I’ve had a lot of comments recently regarding the mirror in my piece, “An Audience for the Lich King.” I often talk a lot about my process, so for this post I thought I might talk more about my concepts and ideas that lead up to a personal work.
Personal work is always markedly different from my commissioned work in that no one is asking me to do anything in particular. The freedom this imparts is both a blessing and a curse. While it grants me a wide berth in determining any kind of subject matter for my painting, I often feel lost in the sheer amount of possibilities. My interior dialogue often goes something like this: “I’d like to portray an older character. A older warrior. No, a wizard. No, a warrior wizard. Actually, let’s make him an astronaut. Or is it a she?” There’s no one telling me what to do, so my narrative compass is just spinning all over the various possibilities like an out of control Wheel of Fortune.
I often create works in a series, like my “Norse” series of mythical paintings in order to build a framework for the pieces to occupy so that I don’t stray off course. Recently though, I’ve been wanting to experiment more outside of just one story or environment. As a method to guide my indecisive imagination, I’ve been using existing works by artists from the past and using them as starting points for my own creative journey.
I’ve always been mesmerized by this Waterhouse painting. Waterhouse uses a mirror so effectively to build a sense of narrative tension that it literally puts the viewer directly into the scene, right next to Ulysses. I really, really wanted to use a mirror in my own work after staring at this piece! There is always this problem in illustration when a scene is called for in which two characters are facing each other and both need to have their expressions visible. It’s impossible to show effectively unless you have them face each other in profile and that usually makes a very static picture with too much symmetry. A mirror does just the trick, however. Both characters are clearly visible, and it also imparts the chilling psychological effect of the double image. I’m sure I do myself no favors by showing the masterwork by Waterhouse next to my own painting but I feel it does help to illuminate where my influences come from.
Mirrors actually have a long history in the arts. In this piece by another one of my favorite painters from antiquity, Diego Velazquez, the mirror is used in one of its most direct ways: as a symbol of vanity. Interestingly enough, it also gives Venus a more humane image by showing her face, while also allowing for some some sense of propriety in that she is turning her nude form away from the viewer.
I’ll finish up with this wonderful piece by Manet, “A Bar at the Folies-Bergère.” One of the reasons Manet is one of my favorite Impressionists is because he had such a photographic way of working; he’s captured this girl’s worn out, dreary expression perfectly like he caught her in just that moment. In the mirror behind her, we see a crowded room full of noisy patrons and off to her right yet another customer asking for service, reflected in the glass. The mirror’s doubling effect shows perfectly the inner and outer personas of this character.
That’s it for my little art history lesson for today. I hope you enjoyed it – let me know in the comments section and perhaps I’ll write another sometime!