Posts Tagged ‘Zeus’


“After all these years, I see that I was mistaken about Eve in the beginning; it is better to live outside the Garden with her than inside it without her.”

― Mark Twain, Diaries of Adam & Eve


This is another painting, 20″ by 34″ on wood panel, from my show at the West End Gallery which opens next week. This painting is titled Conubialis, which is basically Latin for marriage. Its pronunciation more or less sounds like connubial bliss which I suppose is the most desired state of marriage. As someone who has been married for eons, it sure presents a far more positive scenario than wedded rancor.

This would be considered one of my Baucis and Philemon paintings, which I first did a decade ago ( they recently celebrated their twentieth) for a couple celebrating the tenth anniversary of their own wedding. It is based on the Greek myth of the aged poor couple who welcome Zeus and Hermes into their humble home. The gods had been unceremoniously rebuffed by the wealthier residents of the village and Zeus was ready to ravage the place. But he was moved by the charity and generosity exhibited to the guests, as well as the love the elderly couple displayed for each other. After their visit, when Zeus  brought devastation to the village, he spared their home and granted them two wishes. For the first, he transformed their home into a temple where they lived out the rest of their lives. For the second wish, for which they asked that they remain together for eternity, Zeus made it so that when they died each became separate trees growing from a single trunk  that would live forever on a hill overlooking the village.

It’s a lovely story and I really enjoy painting these pieces with their interwoven trees. This one in particular was a joy. It had a richness and glow from the beginning that it maintained throughout the process which is a rarity. Usually, there are phases in the process of each painting where everything dulls and goes flat. But this painting came to life immediately and it maintains that glow on the wall now.

I came across the words from Mark Twain ( who wrote many of his books not too far from here) and they seemed to be the right gravity for this piece. Plus, they seemed to match up with the feel of the painting which has its own Garden of Eden thing working for it.

I was also thinking of using one from the ever witty P.G. Wodehouse who wrote in his story, Mostly Sally, concerning marriage : “And she’s got brains enough for two, which is the exact quantity the girl who marries you will need.”

That made me laugh but I could see, even with my pea sized brain, that there was a grain of truth in it. Ideally, a relationship that lasts becomes a true union, much like those twisting trees, where each brings to it strengths that fills in for the others weaknesses.

So, maybe both quotes work equally well for this piece. But even without the words, I am finding myself continuing to enjoy the glow from this piece.

All I could ask from it.

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A few weeks back, we had the pleasure of seeing a series of three one-man shows at the Shaw Festival in beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. They were written and performed by writer/actor/comedian Stephen Fry who you may better recognize from his longtime partnership with Hugh Laurie (House) in the comedy team Fry and Laurie.

The performances were based on Fry’s recent book Mythos which contains his droll retelling of the classical Greek myths. The shows were divided into different segments: God, Heroes, and Men. God dealt with the stories of Zeus and the other surrounding gods. Heroes dealt with the epic tales of Odysseus, Heracles and Theseus. The final show, Men, told the stories of men and their interactions with the gods. All were highly entertaining.

I was pleasantly surprised that during Men, Fry chose to tell the tale of Baucis and Philemon, a story that I have retold here a number of times and one which I also have used as the basis of a series of paintings over the last several years, including not too long ago with a favorite of mine, Nuptiae. It is the story of an old couple in a poor town who share their hospitality with Zeus and Hermes who have been treated poorly by all the other townspeople.

Fry’s retelling had a bit of a different ending than the version I knew, one that I believe is based more on that from Ovid and his Metamorphoses. In the version I know, the ending is a bit happier with the couple living out their lives together as priests in the temple of Zeus and together in death as two separate trees– a linden and an oak– growing from a single trunk.

Fry’s is a bit harsher, related in many ways to the biblical story of Lot and his wife. In Fry’s retelling, Zeus tells Baucis and Philemon that they shall be spared from the terrible wrath he is setting loose upon the other townsfolk. He instructs them to walk up the hill and not turn back. But hearing the great storm and the horrible sounds coming from the village, they agree to turn back to look together, whereupon they are transformed into linden and oak trees, much as Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt.

I still prefer the version I first knew but it was great to hear a variation on this story. That is the beauty of storytelling and art– it takes what we believe we know and reflects it back at us in a different and sometimes revelatory manner.

The painting at the top is a new painting from my West End Gallery show that opens tomorrow, Friday, July 13. Titled The Belonging, it is a 36″ by 24″ painting on canvas that is my most recent interpretation of the Baucis and Philemon myth– the version I knew before the Mythos shows.

These pieces may be my favorite to paint. The intent to paint them, that beginning point in their creation, has a certain feeling that pleases me and sets the tone for the whole piece. The paintings that spring from this starting point seldom disappoint me or fall short of what I hope to see. This piece very much lived up to the story for me and is one that never failed to stop and make me look when it was with me in the studio. The combination of the story and the colors, shapes and textures of the painting come together, for me at least.

Hope you can come out and see for yourself at the West End.

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I have painted several pieces over the past few years based on the mythic tale of Baucis and Philemon, taken from the Metamorphoses from the Roman poet Ovid.  I have described the story here several times of the visit  to a village by Zeus and Mercury, disguised as beggars.  They are roughly tuned away from every door in the village until they come to the home of the poor elderly couple, Baucis and Philemon, where they are welcomed with warmth and gracious hospitality despite the  poverty of their household.  Sparing the couple as he destroys the village in his wrath, Zeus then grants them any wish they might desire.

They choose to be allowed to stay together for eternity.  When they pass away simultaneously years later, they are resurrected as two separate trees that grow from the same trunk, united forever.  It’s a lovely fable and one of my favorites.  I have always chose to depict this story simply, with two trees, one red and one green, intertwined together.

I call  this painted version The Gift of Zeus.  It is a n 18″ by 18″ canvas that is headed to the West End Gallery for my annual solo show there which opens next Friday, July 20.  There’s a crispness in this piece that I find very appealing as well as interesting contrasts and subtleties in the sky, which may not show up well in the photo here, that give this piece a dramatic edge that catches my eye each time I pass by it in the studio.

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Setting Time Aside

As the days wind down before I head to Alexandria for Friday’s opening, I’m still pretty busy in the studio.  I’m in the midst of completing several pieces for another show later in the year as well as working on several projects unrelated to shows, including minor repairs on an older painting of mine that was damaged in a fall at its owner’s home.  Another is a request for a painting from a couple marking their 10th anniversary.

I often get requests for commissioned work but usually am not excited by the prospect of being dictated to in the creation of  my work, actually turning down many that get too specific in their requirements.  I want my paintings to reflect my thought process and emotion as well as my craft.  As a result, I have an informal set of rules that let me have free rein in the creation of the work so that the painting is allowed to form in an organic way.  Not forced, which often takes away the vitality of many pieces, in my opinion.

But this particular request is unlike many others that I receive.  They want this piece to relate the story of the classic myth of Baucis and Philemon, which is the tale of a poor but happy couple who are unknowingly visited by Zeus and Hermes disguised as dusty travelers.  Beggars, really.  The two gods had went door to door among their neighbors seeking hospitality and were rebuffed in every attempt, often with harsh words.  Zeus became angry as door after door was slammed in his face.  Finally, they came to the door of  the shack of Baucis and Philemon, the poorest looking home they had yet approached. 

 Upon knocking, they were greeted warmly by an elderly couple  who welcomed them in to their simple but cleanhome and treated them with what little they had in the way of food and drink.  They were gracious and hospitable, seeking to give comfort to the strangers.  As the night wore on, the couple, who had been serving their simple wine to the travelers from a pitcher, noticed that the pitcher stayed full even after many pours.  They began to suspect that these were not mere beggars but were, in fact, gods.

They apologized to the gods for not having much to put before them then offered to catch their prized goose, which was really a pet, and cook it for them.  The old couple chased the goose around the shack until finally the frightened creature found sanctuary on the laps of the gods.  Stroking the now safe goose, Zeus then informed them of their identities and, after complimenting on their hospitality and of the mean-spiritedness of their neighbors,  told them to follow them.  They climbed upon a rise and Zeus told them to look back.  Where once their town had stood was nothing but water,  from a deluge that had washed away everything, including all who had insulted Zeus.  From where their poor home had been, a majestic golden-roofed  temple with sparkling marble pillars rose from the receding waters.

Zeus told the couple that this was their new home and asked what wish he could grant them.  They asked that they be made priests, guardians of this temple and that they should always remain together until the ends of their lives.  Seeing their obvious love for each other, Zeus readily agreed.  The couple lived for many more years together, reaching a prodigious age.  One day they stood together and all the past moments from their life and love together flooded over them.  Baucis saw leaves and limbs sprouting from Philemon and realized that the same thing was happening to her. On the plain outside the temple, they transformed into two trees, an oak and a linden, that grew from the same trunk, their limbs intertwined, eternally together.

That’s a simple re-telling of the tale but I think you can see why this couple might want a symbol of this story to mark their time together…

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