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Mythology, Intersectional Feminism, and Post punk modernism - what more could you ask for!

Updated: Mar 24, 2023

I grew up in Northern Ireland, and I moved to Scotland in 2004 where I now live and practice as a visual artist. Living in Northern Ireland during the 70’s and 80’s I witnessed bigotry and sectarianism and the wide exclusion of people from places they had every right to be. I couldn’t understand why people were treated in a certain way. Well not strictly true, to an extent I did understand why, but much of it didn’t make sense and I opposed it wholeheartedly.

I was a punk in the late 70’s (still a bit of a vintage punk now!) and I just wanted to push back against the system , and against all these ideals and traditions I disagreed with. And this has been my mantra for life, my core influence, striving to foster a more inclusive, diverse and tolerant society.

Some of my other influences, aside from punk subculture, lie in mythology and folklore, and Intersectional Feminism. I want my work to have an exuberant, slightly humorous take on women and female narratives. Some women are not being treated fairly in this world and this concerns me greatly. I try and shine a light on these issues thorough my paintings.

My latest body of work incorporates the concept of societal gatekeeping, in particular the gatekeepers of womxn’s rights throughout the world. I admire the strong women from Greek mythology who I present as modern-day protagonists, confronting those who seek to exclude womxn and staging them as protectors of womxn and their rights. Goddesses such as Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt and protector of girls (also known as Diana in Roman mythology), and Atalanta also a huntress.

Diana and Actaeon, Titian, 1556-9

I have been fascinated lately by this painting by Titian, that features Diana and Actaeon, a mythological hunter. Besides being known for hunting and killing game Diana also protected it. She was seen as wise and innocent but also dangerous to those who cross her.

In the painting, Actaeon is out hunting one day when he chances on a wood where the goddess Diana is bathing. She punishes him for seeing her naked by turning him into a stag – and he is then ironically torn to pieces by his own hounds who mistake him for game!

Within this painting, the skull of a stag on the pillar references the fate that is awaiting Actaeon. There are so many intriguing references for me in the painting such as the

the curtain – privacy, or invasion of privacy after it is pulled back and historical references to textiles and women; and the deer skins hanging on the trees – evidence of Diana’s strength and prowess; the cute but fierce dog protecting her (she is often depicted with dogs or bears); and have you spotted the tiny white figure chasing a deer seen between the pillars - is that Diana perhaps?

I’m also intrigued by the small mirror in the centre of the painting, I’m unsure what the significance is!

I love the way the stone pillars form an interior space that is clearly outside, if that makes sense. I have made work before that reflects upon a private space such as a bathroom being situated outside – allowing the person to be viewed in their personal private space, revealing their identities and flaws. This may be why Diana was so angry, I don’t think it was because Actaeon had a sexual interest in her. I don’t think the painting feels sexualised - one of the women is drying Diana’s feet! I think she wanted to punish him for invading the space of her and the other women, but also to show him she was superior to him, a better hunter. All things considered, it is a fascinating painting with so many signifiers.

What an attitude she has! I appreciate her strength and standing up for herself and protecting those around her. It resonates today as women have to defend themselves, their rights, their spaces, and create or ensure safe spaces.

Proceed Daintily, Jessie Makinson, 2021

There are many similarities between the Titian painting and this work, by Jessie Makinson, who creates paintings of women as human-animal hybrids, and embrace references from mythology, history and even pp culture! The inside -outside space, the arch way, the visible action outside the space and within the space.

I can see a definite reference to power structures. The use of pattern and colour also reference women’s craft and textiles or tapestries, as with Titian but in a much more nuanced way.

The women featured are mythical creatures and they seem to take on an animal like appearance - Is it clothes or skin that adorns them? They are sometimes humorous but also sometimes disturbing. I particularly like the surrealism in her work. And the sense of drama! I can see the reference to historical work such as Titian and Rubens etc in her work, and cross referenced with mythology and modern-day gender politics makes it fascinating. And again, that strong attitude simmering in the work!

I often depict animals such as bears and dogs in my paintings, signifiers of power and protection.

Untitled drawing, 2022

Very recently I have been exploring a human/animal hybrid, in order to present a looser definition of gender; mythological human animals defined as womxn or gender ambiguous, and I am also exploring how animal prints and patterns incorporated into the paintings could be suggestive of animal nature. This is very much a work in progress, but I am excited about developing this aspect of embracing historical and modern influences such as Makinson and Titian, interwoven with those influences relating to my own identity. Post punk modernist, mythological international feminism - what more could you ask for!

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