Two of my great passions, symbolism and naturalism, come together in this narrative painting series about love and companionship. Each piece combines language in abstract patterning with carefully rendered form, to inspire questions about our own humanity and our relationships with others.
Monkeys are legendary for their playful, humorous, and mischievous antics, while the chicken is a symbol of ideal maternal love–self-sacrificing, nurturing, protective, and comforting. The roles are reversed here, as the often self-indulgent and rebellious monkey protects the usual comforter, with overt affection. The abstract pattern behind this pair was made with the words “love is strange,” and resembles a peacock tail on mating display. The evolution of the gorgeous, colorful peacock, compared to the plain peahen, is indeed an example of how our peculiar choices in love have cumulative, far reaching, and often unforeseen consequences. The pattern can also be seen as either a sunrise or a sunset, asking us to contemplate how love changes throughout a relationship.
Within the symbolism of fish, we must first consider their watery home at least as important, and in this painting, the patterned water certainly shares the stage. Water has long been a metaphor for the subconscious, which can either harm or heal intimacy in partnerships. Fish themselves have different meanings across cultures, my favorite being a pair of fish in Buddhism embodying harmony between two entities. However, this is a pair of fighting fish, which specifically stands for protection of boundaries within relationships. The words “love” and “hate” blend together to make the abstract pattern where they swim, a reminder of how exchangeable those emotions can be.
Throughout history, birds taking to the sky have been seen as signs of eternal life, renewed life, or as a transition between life and death. Yellow birds in particular symbolize joy and a positive outlook on life, and the idea of “lovebirds” brings about the image of new romance and the giddiness of falling in love. The forest where these birds meet represents earthy, fertile growth, yet shadowy and hidden from the sun and sky, a realm full of the unknown. It stands for the unconscious and its mysteries. The pattern climbing up in a thorny tangle is the word “fear,” an emotion that can strangle love if left to thrive in the unconscious.
This piece is about relationship to self, intrinsic to our bond with others. The crocodile, known for its strength, patience, speed and cunning, represents our primal instinct for survival and reproduction. But “crocodile tears” is a euphemism for false sincerity or emotional manipulation. Crocodiles only seem to cry when they devour their prey–they almost certainly have no remorse. Symbolically, this asks questions about dissonance between inner, fundamental desires and expression of basic, natural needs. Around the world, people associate butterflies with change, hope, life, personal transformation, and the soul. Butterfly kisses remind me of gentle, childlike affection, and the way we are rarely so gentle with ourselves. The words “awareness” and “compassion” were used to build the pattern.
Historically, the elephant has been revered for strength, honor, and tenacity, and in the Hindu religion appears in the form of Ganesha, the god of luck, fortune, and protection. Today, we know that elephants, for all their massive size, are highly sensitive and caring animals with deep family bonds and tight-knit social groups. Of all the animals I’ve depicted, elephants always get the most immediate emotional response. I think this is because humans yearn for such loyalty and connection, and as we also know that elephants have been mistreated and poached to endangerment, our instinct to fiercely protect such bonds is heightened. Many words were used to make the pattern, most forgotten and all relating to the timelessness of deep love.
I rarely chose symbols consciously when I work, and I often see the same animals coming up again and again. One favorite has always been the monkey. I love the expressiveness in a monkey’s actions and facial expressions. They are honest in a way that we humans rarely are, yet we quickly identify with their emotions since they are such close relatives in the animal kingdom. I find a rawness that is allowed, whereas a human depicted expressing emotion so freely might make a viewer feel squeamish or reject the work as sentimental or melodramatic. Moreover, the monkey as a symbol can be widely understood and even accepted as an aspect of self.
Another animal I love to portray is the fish, most importantly for its environment. Swimming or being suspended in water represents to me our ability to navigate our own thoughts, emotions, and reality as we create them. The environment may change, but the water is inescapable, whether we see that as imprisonment or supportive depends on the mindset and the subconscious.