Artistic Intention

I am still finishing my pigs. Someone referred to animal farm, but it was not meant in that way. One needs to take the reigns at some stage. Compositionally the pig’s head works to the far left of the table, but it is then situated before the blue gowned pig, which would inevitably be read as some kind of allusion to Salome, which had nothing to do with it. When does the painting tell me what it wants to be, when does the story get out of hand? One can’t subordinate plot/narrative to aesthetic composition. It’s all very well, but what is one saying. I wanted my pigs to be in heaven, away from the hell of their earthly existence, dining at a garden party. Then the pig’s head came to be upon the table, and the whole thing changed. There was no reprieve, and things were what they were. In any case, earlier motifs had every inkling of what was to come, in spite of my utopian ideals.

When artistically lost, I find the easiest way to reconvene is a visit to the National Gallery in London. I had recently shown at my open studio. It was good to see people, but the point lost its grit. I thought about artists who had moved me the most. I found Diego Velazquez’s 2006 show at the National Gallery the most moving exhibition of paintings I had ever experienced.

I went back to the National, to find one of his paintings.

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary (1618) was taken from the New Testament (Luke 10:38-42). Martha stands unhappily at a table on which lies the food she has prepared. Beside her is an older woman, pointing at an opening in the background, that shows the scene of Jesus talking to Mary and another woman. There is ambiguity in the background image, which could either be a painting, a looking glass reflection, or an aperture in the wall. The open endedness of its definition might have been the artist’s intention; after all, it is Christ sitting there.

In the story, when Martha complained to Jesus that Mary sat listening while she was left to serve the meal, he said,

‘Mary has taken that good part which shall not be taken away from her.’

It could be said that Jesus was praising the contemplative life as opposed to the domestic one. The old woman may be suggesting an alternative spiritual occupation to the maid.

Velazquez was following a Flemish tradition of the time that depicted religious scenes with kitchens. This resonated with his spiritual embrace of all, from all walks – he depicted workers, beggars, gods, mythical and religious characters with the same loving empathy.