A few years ago I began a series titled "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird," based on a poem with the same title by Wallace Stevens. (If you want to read the poem, simply click on the poet's name to open it in a new window.) The series plays with the premise that blackbirds are mysterious, that they are messengers, but they do not give up their meanings unless they are convinced that we are ready to close the shutters of the rational mind, that we are prepared to be transformed.
The series has two distinct parts. The first one being that the birds are turned into observers in a variety of settings, usually influenced by pop culture. I have included several, but not all, of the paintings in the series.
I think a lot while I paint, especially when symbolism is involved, and I write a lot about my work. For example, a couple of my early paintings in this series, two of my favorites, "Burning Desire," and "Get Back Jack," have a lot of symbolism.
(If you just aren't into it, feel free to skip this part...)
The zebra print in the background of this piece is colored blue and yellow instead of the expected black and white. This is to illustrate that life is almost never presented in a clear-cut manner. Blue is the color most often associated with issues of the spirit and intellect. It is the color of sky and heaven, also having strong connections with nearly all forms of water. Thus it is connected with purity and cleansing. It traditionally has feminine, cool and reflective aspects. Its link to the sky also connotes eternity and immensity, time and space. Blue is often linked to truth and transparency.
Yellow often stands for light, the sun's rays, intellect, faith, and goodness. However, yellow can also be a sign of cowardice, betrayal, and/or jealousy. Because of the two distinct colors, the zebra print is often representative of duality, which results in a split personality with two distinct identities that compete for dominance.
Red, an emotionally charged color, is associated with war, anger, blood-lust, vengeance, fire, and the masculine. It can also mean love, passion, health, and arousal. The black silhouette of the young girl is decorated with skulls on the skirt. This symbol is often associated with death and evil, but some ancient cultures believed the skull had the opposite association, that it represented the embodiment of consciousness in the human form.
Most of the numbers in this painting are even: two birds, six flames on the chandelier, six red balls, and four skulls. The exception, of course, is the female figure, and in a lesser way, the light fixture, which is merely an extension of the girl, in that it represents her illuminating intelligence. Of course, the two blackbirds can be read as thesis and anti-thesis.
The number four deals with stability and the grounded nature of all things. It represents solidity and calmness. It is the number of persistence and endurance. Note, however, that the four skulls are somewhat off center and that one is fractured. It is this very dissection that created the appearance that the skulls encircle the hem of the skirt. The number six signifies growth on the spiritual level. The fact that there are six candlesticks (representing the intellect) and six red balls (representing spirit) connects these two aspects of human consciousness. And, of course, both are painted red, as is the fire, hinting that the three elements are somehow all connected. In an interesting aside, fire is the only one of the four elements that humans can reproduce themselves, so it is said to be the bridge between mortals and gods. Rituals often involve fire, and it is often a symbol of purification. It can even be a symbol of religious zeal and martyrdom.
Freud saw fire as an aspect of the libido representing forbidden passions, but is also seen in psychology as destruction and regeneration.
Get Back Jack!
The string of birds on the girl's skirt definitely makes a fashion statement in that they symbolize the fact that she is asserting her dominance over her environment while retaining her femininity. It also harkens back to the days of the poodle skirt, thereby recognizing the history of women in their struggle for equality. The dots on the girl's form further enforce the power of elaboration and decoration as tools to control one's perceived place in society.
The girl appears only in silhouette, but her body language, or gesture, is easily read as being determined, even overtly aggressive. While she is somewhat reminiscent of the fashion dolls that were birthed in the late 50s and early 60s, her figure is not full-blown, but shows her to be just on the verge of womanhood.
I want to share one more thing today before signing off--my new obsession, Sophie Matisse's series "Back in Five Minutes," in which the artist paints her version of classic paintings but deletes the characters, as though they have just stepped out for a break. I will post only one example, but these are fascinating and well worth the time it takes to view them. Of course, my favorite is her version of Las Meninas by Velazquez!
"Good artists copy, great artists steal."--Pablo Picasso