I came across the painting above going through 300 slides that were recently converted to digital. It’s one of many paintings I did in the past depicting lovers in a jungle scene. Since I’ve been noticing that same themes crop up in my artwork a lot, I asked myself:
Why have I felt compelled to examine this particular subject over and over again?
This quote may elucidate this conundrum:
If there were only one truth, you couldn’t paint a hundred canvases on the same theme.
Many writers and painters have often used the same theme to create their art. John le Carre wrote spy fiction. J.M.W. Turner, considered the founder of English watercolour painting, was famous for his landscape paintings with their unconventional emphasis on light, colour and atmospheric effects.
And then, there’s this that further clarifies why I felt drawn to paint this subject.
I do not think writers ought ever to sit down and think they must write about some cause, or theme, or something. If they write about their own experiences, something true is going to emerge.
I know it’s getting into muddy waters discussing “alternate” truths. It’s been a hot topic since Kellyanne Conway spoke those words in defense of our president. But without questioning what a truth is, how can we know how our truths affect us?
The one thing I know for sure is that knowing a truth doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the same truth for someone else. We all carry a set of beliefs that we hold as the truth. This doesn’t make my belief any more true than what’s true for others.
Our truths may be like other people’s truths, but often they are not. Contrasting beliefs can often causes division and sometimes conflict, especially when some people want to force their beliefs on other people.
My own beliefs have changed over time. Big changes have caused new, different circumstances in my life, and with those new circumstances I felt impelled to reevaluate what is the truth for me in the present.
The Impressionists faced harsh opposition from the conventional art community in France, but through the impressionist’s independent exhibitions and their well-heeled admirers, they were brought to prominence during the 1870s and 1880s. This was a result of the changing belief and acceptance of impressionism as art.
So it stands to reason that there’s no one truth.
Even though I was painting the same theme many times, the paintings included different subject matter. Some were the jungle scene with a single person, some included a couple, some depicted dancers.
The answers to my question began with remembering the time I first saw a jungle scene in a painting. It was a painting by Rousseau of a woman next to a lion in a jungle. The painting impacted my 12 year old self because I’d been struggling with the truth that women didn’t count for much in the fifties. My interpretation of having the lady next to lion, both peaceful, meant that a woman could be as strong as a lion–a colossal awareness for my disappointed and angry self at that time.
As I look at my different jungle themed paintings now, I realize that I have approached each successive painting with a new viewpoint of the subject—updating the truth. No longer needing the lion to remind me of my strength, I am safe in a jungle alone. Lovers and dancers are depicted enjoying the beauty and expansiveness of the setting. I am aware now that it was that jungle scene which set me free to be my highest, true self and now I’m free to be there in any guise I choose.
The truth does emerge when we paint our experiences.