There is much in life that, though attractive and sometimes even beneficial, contains danger. Is there any reward without risk?
I have a new painting for you. Seductive Fruit is another spontaneous work. It began in a very different vein, an abstract piece that became representational as I played with shading and texture. It was also painted weeks ago and was the inspiration for the theme of fruit for synkroniciti this week.
At the center was an object that I identified from the beginning as “God’s eye”. Part of it still remains, the blue field traversed by red and inhabited by yellow, encircled by black, with a yellow-orange eyeshadow and another stripe of black. The picture rotated and new colors enclosed this eye, reframing it. You’ll notice that the yellow and red outer shell which protects the eye is partially see through, revealing the sunrise, or perhaps sunset, sky, made by layering purples, pinks, reds and yellows. Is this moment a beginning or an ending? There is a light source beyond the lower left corner of the painting.
Here I reached my first stopping point, and the first varnishing. It didn’t yet feel right and the varnishing smeared the colors a bit, so the next element to emerge was the foliage, textured from a mixture of brown, green, yellow, blue and red. The foliage seems also to frame the eye, which became the center, or pit, of a fruit for me. Everything that tries to frame this pit has difficulty doing so, as if it is too otherworldly to fit properly into perspective. All potential, knowledge, imagination, illumination and darkness are rolled into that fruit. It isn’t humanly possible to arrive at an understanding that makes all of these parts fit together.
I stopped again, but felt uncomfortable with the emptiness of the right side of the picture. I put a large blob of black paint on my brush and out came a triangular shape that instantly suggested the viperous head of a poisonous snake. In texturing him, the snake gained large, almost frog like eyes, a spine and head features. I gave him a grey area for his home, which also helped me mix the colors to shade him. Then I realized that the black stripe on the outside of the original yellow orange eye shadow was his tail. Anyone picking this fruit is going to be pulling a snake by the tail and running the risk of being bitten. To me this signifies that knowledge is perilous. The more we become aware of the world around us, the less innocent we become and the more darkness we see and experience. In order to live with awareness, we must accept that we will die. Notice that even the snake is not without aspects of illumination–symbolized in this picture by the color yellow, which lightly patterns his head and tongue.
There are overtones in this piece of the temptation of Adam and Eve from the Christian Bible– a serpent and a fruit that contains God’s knowledge of good and evil, his “eye”, if you will. I have always taken issue with the willingness of the Biblical narrator to place words in God’s mouth that imply punishment. It seems to me that he behaves like a child interpreting a correction as mistreatment. What if the God of this story is simply revealing the truth that understanding the world doesn’t make it easier, that it brings frustration and pain, not from wrath or punishment, but from cause and effect? Choosing freedom and knowledge will result in conflict.
There is an old English text called Adam Lay Ybounden which praises God for the time that the apple was eaten, for the temptation itself, interpreting it as a blessed fault. It seems appropriate in this context. You can read the lyrics and learn about the text here.
Have ideas or insight? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Video via UCD-University College Dublin, featuring a performance of Deo Gracias (Adam Lay Ybounden) by Benjamin Britten from his Ceremony of Carols.