|Pandora by Patricia Watwood, oil on canvas.
I've had it in my head to make a "Pandora" oil painting
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.