Art, Identity & Place

How wild places, deep time and archaeology inform my contemporary art process

Segmented Glance 2, 1/1, 2010, intaglio, drypoint, chine-colle and collage

Demeter and Persephone Re-visioned in Double Portrait form

Artists, myself included often refer to myth, history, archaeology or religion when depicting imagery as a way to include several layers of meaning with everyday subject matter. Messages can be conveyed through obvious symbols or by disguised symbolism for example the Demeter and Persephone myth can provide an allegory for narratives and images depicting mothers and daughters.

The well-known story about a mother (Demeter) and daughter (Persephone) relationship described as a tragic and cruel rape, abduction and kidnapping of a child from her mother is often referred to as an allegory for spring in the patriarchal culture of Ancient Greece.

 I referred to aspects of the Demeter and Persephone myth but re-visioned it by tracing some of the symbols back to their original location in earlier rituals as a way to re-vision the disempowerment of women in this rape and kidnap cautionary tale. Often symbols remain but the story told about them changes. Their Minoan-like origin can be seen in an excavation by S. and N. Marinatos at Akrotiri in Thera. So I retained several aspects not in their narrative form but in a type of disguised symbolism.  In that way I could depict through a double portrait my understanding  and formation of a daughter’s identity by referring to this allegory about renewal and transition.

Briefly I referred to frescos that depicted a narrative ritual where women protagonists descend into an adyton (holy of holies) depicted within the architecture of the Thera excavation.  The frescos make reference to the underworld, vegetation, growth and the cycle of nature as does the rape of Persephone and abduction to the underworld by her uncle Hades. 

The sketches and Theran frescos below illustrate part of the ritual activity at Akrotiri (destroyed in 1500 B.C.) in Thera (Santorini).

The shaved head of a young girl painted on this fresco suggests that she may be engaging in an initiation ritual.

Tentative reconstruction of the entire room 3 showing the pictorial programme on both floor levels.

Tentative reconstruction of the entire room 3 showing the pictorial programme on both floor levels including the steps descending into the adyton.

The sketch depicts a girl with a bleeding foot and a crocus. All heads turned to the blood on the altar.

I extrapolated imagery from elements of this symbolism as a way to create abstracted backgrounds that refer to blood and the dark atmosphere of an underworld ritual where in my imagination often unconscious and inarticulate emotions rise between a mother and daughter. This is a privatised world not a public and sacred ritual however I avoid direct reference to the rape and violence of Greek myth.

I also used this narrative of underground ritual as an allegory about vision, insight and inspiration.

Reference

Marinatos, Nanno,  Art and Religion in Thera: Reconstructing a Bronze Age Society. Athens, D. & I. Mathioulakis, 1984

Author: elainedesterre

I have been producing oil paintings, mixed media, prints (etching), digital prints and drawings for many years travelling to the Australian outback and overseas for inspiration and further education. My formal education consists of a PhD in painting and a BA in printmaking and my artwork is represented in public and private collections. My purpose and ongoing challenge is to create a gender-balanced and environment-focused iconography within the Western canon of European oil painting. These themes find expression within imagery about time, memory and identity as well as in geomorphology of evolutionary and environmental significance.

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