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Eight Sisters Completed

Eight Sisters is finished at last! It's been a journey as I made many changes to this painting, not to mention I took an extended break and travelled to the UK and France during December 2022 to January 2023. Back in the studio things were resolved quickly. Thank goodness!

Eight Sisters Oil Paint - Pigment on Canvas - 2022/2023 - (H) 2m x (W) 2m.

Iconography of Eight Sisters

The image of Eight Sisters was developed from my love of medieval architecture and the many facets that make up its aesthetic that was developed through a period of four centuries: roughly from the 10th – 14th centuries. I started my artistic life as a sculptor in stone and was fascinated particularly by the artisans who worked during the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Their ability to fuse function and decoration artfully with consummate skill was second to none. One particular aspect of the medieval aesthetic was the development of the Boss, an interlocking stone (not that dissimilar to a locking keystone in an arch), that locked together stone ribs from several positions. Early examples of bosses locked four stone ribs together, (quadripartite vault), later examples as many as eight ribs (octopartite vault).

Bosses were as much an integral part of the building’s structure as they were a decorative element. Some depicted the four seasons, others depicted everyday life; others the lunar cycle related to farm life (Harvest Festival or scenes of seed sowing) and others with images of people whose lives were blessed or damned. Others were devoted to sexuality and moral codes of the day.

My fascination with this imagery was piqued by its sophisticated nature and the way in which, the sculptors were able to link everyday human experience to their immediate world. The tactile nature of their carvings brought real life events into their surroundings. The other aspect of these carvings (Bosses), was that in the grand space of a nave, the sculptors created small visual stopping points – intimate areas of visual play – as a reminder of the importance of simple humanity. This is an highly sophisticated method of design that brought philosophical, spiritual and emotional elements to tell stories. The pictorial elements of these carvings could be used on any story board in any contemporary design studio.

One aspect of the medieval aesthetic in terms of carving was the depiction of eyes. Eyes were mostly carved in what is called an ‘almond’ shape as this was considered beautiful. Strangely enough, or maybe not so strangely enough, there are many contemporary animated television shows (Manga), whose digitally drawn characters have over accentuated ‘almond’ eyes as a way of accentuating a particular contemporary view of beauty. It is obvious to me, that as an aesthetic element used so frequently in the media, this particular aspect of contemporary design is as new as it is old. Perverse indeed.

The design layout (or skeleton), of Eight Sisters pays homage to Euclid and his mathematical propositions that were such an integral part of medieval building construction and divine numbers. This is referenced in the last stanza of the poem. It pays homage too, to a particular divine number: the number eight, a number that is considered a ‘lucky number’. The number 4 on the other hand, is considered very unlucky in certain cultures; but given the perversity, that two fours make eight, I find human labelling or association (good and bad), a perverse oddity in itself. It’s that type of human perversity that draws me to particular subject matter.

Much of my poetry is influenced by fables and nursery rhymes from the past as much as it is infused with Romanesque and Gothic influences. The stories I find intriguing can be old and new. I came across a book by Christine Edwards Thackery called Through a Sister’s Eyes: Stories of Growth from Eight Sisters. Some books catch your imagination right away, others are a struggle. This book is a joy with its collection of childhood stories from eight sisters whose lives jostled, bumped and scraped: and yet, came together in moments of tenderness and love.

It reminded me of childhood connections, childhood growth, childhood fantasy, childhood expectations: naïve and yet sometimes unwittingly sophisticated in their interwoven complexities. So then the challenge to tell a story on one canvas through a medieval means of design that would weave its way around the canvas physically and spiritually: intrigue the viewer as to the connections between these eight siblings. A large family by contemporary standards and yet, like any other family or group of people, the complexities and simplicities of everyday life unfold; inextricably linked by leafy veins whose blood has always been and will always be (to use a well-worn cliché), so much thicker than water.

The floral images in the painting are used to accentuate the positive emotional links between these eight sisters. There symbolism is as follows:

1. Fuchsia – Cheerful, playful and uplifting. Liveliness, self-assurance and confidence.

2. Rose (centre motif) – Love and romance – Secrecy and confidentiality.

3. Nasturtium – victory through struggle – compassion and warmth -

4. Forsythia – growth and development in to maturity – times of change for example winter to spring – a flowering of the spirit.


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