Oil Painting Odyssey: Making Pandora

Pandora by Patricia Watwood, oil on canvas.
Pandora by Patricia Watwood, oil on canvas.

I've had it in my head to make a "Pandora" oil painting for a while now.  In the myth, Pandora is overcome with curiosity (well, who wouldn't be??) and she opens the proverbial box and releases all the horrors of the world. Oops.

I guess it is on my radar now because the world seems to be full of doomsday scenarios these days. There's terrorism, environmental disaster, global warming, severe weather, earthquakes, nuclear disasters…. and forecasts of the literal end of the world. My sense is that there is a general level of anxiety in our culture that arises out of a deep seated suspicion that our current course is not sustainable—and that the house will fall on our heads, maybe sometime soon. 

The imagery on my canvas arises out of that stew of anxiety and dread. There is a specific reference to September 11. Look carefully for the airplane in the distance. New York is my home, so like all New Yorkers, I remember vividly where I was (on the subway), and what happened that whole fateful day. I was 9 months pregnant, and the feeling of vulnerability and horror was amplified by hormones and maternal instinct. With the whole world, we are left with a gnawing hole and the question, "Why, why, why?" 

No simple painting could begin to explain the incredibly complex reasons for terrorism.  But, in a way, it starts with questions and comparisons—How does my way of life (religion, culture, worldview) compare to that culture over there? Curiosity, Pandora's natural inclination, leads to clash of civilizations and ideologies. Sometimes we meet the foreign with delight and excitement; sometimes we meet it with abhorrence and fear.

The only thing left in the box is hope. (Isn't it interesting that most people don't know this part of the story—I think it is key!!) The bird in the painting, an Eastern Bluebird, was nearing extinction, but has been resurging in recent years. Because of their beauty and cheerful song, bluebirds have come to symbolize happiness, love and renewed hope, and are often thought of as harbingers of spring. So, this is the important lesson of the story for me.  No matter how dire, how untenable, how impossible the situation at hand may seem, there is always hope, which gives us strength and guidance to keep going. 

I find narrative so crucial in my own oil painting art, which is why I will be teaching a two day workshop in Long Island, NY on creating meaning and symbolism in figure paintings from July 22-23. Join me if you can! I'd love to paint with you!


For more painting instruction from Patricia, check out her latest DVD, Figure Painting: Realistic Skin Tone.

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Patricia Watwood

About Patricia Watwood

Patricia Watwood has studied painting with Jacob Collins at the Water Street Atelier, and also with Ted Seth Jacobs at Ecole Albert Defois. She earned her MFA with honors from New York Academy of Art.

Watwood paints nudes, figures, portraits and still lifes in the classical tradition. Her paintings draw on allegorical, mythological, and narrative themes. She continues the classical pursuits of representational painting, with an eye on the contemporary world. The recurring theme in her paintings is the spiritual human presence. Watwood states, “Formal training is the indispensable underpinning of my practice. I seek to follow and build upon the artistic intelligence and traditions of the past, and bring them anew to my own generation.”

Watwood has exhibited in group and solo shows in New York, Paris, Houston, San Francisco and Long Island.  Her work is represented by John Pence Gallery in San Francisco. Her figurative paintings have been included in several museum shows, including “Enchantment” at the Hartford Art School, “Slow Painting,” at the Oglethorpe Museum; “The Great American Nude,” at the Bruce Museum of Arts and Sciences; and in “Representing Representation VI,” at the Arnot Museum. Her work has been featured in numerous art publications including International Artist, and a recent cover article in American Artist magazine.
Watwood also does portrait commissions, and is represented by Portraits, Inc.  Her recent projects include a portraits for Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government, and the former Mayor of St. Louis, for St. Louis City Hall.  Watwood is currently teaching at the New York Academy of Art, and at the Teaching Studios of Art in Brooklyn. 

Watwood and her husband and two daughters live in Brooklyn, New York.