Mythomenial: Where Did I Begin?


When I first started thinking about the ideas that would eventually become the paintings in Mythomenial, I was finding my way as a mother of two young children and I was enjoying looking at Dutch Masters – genre paintings, paintings of everyday life; pronkstilleven, 'ostentatious still life’, paintings aimed at showing abundance, for a newly successful merchant class to reflect and project its prosperity;  ontbijtjes, breakfast paintings, intended as a spiritual caution against gluttony and vanitas, paintings meant to encourage piety by portraying the transience of life, the futility of pleasure, and the inevitability of death.

There are many qualities I find resonant in works from the Golden Age of Dutch painting.  While these may not all have been intended by the artists or experienced in the same way by patrons at the time, I sense a praise of life, the sensual, the physical; a cognizance of death, the  fleeting nature of life; the abundance of life, the richness of the breadth of experiences offered in living; and the tenderness of being a human. 
Willem Claeszoon Heda, 1631 
Breakfast Table with Blackberry Pie

I experience the rendering itself in many of these paintings, the exacting reproduction of minute detail, as an ode to the physical world. What compels me is the care, patience, and dedication such verisimilitude requires and can convey. It’s as if, with this lavishing of attention on each tiny thing, a love of every speck of life can be sensed.

Another aspect I find powerful is a certain type of light often seen in Dutch paintings of this period. I would describe it as a failing light. It is a slanting side light that feels poignant, because it makes what little light that is present feel precious, ebbing, like the end of day.
Rachel Ruysch, 1716 Still Life with Flowers in a Glass Vase

While vanitas were intended to persuade one to invest in one's spiritual life, shunning the earthly side of life because it is fleeting, I feel instead, when I look at some of them, a grand wonder at the absurd abundance, a gratitude for the integrated depiction of chaos, entropy and death; not as a call to forego life's seductive offerings but to cherish it all, to know it for its transience and love it all the more fiercely.
Jan Weenix Dead Birds and Hunting Equipment in a Landscape

Finally the quiet intimacy of certain Dutch genre paintings feels very tender to me. The stillness - like a drop of water on the brink of falling - you know it’s going to fall in the very next second because everything does - it all falls, it all goes, it's all going, but sometimes in a painting a moment is captured - so you can have its depth, its fragility, its complexity and take your time with all that it holds, revel in its significance.
Vermeer 1657 Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window 

Spending the bulk of my days at home with just me and these two little boys was many things, but one that surprised, confused and sometimes pained me was the loneliness of it. Some of these Dutch genre paintings made me feel that in my loneliness, I was not alone, but connected to the humanity of feeling lonely. 

I wondered at how something as mundane as being at home with my children could feel at times so overwhelming in every way. It was so full. Like these ostentatious still life paintings, every part of my life felt in danger of toppling, spilling, too full to take in: full of joy and anger and sadness and wonder and beauty and fear of loss, fear of making mistakes, fear of missing out on the very thing itself because it was all just too big, too much. Full of screaming, crying, laughing, singing, feeding, mess, cleaning, cooking, buying, fixing, finding, trying, failing, dressing, bathing, playing, cuddling, learning, and wondering. And I wanted to catch it because every day there was something that showed me how fast it all goes by, some evidence of life tumbling on always towards its end. 

I wanted to freeze the moments to be able to really see them, to feel all their textures.

I realized I wanted to paint scenes from my home life as if they were Dutch masterworks. I decided to use things from our daily lives, leaving out any obviously very modern things, for fear that too many contemporary items would push the image towards reading as a critique of consumerism or a comment on the banality of domesticity (the opposite of what I wanted to express). And so It began...

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating. Thank you so much for sharing all of this. This is really incredible to hear about your vision and its perfect execution. I love all of this and can't wait to see the next works in the series!

    –Natasha

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 All painted up but nowhere to go Sensamenial, the second painting in the Mythomenial polyptych is done! Well, was done a while ago really b...