Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Symbolism

"Sacrifice" Elizabeth McGhee 2009. oil on panel   

"The object expands beyond the bounds of its appearance by our knowledge that the thing is more than its exterior presents to our eye" -Paul Klee

This quote by Paul Klee clearly illustrates symbolism. An idea can transform an apple into more than just a fruit depending on the associations and base knowledge connected to it. An apple can represent the biblical idea of original sin, public education, or even physical health. And the entire time the item remained the same- it was the context that had changed. So rather than viewing three different paintings of an apple, the transformation of meaning took place cognitively in the mind.

Often times this leads to multiple interpretations of the same image that varies depending on the viewer's knowledge. Viewers are then forced to use their own imagination to "finish" a painting.

Play and Intellect

"Like Shooting Fish in a Barrel" Elizabeth McGhee 2010. oil on panel


"The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves." -Carl Jung

Imagination as an Indispensable Faculty

"Hades" Elizabeth McGhee 2009. oil on panel


"The main source of interest (in an artwork) comes from the soul of the artist, and flows into the soul of the beholder in an irresistible way. Not that every interesting work strikes all its beholders with equal force merely because each of them is supposed to posses a soul; only people gifted with feeling and imagination are capable of being moved. These two faculties are equally indispensable to the beholder and the artist, although in different proportions."

Eugene Delacroix, January 25, 1857

What is Representation?

"Divine Favor" Elizabeth McGhee 2009. oil on panel


Some paintings are about exploring technique: analyzing the relationship between paint, canvas, and the exterior world. That is something that needs to be explored and elaborated on, but is not my focus.


My paintings are about asking "what is representation?"


In casual lingo, "representational painting" is described as realistic and not abstract. However, the dictionary's definition of representational also describes: "the signs that stand in for and take the place of something else."


Symbolism is at the very root of whatever the artist represents on the canvas whether he is using realism or abstraction. Symbols are manipulated in order for us to communicate and describe the world. As children we exploited these symbols to the fullest- we PLAYED. In play, a cardboard box is not just a cardboard box, it can be a fort. In play a toy dragon is not merely a molded bit of plastic, for all intensive purposes it is a living breathing myth brought to life by imagination.


In my paintings I want to set up scenes that are intended to remind the viewer of when any object could be anything. To light that dormant inner spark of creativity that lets the viewer bring my paintings to life on their own. That is why I utilize toys and other familiar objects that the viewer might have played with as a child, in order to make the connection easier.


Think René Magritte: "Ceci n'est pas une pipe." Instead of just pointing out that the painting itself is just a symbol, I am elaborating on that idea and trying to give the viewer a connection with their own creativity.


Toys As Creative Tools

"Chip Off the Old Block" Elizabeth McGhee 2010. Oil on panel


Toys are some of the first objects of our education and so are deeply embedded in our consciousness. Toys are often viewed naively and with innocence, taking us back to a time when we felt that way ourselves. But my work is not about nostalgia, though it utilizes it at times. I am using nostalgia as an emotional tunnel back in time for my viewers. I want to reconnect my viewers with the creativity and possibility that existed in their own play.

Toys are tools for the developing child, not just subliminal controls introduced by adults. A child uses toys to make sense of the world around him; they serve an intellectual function for him as well as a cultural one. Children do more than merely "mimic" adults, they also creatively elaborate on otherwise menial everyday tasks. The ability of the child to make a game of almost any situation is a gift many of us have abandoned as we matured.


In our professional society we dread being seen as immature or uninformed. We must act as adults and reject anything that might be seen as childish weakness. We must put away our toys in favor of tools.


But I feel that toys are tools for both children and adults, even if they serve different purposes for each. For children toys allow a safe introduction to the world around them. For adults toys can serve in the place of abstract concepts, making them more real and understandable.