Oil Painting Odyssey: Making Pandora

6 Jul 2011

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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