Tuesday, 29 August 2017

'Satan whispers softly ...' Belladonna Flora and Fauna

Belladonna has many names, deadly nightshade, banewort, beautiful death and my personal favourite; 'Devils Cherries'. When researching flora to feature in a more sinister piece I began to focus on plants used in ancient witchcraft and healing. Many were familiar to me from herb and medicinal gardens in French Abbeys and Monasteries. Plants with healing and even poisonous properties were often grown by monks in medieval times, and some abbeys have maintained this tradition to present an authentic view of the Abbey as it was. I had seen Belladonna growing at Abbey de Fontfroide, and knew it was a highly poisonous plant, but with a little more research about its misunderstood history and witchcraft connections I became more sure this was the flora for the piece. And honestly, 'Devils cherries' sealed the deal, there was just something about it I loved.

Abbey de Fontfroide - just some of the extensive gardens
Before starting the series I had already thumbed through my 1970s butterfly and moth book (another of my charity shop purchases) and seen some moths with glorious names with sinister connections, such as Goat Moth and Brimstone Moth and put them on a shortlist for a devilish inspired piece. So Belladonna felt like one of those pieces that formed fluidly as a 'meant to be' idea with great potential. Its a rare moment that everything snaps together in this way, so its a satisfying feeling when it does happen!

After completing the initial pen layer of the piece I realised just how many fine details in the piece required a lot of precision and delicacy, this piece was not as bold or forgiving as Silver Thistles and bulky beetles. The moths had many intricate areas of pattern to detail. but this was only preparing me for the real challenge. The Belladonna itself was particularly difficult, with delicate details such as the veins of the leaves and the fine folds of the petals a real challenge to capture. It was one of those rare occasions where its difficult to draw the line on where to stop and how much depth you should go into for the scale of the piece. As I progressed through the painting of the flora I developed a technique and approach to both the flower heads and the foliage which worked. Developing a system which would create reasonably uniform, aesthetically correct leaves was essential, and although I don't like working in a formulaic manner it was essential to complete this piece to the standard I have and have it look fluid.


The name for this piece came to me very late in the day. Some of the pieces in the series I had clear ideas for their title, or a series of scribblings I was still considering. But this piece, other than a reference to ancient witchcraft and the Satanic implications often wrongly connected with it (sometimes rightly also) in ancient Europe I had no definite idea. I had several phrases jotted down such as 'The Devil is upon my shoulder ...' 'Satan tempts me ...' 'I summon you from darkness ...', but none quite conveyed what I wanted to express. I wanted there to be a sense of mystery, what did Satan want? What was he bidding this witch to do? How on earth is Satan connected to this picture of flowers? The sort of questions I wanted to raise from the title. Quite a while after the piece was complete it suddenly came to me, when I was not particularly trying to think of one; 'Satan whispers softly ...'. Finally, I felt this was right, this was the one. The idea of the soft whisper refers to the gentle delicate appearance of the Belladonna, which may look pretty and innocent, but Satan hides behind this facade of beauty (in the form of the plants poison and its history dark history). The soft whispering of the wings of the Goat Moth as Satan swoops by and the Brimstone Moth lingers menacingly also maintains the idea that sinister and evil can hide behind a beautiful exterior.
The idea behind this piece was essentially Sinister, Satanic happenings, Dark thoughts which hide behind a pure face, evil which looks like nothing other than mere beauty and innocence, as you too, the viewer, fall under the spell of deadly nightshade.

What is Satan whispering in his persuasive dulcet tones? Only the Devils Cherries know ...

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