It’s possible that as a bit of a misfit kid I related a little too closely to the plight of Dr. Frankenstein’s monster. Watching Boris Karloff’s version of the creature being hunted, it seemed all too clear to me who the real monsters were. Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus” and James Whale’s brilliant “Bride of Frankenstein” touched me on an almost cellular level, and I’ve been trying to change that story in my art for years, to create a happier outcome, a real future for those characters. It’s also been pointed out to me recently that these paintings track changes in my life —
The Frisky Years…
“The Honeymoon” Acrylic & enamel on tin, 21 x 16 inches
Developing Healthier Hobbies…
“The Gardener” Oil on wood panel, 10 x 8 inches
Building A Family…
“Sew Much Love” Oil on wood panel, 17 x 14 inches
“Song of Birth: The 3 Magi” Oil on panel, 24 x 32 inches
And Having Fun With Your Mate…
“Date Night” Oil on wood panel,, 15 x 24 inches
So yeah, you don’t have to look too hard to see that this is a common theme in much of what I do — “fixing” things that I perceive as wrong, things that have rankled around inside me since I was a child. (Another example, my seemingly endless desire to see Catwoman and Batman together.)
In my painting series Monster Ballads, I was thinking a lot about “Monsters: They’re Just Like Us!” I painted things like Dracula relaxing on the beach moonbathing, monster friends celebrating a birth, and a series of martyr paintings because I’ve never been able to shake the feeling that so many of these creatures got a seriously bum rap. (Dracula did not appear in the martyr series because I felt that his path was a bit more self directed plus he seemed to wholly enjoy his state of being, as opposed to Frankenstein’s monster who got disinterred, hacked to bits, sewn up, and then pretty much reviled every moment of his waking life.)
As I mentioned in my last post (“Of Brides and Breaking Wheels”), paintings of martyrs often showed them with the thing that transformed them into a martyr (“a person killed because of their religious or other beliefs”), or sometimes there would simply be a visual clue. In the case of Saint Lucy, artists had a lot of options to choose from: she was sentenced to be defiled in a brothel (but the guards couldn’t move her, even with a team of oxen), they heaped wood around her for a nice roaring fire (but she wouldn’t burn), and so they finally killed her with a sword. (Tell me again who the real monsters are?) One has to wonder, if one can do so without being utterly blasphemous, why so many of these saints seem to be under amazing and wonderful protection from all forms of harm right up until they suddenly aren’t. Around the 15th century a gruesome addition popped up in her story: torture by eye gouging, tho’ some stories say she did it to herself to deter particularly ardent suitors who admired her peepers. This story begat some of my favorite martyr images —
Saint Lucy by Domenico di Pace Beccafumi, carrying her very odd orbs (and looking at us with her miraculously regrown ones).
And this, one of my absolute favorite paintings of all time for sheer weirdness — the eyes being held like a little flower bud, while Lucy looks at them (with her again miraculously regrown peepers) with what is clearly an “Ew!” face.
Saint Lucy by Francesco del Cossa
When I painted Frankenstein’s monster as a martyr, I gave him a daisy, which was a shout out to this:
And he’s holding a tiny windmill in his hands, because (spoiler alert!), things do not go well at the windmill.
Each painting in this series has a messenger bird, who travels between the worlds of the living and the dead kind of like a supernatural carrier pigeon. In this piece it’s a raven, a bird which is usually not portrayed in a very flattering light in art, possibly because of the simple stigma of being black (aka “evil”), but being carrion eaters certainly didn’t help. Spotted casually pecking bits out of corpses got the idea into people’s heads that they were mediators between life and death. (In Swedish folklore they are the ghosts of murder victims.) Crows get painted with this tar brush too, you’ve all heard the term “a murder of crows” by now.
“Song of the Raven” Oil on wood panel, 24 x 14 inches. The little snow capped mountain in the distance is a nod to the ending of Shelly’s story.
In my deep need to share the love of Halloween, this week if you want to bring a monster to your home (“Friend!”) you can, in three different sizes of throw pillows —
You can get these goodies right here!
And lastly, in honor of those who’ve lost their heads to love, science or an executioner’s blade: