Friday 25 August 2023

Threads of Consequence: Faith, Hope and Plastic

From left to right: George Frederic Watts, Hope 1886 | Threads of Consequence, Jane E Porter 2023

Exploring Art's Impact on Environmental Awareness

In today's world, where art and environmental concerns intersect, a single stroke of inspiration can unravel a cacophony of meaningful reflections.

Art is more than just a visual spectacle; it is a dynamic conversation between artist and observer, where ideas and emotions take shape. While aesthetics and beauty may steal the spotlight, art's ability to ignite meaningful conversations about societal and environmental challenges is an essential aspect of its impact. 

Hope: A Symbolic Masterpiece

One such timeless masterpiece that continues to spark dialogue is George Frederic Watts enigmatic painting, 'Hope.' Painted in 1886, this symbolist painting invites viewers to delve into the realms of interpretation, and its resonance has endured for over a century. It stands as a testament to art's power to not only captivate the eye but also to inspire thought, foster connection, and shed light on the complexities of the human experience.

Watts chose to let the viewer interpret his paintings, a choice that can be both rewarding and frustrating for the audience. I often adopt a similar approach in my work, leaving interpretations somewhat open. This not only creates intrigue but allows the audience to find meaning or ideas that I have yet to discover.

Interpreting 'Hope': Insights from Art Critics

In this post, I'd like to explore some interpretations of 'Hope' made by art critics. I'll also draw parallels to contemporary art's role in addressing urgent issues, as exemplified by my own artwork, 'Threads of Consequence.' These parallels highlight the enduring power of art to reflect and shape our understanding of the world.

Hope and Its Enduring Resonance

This painting is often considered a timeless and universal image of hope's endurance. It became widely popular and was reproduced in various forms, making it one of the most recognized and enduring allegorical paintings of the 19th century.

The painting depicts a female figure sitting atop a globe, blindfolded and playing a lyre that has only a single string remaining. She appears to be deep in thought and concentration despite her lack of sight. The background is dark and sombre, possibly representing a sense of uncertainty or despair.

Exploring Symbolism in 'Hope'

The painting is renowned for its powerful symbolism and art critics have offered various interpretations over the years. Below are some critiques of the painting's meaning:

  1. Symbol of Resilience: Some critics view the painting as a symbol of resilience and the human spirit's indomitable will to survive. Despite the broken strings, the woman continues to play, suggesting that hope persists even in the direst circumstances.

  2. Commentary on Victorian Society: Others see the painting as a commentary on the social conditions of the Victorian era. The blindfolded figure represents the masses, blind to their plight, with the broken lyre symbolizing the broken promises of the era. The single unbroken string represents the slim hope that things could improve.

  3. Fragility of Hope: The fragile lyre with a single string could also symbolize the delicate nature of hope itself. Watts might be conveying the idea that hope can be easily diminished or lost.

  4. Personal Struggles: Some critics suggest that the painting reflects Watts's personal struggles. The blindfolded figure and the broken lyre symbolise his own feelings of despair and his struggle to find hope. Professionally, Watts's commitment to symbolic and allegorical subjects was often at odds with the tastes of the Victorian art establishment, which favoured more literal and narrative-based works. Despite his eventual success, he often felt misunderstood by critics and the public.

Overall, 'Hope' by George Frederic Watts is a poignant representation of the power of hope in the face of adversity. Its emotive imagery and symbolic elements have made it an enduring piece of art that continues to inspire and resonate with viewers worldwide.

I've always been drawn to the painting but, never have I considered it an emblem of hope. I can't help but wonder if Watts named the piece 'Hope' to make it more appealing to his Victorian audience. If it had been titled 'Despair', it may not have received the recognition it did.

From 'Hope' to 'Threads of Consequence'

Reflecting on Watts' 'Hope' and its various interpretations, I'd now like to introduce you to my own recent artwork, 'Threads of Consequence'. Much like 'Hope', 'Threads of Consequence' is allegorical and uses symbolism to heighten the impact and strengthen the narrative. It's a stark depiction of the environmental impact of the fashion industry, with each thread representing a different aspect of this complex issue. Unlike 'Hope', it tells a grim story about what's going on under our noses and in our closets. Let's take a deeper look into its metaphors and meaning.

Crafting 'Threads of Consequence'

I kicked off the creation of 'Threads of Consequence' with a study of a striking, black model, wearing a headscarf. Visually, she reminded me of Billie Holiday, who featured in an early series of mine, titled, 'The Tortured Soul Creates Art'. This series explored creative souls who had fallen prey to the tragedy of addiction. But let's get back to the portrait. My initial goal was to achieve a realistic representation and a charcoal effect using digital painting, which I believe I accomplished. Sure, using actual charcoal might have been easier, but the digital medium allowed me to save the completed piece as a new file and experiment with it. Ah, the joys of digital painting!

Navigating Artistic Challenges and Weaving the Narrative

The second version was an exercise in hatching, a technique I've never been particularly fond of. Armed with a 'get on with it, you'll learn something' attitude, I set to work. Initially, it was quite relaxing, therapeutic even, but my enthusiasm began to wane. In an attempt to rekindle my motivation, I found myself researching the drawings of Leonardo da Vinci and Rafael, hoping their mastery would inspire me to continue. It didn't, but I did manage to pass an hour or so and clock up my procrastination time. I then decided to leave it until the next day because tomorrow is the prime day for creativity and productivity.

The following day, I approached the piece with a fresh perspective. The research that had gone into 'Solitude', the Billie Holiday painting, had fascinated me as I was focusing on a narrative as well as an aesthetic. I found myself looking again at the image of the beautiful woman, who resembled a fashion model, and pondered how to make the piece more engaging. Beauty alone wasn't inspiring enough for me, so I asked myself, what story could I tell?

Environmental Awakening: Unveiling the Message

I toyed with the idea of having a pop at the fashion industry, particularly the sweatshop angle. However, I couldn't find decent data linking luxury brands to child labour, and she didn't strike me as an 'H&M' kind of girl. I considered an anti-war message, but her image didn't fit the profile. The pull towards the fashion industry was strong, so I knew I needed to find another angle and save the child labour conversation for another piece.

That's when I began researching environmental concerns around fashion, and then it hit me - pollution! Specifically, plastic pollution. A couple of years ago, I illustrated a children's book, 'The Green Fairy and the Lost Dog', which centred around single-use plastic. The author, Daisy-Jo Bear, is a dear friend of mine, but if the book had been about a prince on a white horse, I would have politely declined the offer, no matter how much I adore her. In preparation for the book, I'd read a lot about plastic pollution, so it was great to draw on that knowledge. It's good to recycle or upcycle your art and knowledge, as well as your plastic 😉.

Crafting the Message Through Aesthetics

'Threads of Consequence' is a powerful commentary on the fashion industry and its role in plastic pollution. The portrait features a black woman, her gaze directed upwards and away from the camera, expressing a sense of indignation and disbelief. Her camouflage headscarf symbolises the ongoing conflict we face with our environmental impact and the industry that perpetuates it.

The monochromatic palette, punctuated by the red in her eyes, serves as a stark reminder of the toxicity and harm caused by plastic waste. This red, reminiscent of blood, underscores the potential harm to our health and the severity of the environmental damage we're confronting.

I opted for a street art aesthetic to infuse the piece with a raw urban edge with a socio-political message. The skull and crossbones serve as a grim warning about the repercussions of our actions on the environment. In 'Threads of Consequence', the worlds of beauty and fashion intersect with environmental activism, creating a compelling call to action against plastic pollution.

Understanding Plastic Pollution

The Growing Threat of Microplastics

Plastic pollution has rapidly become a pervasive and pressing global issue with far-reaching implications. The unchecked production and disposal of plastic products have led to an alarming accumulation of plastic waste in our environment. From oceans and waterways to landfills, and even permeating the air we breathe, the ubiquity of plastic waste poses a significant threat to ecosystems and human health.

Microplastics are minuscule fragments of plastic debris present in the environment, resulting from the disposal and degradation of consumer products and industrial waste. Among environmental concerns, microplastics, especially those originating from the fashion industry, hold a substantial place.

The Silent Threat: Microplastics in Our Bodies

UK scientists discovered microplastics in the digestive systems of fish and shellfish, raising concerns about the safety of seafood consumption. Further studies were conducted to determine whether the greater threat came from consuming mussels or breathing air in a typical home. The conclusion was that people ingest more plastics from inhaling fibres shed by clothes and carpets than from consuming shellfish.

In 2022, scientists from the Netherlands and the UK found tiny particles of plastic deep within the lungs of surgical patients and in the blood of anonymous donors. This discovery shifted the focus towards the vast amount of airborne microplastics we are exposed to daily. These particles are so small that they can penetrate the human body and embed themselves deep within our cells.

Fashion's Role in Plastic Pollution

The Fast Fashion Connection

Fast Fashion refers to inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends. A significant portion of today's fast fashion is made from cheap, synthetic, non-biodegradable plastic materials such as polyester, nylon, or acrylic. These materials shed microscopic fibres that become airborne and, when washed, release microplastics into our water supply, which eventually flow into our rivers and oceans.

The Accumulation of Waste: Fast Fashion's Impact

Research estimates suggest that over 14 million tonnes of microplastics have accumulated on the world’s ocean floor according to research estimates and the amounts are increasing every year. Fast fashion accounts for particularly high levels of such releases - over a third (35%) of all microplastics released into the world's oceans are from synthetic textiles. It is estimated that by 2050 we will have more plastic than fish in the ocean.

This alarming contribution perpetuates the microplastics crisis and underlines the crucial intersection between fast fashion and plastic pollution.

Confronting Uncertainty: Health Implications

The UK lung study identified particles made of plastics that are known to be toxic to humans, causing lung irritation, dizziness, headaches, asthma and cancer.

Albert A. Rizzo, recognized for his national contributions to the prevention and control of lung disease and serving as the Chief Medical Officer for the American Lung Association, states 'The science is too unclear to draw conclusions….. The most relevant analogy may be the decades-long effort to convince the government that smoking causes cancer. By the time we got enough evidence to lead to policy change, the cat was out of the bag. I can see plastics being the same thing. Will we find out in 40 years that microplastics in the lungs lead to premature ageing of the lungs or to emphysema? We don’t know that. In the meantime, can we make plastics safer?' Reference

A Creative Journey: From Art to Advocacy 

As I sit here, wrapped in my fleece (which, ironically, is probably shedding microplastics as we speak), I can't help but wonder: how did a simple task of creating a digital charcoal portrait lead me down this rabbit hole of plastic pollution? It's as if I set out to doodle a tree and ended up mapping the entire forest!

Embracing Change: A Call to Action

This topic's expanse is staggering, and I have only scratched the surface. If you'd like to learn more, I have listed a number of links below. They include my references and suggested steps we can take regarding our clothing-related impact on the environment. I have a lot more to learn and aim to make more conscientious consumer choices.

Join the Conversation

I'm eager to hear about your experiences and thoughts on this issue. Have you ever paused to consider the environmental footprint of your wardrobe? I'd love to hear your insights and comments. Your input would mean the world to me.

Have a wonderful weekend.

For more art, follow me on Instagram and Facebook.

Jane E Porter is a fine artist and illustrator from Scotland, dedicated to exploring and understanding the fascinating interplay between art, psychology and philosophy. As she navigates her own search for meaning, she shares insights and observations made over the past two decades with a delightful mix of wit and wisdom. Join her as she continues her journey, delving into these themes, offering you fresh perspectives and insights on art, identity and storytelling.


Friday 11 August 2023

Honouring the Iconic Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo | digital painting
Honouring the iconic Frida Kahlo.  Finding a unique way to capture her essence wasn't easy, given the abundance of stunning Frida portraits out there. Eventually, I decided to depict her in a Day of the Dead makeup, as I love the aesthetic and it feels like a fitting tribute to this remarkable artist. 

Frida Kahlo's talent and unwavering determination have always inspired me. Despite the harrowing accident she endured at just 18 years old, she continued to create breathtaking art, often painting from her bed. 

Frida is often considered a feminist artist. Her artwork and life experiences have greatly influenced feminist movements and discussions. Through her paintings, Kahlo explored themes of identity, gender, and the female experience. She portrayed her own struggles, physical pain, and emotions, challenging traditional gender roles and societal expectations. How could I not be an admirer 🥰 .

Please share any thoughts, questions, or suggestions in the comments below.

Have a wonderful weekend.

For more art, follow me on Instagram and Facebook.  

Friday 4 August 2023

The Shadow in the Suit: A Jungian Perspective

What do your fantasies really say about you? Who are you in your wildest dreams? Accountant? Probably not. Siren, superhero? More likely.

This recent painting is about just that, a fantasy, a desire, the wish to be someone or something else. It symbolises the 'Hero' archetype, the 'Shadow', and the idealisation of the superhero. It's about that yearning to transcend our ordinary, perhaps boring lives, to embody something greater, something extraordinary where we feel respected and powerful.

The black suit - a mask, his heroic alter ego that he presents to the world - is also his 'Shadow'; his silent echoes, the aspects of himself he wishes to deny or hasn't yet awakened to. The painting tells a story of vulnerability squeezed into hiding by a façade of fantasy. In this portrayal of a young man, his longing to surpass his ordinary life is influenced by his cultural identity and the societal expectations that surround him.

Superheroes and the Power of Archetypes in Pop Culture

In the world of superheroes, costumes play a significant role. They are visual representations of the characters' identities, their powers, and their journeys. One of the most striking examples of this is Spider-Man's black and gold suit in the film 'No Way Home'.

Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, known for his exploration of the human psyche, didn't specifically discuss modern-day superheroes. However, his theories on archetypes, which are universal patterns or images residing in our collective unconscious, find relevance in superhero narratives as they tap into our deepest fantasies and desires.

The Hero's Journey: The Common Narrative in Superhero Stories

Archetypes, according to Jung's theory, are universal symbols, themes, or patterns that are deeply ingrained in the human psyche and shared across cultures. They represent fundamental human experiences and emotions that are part of our collective unconscious, meaning they are inherited and present in all of us. In superhero stories, these archetypal patterns often manifest as the hero's journey, the battle between good and evil, and the discovery of one's true identity. By recognizing and understanding archetypes, we gain insights into the deeper layers of storytelling and glimpses into our own lives within these captivating tales.

One of the key archetypes Jung identified is the 'Hero,' which aligns closely with the concept of a superhero. The Hero embarks on a journey, faces and overcomes challenges, often fights evil, and undergoes personal transformation. This Hero's Journey, as it's often called, is a common narrative in superhero stories.

Peter Parker's Transformation: Embracing the 'Shadow'

In the movie, 'No Way Home,' Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man, turns his red and blue suit inside out to reveal a black and gold version. This transformation of his iconic costume is more than just a very cool look I wish he'd held on to; it's a symbol of a darker time in Peter's life, a period marked by public mistrust and personal struggle. The alteration of his iconic costume serves as a visual metaphor for the internal conflict and transformation he undergoes during this pivotal part of the film's narrative.

This black suit can be seen as a manifestation of another Jungian archetype - the 'Shadow'. According to Jung, the 'Shadow' represents the darker, unconscious aspects of ourselves that we might deny or repress. In Peter's case, the act of turning the suit inside out to reveal the black suit, can be seen as a metaphor for bringing his 'Shadow' aspects to the surface, forcing him to confront and integrate them into his identity.

Discovering Ourselves Through the 'Shadow'

The 'Shadow' is not something negative to overcome, but a necessary part of our psyche to be acknowledged and accepted. Peter's journey in the black suit embodies this concept. It illustrates his internal struggle, a testament to the complexities of his character, and reminds us of the universal human experience of grappling with our darker sides.

In the realm of superheroes, Spider-Man's black suit stands out as a powerful symbol of the 'Shadow' archetype. It's a reminder that even in the world of superheroes, the journey towards self-understanding and transcendence is a crucial part of the story.

However, Spider-Man is not the only superhero grappling with their 'Shadow.' Take, for example, Batman, whose alter ego, Bruce Wayne, is driven by the trauma of witnessing his parents' murder, leading him to channel his anger and fear into vigilantism. Batman's dark, brooding persona is an embodiment of his 'Shadow,' representing his internal struggles and unresolved emotions.

Another compelling example is the Hulk, whose human counterpart, Bruce Banner, struggles with repressed anger and traumatic memories. The Hulk, a manifestation of his 'Shadow,' embodies the rage and power that Bruce tries to keep contained. This inner conflict between the mild-mannered scientist and the raging green behemoth is a constant battle for control, reflecting the complexities of the 'Shadow' archetype.

Beyond Superheroes: The 'Shadow' in Real-Life Figures

Beyond superheroes, the 'Shadow' archetype is evident in many real-life figures as well. Consider historical figures like Mahatma Gandhi, known for his nonviolent principles, yet facing his own internal struggles and doubts. Gandhi's 'Shadow' manifested as moments of doubt and temptation during his fight for India's independence, a struggle he openly acknowledged.

Similarly, in the business world, influential leaders often wrestle with their 'Shadow' traits. Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, was renowned for his visionary leadership but also had a reputation for being demanding and uncompromising. His brilliance and ambition were undeniable, but they also led to internal conflicts and strained relationships with colleagues.

The above examples demonstrate that the 'Shadow' archetype isn't just present in superhero narratives, it's part of all of us. The conflicts and complexities of these characters and real-life figures resonate with us because they reflect our own internal battles.  Sometimes, we don't like certain traits in others, but could they be traits that we, in fact, possess ourselves? Do you know someone who is continually critical and controlling towards others, without awareness that they are indeed, the biggest culprit. These are examples of the 'Shadow' at work. By exploring and acknowledging our 'Shadow' aspects, we can learn valuable lessons about self-acceptance, personal growth, and the universal human journey towards wholeness.

Embracing and integrating the 'Shadow' is not about succumbing to darkness and becoming the villain of our own story, but a transformative journey towards self-awareness and personal growth. Awakening to our hidden aspects and unconscious desires allows us to achieve a greater understanding of ourselves. 

My portraits and characters have always been about telling stories, the life and persona behind the image. In my upcoming series for a book about archetypes, I'm creating characters based on reality and fiction, inspired by characters I've met, both in my mind and in my life. Their struggles may be more important than their strengths and powers as this is what makes them relatable; for example, the Warrior is not only fearless and courageous, she grapples with the burden of responsibility and her desire for retribution.

When we become open to our 'Shadow,' and embrace it, we unlock the potential to transform ourselves. By learning to own up to our true self, warts and all, we achieve a deeper connection with others as we no longer operate within the confines of a fictional character. And, we are far more powerful than we may believe. We have the power to change! We can soften our rough edges and find compassion for our shadow parts we wish to avoid, perhaps like the 'Warrior's' shadow that seeks retribution. 

To Wrap Up

The power of story lies in its ability to create connection, through words and images. We relate to the internal conflicts the protagonist is facing in the novels we read and the movies we consume. We secretly imagine ourselves donning the suit and saving the day. In that moment, we're not just observers, but part of the story. We're living the narrative, feeling the protagonist's struggles and triumphs as our own. This is the transformative power of story - it allows us to step into another's shoes, to see the world through their eyes, and perhaps, to understand ourselves a little better.

I hope you found this article engaging and entertaining.  If you did, please share the love by clicking on one of the share buttons.  And please share any thoughts, questions, or suggestions in the comments below.

Have a wonderful weekend.

For more art, follow me on Instagram and Facebook.  

image: The Shadow in The Suit