Tradition, Loss, Fear, and other Insanities – The meaning of my painting.
Now, where do I start with this post about my new work? This painting is possibly the most complex of paintings I have produced, both in its content and execution. At first glance one can see an image of masked male dressed in the ‘traje de luces’ (suit of lights – traditional sequined bull fighting costume, on which I have painted symbols relating to the meaning of the painting). He is attacking a nude woman with a horned headband. It appears at first to be a painting about the ‘corrida’ (bullfight). But this is only one issue it touches on.
Only about a quarter of the Spanish population, still love Bullfighting. It is still shown on T.V. here and Bullfights are still carried out in city bull rings and tour villages for temporary events. Bullfighting is a contentious issue which raises many emotions. There are two sides in conflict, those for and those against, and each have their own convincing arguments. In Spain Bullfighting is seen as an art form, which reflects the history, art and culture of their nation. The tradition began in Crete and was continued by the Romans, in true gladiatorial style. The Bullfight was then brought to Spain by the Moors (of North Africa) when they invaded Spain in 711. This would account for its popularity in Andalusia, where I live, (Africa is only eight miles from Spain at its narrowest crossing). The tradition of Bullfighting has very strict rules and each ‘Fight’ is carried out according to a strict set procedures. The bulls are raised for 4 years and are bred and cared for to the highest standards. In Spain only one species of bull, the ancient ‘toro bravo’, is bred for this purpose. The bullfighting industry has an annual revenue of around 1 billion euro. 200,000 people are employed in the bullfighting industry. As you can see, the abolition of this barbaric, cruel, blood sport would have a serious cost to the lives of many people in Spain, who are already suffering because of the world economic crisis. Long term unemployment benefit has recently been abolished and I have had personal experience of people begging at my door. Hence, the issue of abolishing bullfighting is not a straight forward one. Hence also, it is ironic that the tradition comes from the Greek Myth of the Minotaur and represents, in essence, mans immortality, over the mortality of beasts and ‘half breeds’. It thus directly relates to the politics of the world, in particular to the divisions within both society and the physical, geographical areas of the world. My reason for making this painting is to make a comment on corruption within society at all levels. There is corruption produced by: ‘blood line’ privileges; according to the place you happen to be born; according to the military might of the country you live in, according to the religions permitted in your country, according to the laws which should protect you, according to the physical strength and influence you have as an individual. We cannot call ourselves ‘civilised’ or better than animals, when we treat members of our fellow species in such awful ways. This goes for those corporations (let us not forget that politicians are the puppets of corporations) that invade countries because of their religious and financial agendas, right down to those who treat their family members in appalling ways. In Spain Domestic Violence is a big issue. Here is what the Barcelona reporter had to say on this subject:
‘Domestic violence in Spain 50% of women don’t testify
(There is) Domestic violence in Spain every year, almost 700 men who are accused of abuse are acquitted in Malaga Province because their partners are afraid to testify against them. Article 416 of the Criminal Procedure Rules dating from the 19 century says that women are not obliged to testify against their partners, and approximately 50 per cent of women exercise this right.
Last year alone in Malaga there were 3,046 trials for abuse of which 799 were acquittals and in 85 per cent of cases, because the victims failed to testify.’
Regularly, I read the news papers and see accounts of deaths as a result of jealous partners. Spain has a culture of partying and drinking, and this often fuels the mistreatment of both women and men by their family members. I have, thus, included an empty bottle of alcohol in my painting to symbolise this issue. My masked man is ‘green with jealousy’, and his stance presents itself in aggressive anger (but this is also the stance of the Bull fighter in the ‘estocada’, which is the final act in the Bullfight where the Bullfighter is supposed to thrust the sword into the heart of the bull severing the artery in one move). The female figure holds a hanky. This is a traditional item of the Bullfight which is used by the crowd to demand mercy for the bull. The audience wave their hankies at the Bullfighter, as a sign that the bull fighter is being sadistic and should end the life of the bull immediately. In essence they are accusing him of being a ‘bad Bullfighter’. Another reason the Bullfighter can be considered ‘bad’ is if the bull refuses to charge. Bulls are not aggressive animals, unless they are provoked or abused. Unfortunately in bullfighting there is often corruption and abuse of the animal for up to 2 days prior to the Bullfight, in order to make the bull aggressive. In domestic violence, the defendant (whether male or female) often says they were provoked into violence. This is an interesting view point. No provocation deserves an attack, unless it is made in genuine self defense, but there is another issue here, the issue of ‘passive’ anger. This is an issue rarely talked about, but it is seriously damaging to relationships. In her book ‘Managing Anger’ Gael Lindenfield describes a whole series of behaviors which can arise out of possessing this type of anger. These include: crying; with-holding affection; gossiping; verbal attacks; emotional blackmail; sexual provocation; avoiding communication and dampening down feelings with alcohol, drugs, food, shopping, gambling or any other addictive practices.
My point is that we are animals (all be it ‘social’ animals). We are top of the food chain. Despite our awesome intelligence, we all behave in dreadful ways, at some points in our lives. We are all capable of committing horrendous crimes against each other, given the right circumstances. We treat each other badly and we treat other species even worse. We use our religion as an excuse to attack one another, instead of applying it in the way we should – to show forgiveness, tolerance and mercy. In this rapidly changing, global world we need to address our base emotions and not be afraid to talk about them and examine them. We need to discuss our differences and accept that we might not share the same ideals as others. My butterfly is a symbol of hope. It signifies our ability to transform, against all the odds, from something ugly and greedy into something beautiful and graceful. During its transformation the butterfly stops and pupates. This is what we need to do. We need to stop acting in haste and think about the consequences of our actions. Maybe then we will have a right to call ourselves ‘civilised’. Here endeth my sermon, I will now step down from my soap box, lol.
References to the history of art within my painting.
I have included many references to the history of art in my painting. The most obvious of these is Cubism. How could I discuss bullfighting without making reference to Picasso? I have also fragmented parts of the painting in order to play with different realities/perception. I did this because reality is not solid and depends on the workings of our brain in order to interpret it. We all see things from different viewpoints and read things differently from one another. As more scientific research that is carried out on this subject, the more we become aware of this. The film ‘The Matrix’ is surprising valid in our new world. This idea of multiple realities is why Picasso was considered to be the best artist of our time and the reason his paintings are sold at such high prices. The second movement I have made reference to is Surrealism. Yes, I’ve nicked Dali’s falling cloth, of heightened tone for my hanky. The third movement I refer to is graffiti art. This is the art of the street and the art of the people. I love using the colour discords, ‘black’ out lines and big shiny stars. The forth movement I touch on is Impressionism. My mountain of poppies, signifying death and rebirth, are a direct reference to Monet’s ‘Wild Poppies’ of 1873. The fifth movement in art I have stolen from is Art Nouveau. How I just love a ‘whiplash’ sky! The sixth movement in art I embrace is Expressionism. I have tried to push the boundaries of the subjects’ facial expressions and put the meaning of my art before its technical/naturalistic representation. The seventh movement in art I use is Realism, by referring to the gestalt aspect of it and playing with the positioning of the male figure, etc. The eighth movement in art I refer to is Primitivism. This is mainly apparent in my ‘green mask’. Here endeth my appreciation of art history. Lol.