Tuesday 18 April 2017

Art in Focus: 'Strength'

'Strength' is the card of courage, control and compassion. 'Strength' reminds us that strength is not just a physical attribute but an important part of our inner selves. The 'Strength' card contrasts with 'The Chariot', which reflects physical strength and will, while 'Strength' represents the power of human spirit and the strength and courage within us. This card teaches that within us we have the power to control our impulses and temper, to create an atmosphere of trust and calm and tame our demons within. Ultimately: The bravery in your heart is worth far more than the muscle in your arm.

Dating back to the Marseille Tarot 'Strength' in many decks is largely unchanged. Typical imagery shows a woman holding open the mouth of a lion, demonstrating her control over the beast, which does not come from physical strength but from inner strength. The lion represents our primal, animalistic side; our passions, desires and urges. The lion is happy to submit to the woman, and her love has in theory tamed the beast. Rider-Waite added imagery such as a garland crown representing nature, the infinity symbol above the woman's head and the phallic symbol of the distant mountain to enrich the symbolism of the original imagery.

When it came to beginning work designing my depiction of 'Strength', I had no clear cut idea about the piece and really struggled with approaching the piece from a totally new angle. It's one of the few cards I left until last to work on as no matter what I sketched, researched and tried I wasn't happy with the results. The only reasonable concept I had been able to think of was to have a woman, instead of holding open the mouth of a lion, riding a lion. In a tribal, primal sort of manner. Showing the woman's strength and courage clearly, and also giving her a suggestion of supernatural power and connection with nature. After weeks of sketching bears, wolves, mythical beasts such as griffons and all sorts of mighty beasts I still had no ideas that worked as well as the fearless lion rider concept. As time pressures began to mount and my indecision was beginning to hold up the completion of the series I decided to bite the bullet and do a full size line drawing to form the basis of my lion rider idea and see if I felt the idea could work or not.
Once I had finally got the posture of the woman right, no easy task as I wanted her to appear strong, stern, confident and proud, all while riding on the back of a lion, I felt far happier with the pieces potential. One of the main reasons I wanted to keep the symbolism and imagery of the lion as the lion typifies wildness, ferocious beasts and nature. The lion is one of the few animals we still genuinely fear, and I believe the fear is an inbuilt, primal response. I chose to portray the woman riding the lion as fully nude. I felt this was really important as it represents her confidence and freeness in the world. She is as free and wild as the lion, unhindered by materialistic possessions, and she is far closer to nature for it. She has no shame or concern of her natural state, just like the lion. I approached the woman with the idea of her being a mighty Amazon, or woman of some mystical Tribe with the skill and power to not control nature, but cooperate with it and be totally at one. The lion is not her slave, or her unwilling transport, their union is a mutual one, with respect, courage and inner strength at its core. I really wanted to capture the cards message of soft control, and felt the idea of the woman's compassion and courage taming the lion and earning it's respect was the most important element to project. Looking at the completed piece now I am satisfied I achieved this message; love and courage can tame the fiercest beast.

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