Paradise brings together notions of Arcadia and Desire (Eros the god of love or Eros the Bittersweet). It explores the longing for that which we seek but can never truly find. It is this longing, this desire, that interests me and which motivates our searching in life and in the creative act.
In 2019 I began a series of works which took as its starting point the idea of Arcadia as a real and imagined place or landscape. Between 1786-1788 the German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe described his travels through Italy, subsequently published in his Italian Journey. My Arcadia paintings are inspired by an entry in his diary when he travelled to Sicily, where whilst walking through the Public Gardens in Palermo their great beauty and natural abundance awoke in him a vision of the antique world and in particular Homer’s description in The Odyssey of Phaeacia's Gardens. During the long hot summer of 2018 I found myself walking along the public footpaths around the Water of Leith near where I live in Edinburgh. Here, I too was surrounded by an abundant natural world and encountered the circular temple known as St Bernard’s Well with its elegant statue of Hygeia, the Greek Goddess of health and cleanliness. Time collapsed and I was transported in my imagination to the ancient world of Homer and the Garden’s of Phaeacia, as Goethe had been in Sicily.
In 2020 I began to explore the idea of Eros the Bittersweet or Eros the Paradox as a further extension of my interest in the classical world and where it interfaces with the modern world. I read an essay by the poet and classicist Anne Carson called, Eros the Bittersweet (Princeton University Press, 1986). She talks in the opening chapter about the Greek poet Sappho (c620 - 570 BC) who also spent time in Sicily and was called the tenth muse:
'Eros the melter of limbs (now again) stirs me-
sweet bitter unmanageable creature who steals in'
(If Not Winter: Fragments of Sappho translated by Anne Carson, Virago 2003)
In her essay Carson describes how Eros seemed to Sappho an experience of both pleasure and pain - a contradiction, perhaps even a paradox:
‘It was Sappho who first called eros “bittersweet”. No one who has been in love disputes her… We take for granted, as did Sappho, the sweetness of erotic desire; it’s pleasurability smiles out at us. But the bitterness is less obvious.’
This idea of the paradoxical complexity of human nature inspired my paintings, Bittersweet and Eros.
The titles of my paintings The Roses of Pieria and The one with Violets in her lap are also taken from Sappho’s Fragments, as translated by Carson. Pieria is a mountainous region of northern Greece which was believed to be the birthplace of the Muses. The Muses were crowned with roses and their works - music, dance, poetry, learning and culture - are often symbolised by the flower. These paintings mark a development in my small format Women Series. In some ways I also see the small ‘women’ paintings as the Muses and their expressive form alluding to the form of a rose.