Friday, 6 April 2012

Oh Yeah...

I thought perhaps I should give a little background to the painting I submitted for the Engedi Easter Story Exhibition....

First of all the title... Well it's from Ash's 'Oh Yeah' a song which is basically about teenage sex... but as always written with the most beautiful lyrics, by possibly one of the most underrated lyricist ever, Tim Wheeler.

I've said in previous posts that I'd wanted to do a painting of hair for a while, ever since last summer in fact, when I took photos of my dolls wandering around a sunny garden. There was one photograph that stuck out when I was editing and playing about with the colours, that once I cropped it so only the hair so in frame it just looked inviting and almost sensual like a shampoo advert, yet dark and foreboding and I immediately thought of the couplet from the song:

"Her eyes were making silent demands
as her hair came undone in my hands"

On the left - the original photo from the series 'Down at the bottom of The Garden' and on the right the cropped edited version 

The concepts, imagery and ideas thankfully fitted in perfectly with my chosen passage, of Mary washing Jesus' feet. I was intrigued by the fact she used her hair to dry his feet after anointing them with Spikenard oil. To contemporary audiences this appears an almost sexual act bordering on fetish, or complete subservience, yet in Biblical times it was commonplace as the prevalent form of footwear was sandals, this meant feet got dirty and needed washing, it was however also viewed as an act of humble devotion.
 I did a little research into the passage and it's context, and found that there is some dispute between scholars and branches of Christianity as to who the Mary in the passage is. There is a strong argument that is it Mary of Bethany, but there's a school of thought which claims it is in fact Mary Magdalene.

There is huge divide and debate over Mary Magdalene's past, is she a prostitute? is she just a woman of "loose morals"? or completely misunderstood and a bit ahead of her time? I didn't really want to get too bogged down or involved in those arguments, but I was interested in peoples perceptions of her.
I wanted to focus on the tradition symbolic representations of Magdalene - the typical portrayal is quite different to the other notable female figures from the Bible who are shown to be very conservative in clothing and beliefs. Her hair is usually a vivid red - to symbolize her supposed wanton past, and whilst other female figures tend to have their hair tied up or covered Magdalene's cascades down over her shoulders - an often bare/exposed shoulder.
Hair is historically considered to be a woman's crowning glory and long hair considered desirable, so it's not surprising that it's often used for symbolic effect, in Magdalene's case it's used to project her murky past and "loose morals". Taking this into consideration it gave me some scope to bring in these traditional views and ideals into my painting...

"Mary Magdalene in Penitence"
El Greco 

"Mary Magdalene"
Dante Gabriel Rossetti 

"Mary Magdalene in the Desert"
Pierre Puvis de Chavannes

"Mary Magdalene"
Fredrick Sandys

So I decided to focus on her hair, I was really struck by the fact Magdalene is portrayed in a seductive manner, and the same hair that's used as a symbol of her promiscuity is what she used to dry Jesus' feet with, it seems a little odd to me not to view this symbolically as a sexual act, it's certainly a very intimate act viewed by today's standards, but then take could be me taking it all out of context [which I admit I am] but then I have to look at it from my viewpoint today in the context of my own practice :)

The artwork for Bloc Party's single release of Mercury [above] was an influence early on in the decision making process, I debated including the feet in the composition but liked the almost abstract quality hair takes on when taken out of context - cropped and close up, it also [hopefully] focuses the attention on the fact the piece is not just about the act of Mary washing Jesus' feet and what that symbolizes, but also deals with the was Magdalene is viewed and depicted both historically and in a contemporary context.

And finally here's a few shots from my sketchbook, a few images I found and stuck in [I have a habit of taking any religious propaganda thrust into my hand - I love the stuff!!] and a sketch of the original composition of the painting - which caused oh so much confusion and stress! and finally some of the reference photos I was using to paint from folded up and cropped the good old fashioned way...

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