As a painter, I have tried hard to resist my interest in drama and stories. They don’t fit well with a visual, philosophical and theoretically driven medium. Drama and storytelling is so rooted in continuing time that it seems to sit ill at ease with the apparent resolute, unchanging nature of a painting.
But with the theme of ‘Underworld’, the attraction of the many wonderful dramatic myths and legends about the ‘third realm’ of Hades was hard to resist. I thought I would concentrate on two stories. The first was the account of Orpheus and his pursuit and loss of his dead lover, Eurydice. The second was the awful and (later) wonderful story of how Persephone was seized by Pluto, god of the Underworld, and then rescued by her mother, Demeter, goddess of fertility and harvest.
I decided to use skills learnt in my previous work as a dramatist and wrote some poems and a short play to start thinking about these stories in a contemporary setting - in this case a glossy Birmingham bar, called, of course, Hades. The character of the barmaid was the mother figure, and the lost girl was alternately both Eurydice and Persephone.
I was to paint canvases of the same size and in the same landscape orientation to tell the story.
Of course it didn’t quite work like that.
The paintings don’t tell the story. Only a storytelling medium can do that. What I hope the paintings can do is to express something about moments within the myths and the ideas that underpin them as translated into paint. Or perhaps they might be called meditations. I don’t know.
I am grateful to two translations of Ovid’s Metamorphoses (by Mary M. Innes and Ted Hughes) and to Denise Riley’s moving volume of poems ‘Say something back’. I have chosen words or lines from Riley’s poems as titles for each of the paintings.