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Ellen and the Peacock, or “What if?”

Here’s Ellen and the Peacock, a piece I did a while back. (See the full image below). It’s story-ish looking (as most of my paintings tend to be) and so people naturally assume there’s a story that goes with it.

There’s not. At least not yet. Ellen first appeared back in 2006 or 2007 when I painted her walking through the woods with a bear. I finished the piece and I wrote a little story that went with the image. Back then she was just “the girl.” But somewhere along the way “the girl” showed up again and she was Ellen, and this time she was carrying a suitcase through the woods on a dark and snowy night. I began to wonder if there was a bigger story here. I began to ask myself who she really was and what she was about.

And then came the peacock. I’ve always been fascinated with topiaries and so I decided to paint one, and shoot, Ellen wasn’t doing anything so I decided that she wanted in on this too. And the piece began to come together. As I was painting the peacock topiary I thought, “What if this thing was also somehow alive, or almost alive, or both a real bird and a bush?” So I painted its neck blue and gave it a big ol’ liquid eye, but left its feet firmly rooted to the ground. And there was Ellen, calmly looking up at it with her lantern held high, probably understanding the situation better than I.

There isn’t a finished story here yet, but it’s forming with every Ellen painting I do. These paintings all, to one degree or another, turn out differently than I expect. As I paint, I’m asking those “What if?” questions that steer the emerging narrative in unexpected directions.

My goal is to eventually get her story down, but in the meantime I enjoy this painting for what it is without a story: mysterious. I like it because that mystery is fertile soil for the imagination of the viewer, and an invitation to join me in the creative process. As the viewer looks at the painting, his or her mind is stirred with possibilities, just as mine is. My hope is that these elements—this walled garden, this girl bundled against the cold, this freakish peacock/bush thing that might just be alive—will trigger the imaginations of those who see it, and they’ll also be brought—just as I have been—to a place of wonder, asking, “What if…?”


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