of a lindworm.

Fairy tales offer a moral crux by forewarning against disobedience, curiosity or immoral actions. The idea of devastating consequence drove the visual for this piece, and the archetypal mirror became my tool for conveying this premonition. Elements of the real world are horribly distorted and reinterpreted: the woman’s torque is a serpent, and the candle smoke is the spirit of an unfortunate wife being strangled. I cannot express just how much pain and pleasure was invested into the creation of this painting. Researching staple Nordic clothing, ornaments and symbols was a delight, as was my intense study of candlelit environments. The execution was scrupulous, wearisome. In the past, I would take little care into preparing my painting materials beforehand. With Prince Lindworm, my masonite board was gessoed and sanded so many times that the tooth was indistinguishable. It was a dream to paint on. I apologize for the poor quality of the photos. The painting's strong colour variation and details are completely eluded. I plan to have the piece properly scanned and framed soon! :D