I grew up on the edge of a forest then spent some years in cities that had virtually no trees. I went back to the woods after an ex kept threatening (and sometimes trying) to murder me. In time, I met a woman whom I loved to a ridiculous degree, but while I was painting pictures of the trees near my own home, her ex-husband tried to murder her in hers. She vanished shortly after, I was alone in the woods again.
I always had romantic notions of living close to nature, but it can be a terrible place to be lost on your own.
I have begun a series of paintings and sculptures featuring characters trying to make their way through a dark forest. The paintings deal, allegorically, with issues of predation & domestic violence, with a cast of vulnerable creatures and animals.
The paintings have an implied narrative. They tie in with one another so that a story seems to unfold from one to the next. It is a story I am rarely able to address with words.
Sometimes the sculptures are based on characters already in paintings, but I also make sculptures based on ideas for the paintings. By shining a strong light on a sculpture, I can better conceptualize how it should fit in a painting: how the light should look, how the shadows should be cast...
The paintings and sculptures inform each other in this way.
On nicer afternoons, I also paint landscapes of secluded natural areas, en plein air. This provides a fuller exploration of “the Woods”.
There is the romantic, colorful, serene aspect, and there is that frightening place that it becomes when you wander alone.
You will see it in paintings and in sculptures.
I had a girlfriend who was deathly afraid of snakes. Any trace, any mention of them and she would go: rigid, pallid, clammy, cold…
But she would coil around you and there was all the warmth in the world.
I had a girlfriend whom I loved, fiercely, so we were ever vigilant & kept her safe, safe from snakes. No serpent ever harmed her. We never even uttered the word.
It was her ex-husband who tried to murder her. He slithered in on his belly, then every surface was covered in blood.
Why were we worried - Why had we wasted all that effort over snakes? No reptile is ever as savage, as full of venom.
In the painting: "...snakes..." (below), the snakes were meant to allude to this mostly irrational fear, while something that was 'legitimately' dangerous was ignored entirely.
In the series of paintings: "the Woods" the ever-increasing number of snakes is meant as a visual metaphor for the spread of fear and trauma from one afflicted individual to another.
I like cats. An old drunk man on one of the islands of Japan gave me a cat one day which, initially, I wasn't allowed to keep, but my ex-wife changed her mind. She sometimes threatened to poison me, but when she was really mad, she'd threaten to poison my cat. In this series of paintings, there is a great clowder of colorful cats, and one little yellow cat which is lost by itself.
The Moth with Tattered Wings -
Nothing symbolizes frailty, beauty, and change so well as a butterfly/ moth.
Caterpillars are hidden in the earlier scenes of "the Woods", with a cocoon atop the woman's piano later on. When it is eventually devoured by the alien, new varieties of snakes and crocodiles with delicate colored wings arise.
the Blind Horse -
Horses (unwillingly) helped to build society by transporting people and goods, by fighting in wars, by pulling plows... (They say that even the designs for rocket ships had to be based on the breadth of a horse - because rocket ships required component pieces to travel over roads/ through tunnels, which were designed for cars, which were, in turn, designed to travel over paths that two horses could walk abreast.)
Horses have to be "broken" to be "useful" though. They have to be tethered & spurred & led. The horse in "the Woods is encumbered by snakes, blinded by them, and led through the darkness,
Its eyes are, initially, the blue of 'the Woman in Blue's' dress, but they disappear when the snakes take control. This is when it takes the false appearance of a unicorn (because how often are things exactly as they seem?)
the Alien -
The alien is the antithesis/ the compliment of the little yellow cat, which is also a tiger. Here, it represents the parts of yourself that you're rarely cognizant of, the feelings and memories that are so repressed / rarely acknowledged that they may as well be "alien". It is glimpsed intermittently, usually evoking a deep fear in the other characters.
the Long Necked Purple Thing -
The long neck of this bird-like thing helps it to remain in places of relative safety but still peer in & watch terrible events happen to other denizens of the woods
Fur Monsters -
These furry beasts cling to trees & multiply in threatening numbers when 'weaker' characters appear.
the Kappa ・河童 -
Kappa are creatures from Japanese folklore which live in lakes, rivers, & ponds.
They like to pull unsuspecting humans underwater to drown. Though powerful, they are left inert whenever the bowl-shaped crown in the tops of their heads is drained. Should their prey show deference to these monsters by bowing deeply, the kappa will return the gesture, emptying their crowns & creating a chance to escape.