The centerpiece painting for my show "Venus Apocalypse" at Dacia Gallery this June is the eponymous painting shown here. This painting was the third in a set of Venuses. I shared about the first two, "Sleeping Venus" and "Venus Awakes," in my last post. In this painting, Venus has arisen and walks out of the sea. Here, the goddess of beauty and love embodies a force of nature, emerging from man-made chaos as a harbinger of environmental and cultural crisis.
Venus Apocalypse by Patricia Watwood, 2013, oil on canvas, 64 x 40.
This painting has been developing over the past nine months. I conceived the idea while working on the first two Venuses, feeling that the energy and dynamism of a standing figure would complement the tranquility and passivity of the other two. As usual, I began with a drawing, and studied the proportions and anatomy of the figure to learn the shapes I would be painting. I found a new model for this Venus, as I was looking for someone quite similar to the Botticelli Venus, on which this image is based. Furthermore, in painting an archetypal subject, I felt that the exhibition should reflect not just one woman as Venus–but rather show multiple versions of the ideal.
Drawing for Venus Apocalypse, 2012,
Next, I spent some time gathering reference photos and materials for the background and foreground for the oil painting. I had already begun concept sketches for the work when Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast in October 2012. After the storm, I spent a few days along the shore and devastated areas photographing the destruction and gathering debris from the beaches that I brought into the studio. The coincidence of the painting and the storm made the project feel more urgent, and I channeled my emotions of anxiety and awe at the power of nature into the image.
|Along the shore in Brooklyn.
||Debris collected at Jacob Reis Park, Queens.|
I also spent some time doing studies for the sky behind Venus. I knew I wanted to have a sky that was grey, pink and violet, to create the mood of storm and otherworldliness. However, I wanted to explore what exact pattern of values and shapes would be the best design, and still seem somewhat believable. I used small 9 x 12 panels and did three variations, working from imagination, to determine which would be the most successful design. When I had chosen my favorite sky study, I developed it into a small sketch with the figure in place, using my drawing as a reference.
I began three sky studies to work out the composition. Two images I developed a bit further, and once I had decided on the design (top right), I developed that one with the figure sketched in. The third sketch (bottom right) shows the first pass of the sketch with loose brushy marks. The other two got a second pass of opaque paint over the dry ebauche.
The last part of the development of this artwork was the special frame that I designed and built for the painting. I have been collecting and painting circuit boards since I first incorporated them into the design for my painting Pandora. I find them fascinating and even beautiful in their own way–with malachite greens and peacock blues, and small metal bits that can glimmer like jewels. I have always admired artist-designed and artist-built frames for the way they can extend the metaphors of artwork and "frame" the art in a particular context. I wanted to use the circuit boards in Venus Apocalypse to both bring the technology-trash imagery in the artwork to the foreground (literally), and create a contemporary context for my classical figuration. I mounted them on the frames like marquetry, to make a colorful and glittery border around my goddess. I will tell you more about the other special frames I designed for "Venus Apocalypse" in my next post.
|Frame details of Venus Apocalypse.|
I've gotten a lot of comments and questions on this painting. Venus's full nudity and very lithe figure challenges some viewers, as she teeters close to the edge of sexually explicit. Second, I have broken away from my usual figure type, which is lusher and fuller, and used a very slender model, which is such a stereotype of contemporary ideas of "beauty" with a small 'b.' I typically eschew such a Madison Avenue body-type, but I wanted her athleticism and youth to bring momentum to her stance. Confronting the nude in this way raises some hackles, and I find that even this very traditional pose and painting style can still prickle and break through the boundaries of "painted form" and felt experience. I'd love to hear what you think!