Sometimes a detail can contain a world that passes un-noticed when the entire painting is viewed. Browsing through my archive I found this detail of the dragon from Green George (2007) that out of context of the whole, quite took me by surprise. Over the next few days, and by way of an exercise in analysis, I’ll be posting a number of details from the painting, together with brief explanations of what was running through my mind when I worked on them.
I wanted the killing-ground where the bones of the the beast’s previous victims lay strewn, and where it now writhed in its own death-throes, to be beautiful in a rather sinister way. The snaky hellebores that arch against the dark soil, mirror the dragon’s coils. The garden here at Ty Isaf is amply-stocked with hellebores. They were among the first plants I put in when we arrived, and have since clumped up well. Each day I picked some and took them to the studio in jam-jars ready to be painted into the composition.
The dragon tormented me for months as I floundered about trying to decide how it should look. I did endless research, none of which much helped beyond making me realise what I didn’t want it to be. I didn’t borrow one from a renaissance painting, or from a medieval bestiary, both of which might have offered options, because I needed it to be something new. I wanted anyone viewing this particular dragon to see it both as being fabulous, but also plausible, and I wanted it to have a strong character. In the end the look of it formed quite quickly. I eschewed scales in favour of thick skin pierced with heavy spines, an idea suggested by a ceramic piece by my friend the artist Meri Wells. The teeth were borrowed from the way a shark’s grow, in multiple rows, constantly renewing themselves from the back ranks. There seems something implacable and terrible in the idea of a predator with teeth that just keep on advancing.
I like this monster. Seven years on from having painted it, it looks entirely itself, as though I had gone out and discovered such a beast and made a portrait of it. It seems to have found a life beyond my brushes. Poisonous and terrible, but oddly magnificent in the moment of its death.
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i have always been very fond of this painting…those hellebores are wonderful, too!
Thanks for talking through his evolution, beautiful as the painting is, it’s a huge bonus to have your insights explained as well. He is handsomely hideous and the exquisitely painted helibores are a perfect foil, a painting within a painting.xL
I like this monster as well.
As someone who has painted his own share of dragons, they are tricky beasties. You are right , you don’t want them to appear to have been lifted directly from some bit of medieval marginalia, yet you still want the essence of dragon-ness.
You grabbed it, he is a handsome fellow, fearsome even in his death throes.