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Prosperpina/Persephome: A Work in Progress... and Finished!

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Having largely locked in the young girl I turned toward the mother:

I roughly laid in a light green for her dress and a blue under-painting for her veil which was to be white. Immediately I find that I have doubts about this color combination.

I decided to hold off on the dress and go to work on the face and veil figuring that finishing these would give me a greater idea of what to do with the dress in relationship to everything else. I started on the white veil (no pictures) only to find that it simply gets lost against the patterned wall. I decide to eliminate the veil and give her hair... the same red as the daughter. My thoughts at this point are already moving away from the concept of the mother/daughter relationship being a "Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple" for which the veil made sense, and are leaning toward the Greco-Roman theme of Prosperpina.

In order to eliminate the veil I need to sand down a whole lot of the painting and paint out the veil. I also decide to give her a little less conservative of a dress... a little more low cut and revealing of her figure. Again this will involve a lot of sanding out and painting over areas:

After blocking in the hair, I got back to the dress blocking it in with a dark purple... this does away with my idea of interlocking green and red zones and the complimentary two color scheme... but I find that I immediately like the results... and the red/orange, green, purple scheme makes sense... almost like Halloween colors.

I made some fine tuning on the dress colors... bouncing some red and magenta into the purple until I find that I am really satisfied with the colors.

I then set to work finishing off the hair and working on the woman's face. By Tuesday (2 weeks ago) I'm done... or so I thought. I kept looking to the mother's face and it really bugged me. She looked almost like a Hapsburg king by Velasquez with the ugly drawn out face like a horse. (This time I'm glad there is no photo-documentation)


I came to realize that not only was the face butt-ugly... but it's actually too small for her body... something that I didn't notice before. Fixing this will be another major undertaking. I will need to readjust the hairline... redo much of the hair... and redo the whole face!!! I begin to scour through my reference photos and decide that the face would work far better if seen more in 3/4 view than profile... this means even greater alterations... sanding... painting out!!!

Finally!! Thursday the painting all came together:

The painting is now entitled Persephone (I prefer the Greek to the Roman Prosperpina). Persephone was the beloved daughter of the goddess, Demeter. Persephone was innocently picking flowers when she was abducted by the god, Hades and dragged off to the underworld to become his bride. Her mother, the goddess of the earth, was so distraught that she stopped bringing forth life upon the earth. Plants stop growing and the people begin to starve and cry out to Zeus. Zeus demands that Hades release Persephone... but as she has eaten 6 pomegranate seeds she must return to Hades for 6 months every years. This myth obviously explained the change of seasons as each fall Persephone returned to Hades and Demeter again goes into mourning... and all life ceases.

Of course the themes of many of my paintings evolve during the process. The main concept of the relationship between the mother and daughter... and the notion of the daughter as being of some great status: Flora? the Virgin Mary? Persephone... remained constant.

Formally, I was set upon creating a painting using a complimentary color scheme as opposed to the analogous schemes I've been utilizing over the last few paintings. I was also set upon red hair as opposed to by usual brunettes. Subjectively, red and green are colors of fertility, fecundity, and sexuality (Chaucer's red-haired Wife of Bath, Van Eyck's Arnolfini Wedding, or Mary Magdalen as the Scarlet Woman are common examples. By contrast the Virgin Mary is never draped in red but in blue which covers a red undergarment... thus hiding any suggestion of her sexuality).

I imagine the gold leaf and tessellations (like Byzantine or Arabic tiles), the brilliant colors, the "heroic" scale, and even the vertical format that alludes to icons, triptychs and diptychs, and sculptural figures in architectural niches...

as ennobling or denoting the special status of the subject... but whether this immediately resonates with others I can never tell. There have been more than a few who have expressed the feeling that the women in my paintings exude a certain fragility or helplessness (as if trapped) which I don't really sense especially when responding to the works in real life in which the women in the paintings tower over me. But again... I don't think we can ever fully control how the audience will respond to a work of art... or even attempt to please everybody.

As usual... after having spent so long in such a degree of engagement with a single painting... knowing each day... at least to a certain extent... where I was headed... the completion is something of a let-down... or feeling of loss and lack of direction. Now I'm back to the starting point and so while I muse over the possibilities for the next painting, I'll spend my time in practical labor: photographing the finished painting, hanging and preparing the next surface to work upon... and most importantly... cleaning up the mess in the studio so that I can think strait again.

Thanks for looking!


  1. Virgil's Avatar
    I enjoyed it as usual. The final face is much better, but there is something suggestive with having the veil. Perhaps a sort of see through veil might keep the redness of the hair with the suggestiveness of the veil. Just a thought. Thanks for sharing.
  2. andave_ya's Avatar
  3. qimissung's Avatar
    It is beautiful. To keep the veil-like aspect you might have given her longer hair, sort of like Klimt in "Girl with long hair." In fact the only argument I have is that it is so formal, which I completely understand, given that it is based on Christian religious art (love the irony in that), but I would have loved a touch of pagan wildness in the mother.

    It has been fascinating to watch and listen as you discuss your color choices and the processes you go through to get to this final painting. There is a lot to see here!
  4. applepie's Avatar
    Very lovely. I've enjoyed watching your paintings evolve as you post them. The figures in these still have some of the details and proportions much more refined than some of your earlier works you posted. Oddly, it is their feet and some of the finer detail there that stood out to me.
  5. JuniperWoolf's Avatar
    I like it a lot, I like how you made Persephone so young (kinda dirty if you know her story and what she's supposed to represent). I always pictured her as a brunette, but from now on she'll be a redhead to me.
  6. stlukesguild's Avatar
    Thanks for all the comments. Sorry I haven't kept up with my blog and posted sooner. I should be done with my next painting tomorrow... making it at just two weeks labor, one of the fastest I have ever done.