The painting has its roots in earlier work and interests. I’ve always been drawn to images of animals, and Stubbs is the master. His Horse Attacked by a Lion of 1769 has lodged in my mind since first I saw it, and it stays there still, appalling and sublime.
Stubbs was working from classical models, as artists throughout history have done. The herbivore brought down by a carnivore is a potent metaphor for power unleashed upon the vulnerable, recognised and understood across cultures.
In my painting The Barbarian Brought Down by a Lioness (collection of MoMA Mach), based on an episode drawn from the fragments of a Renaissance altarpiece at Christ Church Picture Gallery depicting the Lives of the Desert Fathers, I showed a man being mauled by a lioness, his limbs broken. Here’s a detail of her claws raking as she embeds her teeth in his abdomen. Her back is knotted with muscles. She’s as elemental as the heaving waves in Amlwch Harbour behind her.
I drew on many models that had caught my eye, particularly Romanesque carved capitals of beasts attacking men.
Lions have featured extensively in my work, though never in terms of studies from life. I’m interested in their forms and how they fill the spaces of compositions, and of course in what they can represent. Here’s a painting titled The Lion in Winter, made when lions were densely populating my imagination and sketchbooks. He stands on a pedestal in a snowbound landscape, the ruins of a Welsh slate mill behind him.
The drawing for Startled Peacocks began with the Stubbs image so deeply etched in my imagination. Those wide jaws clamped down hard, haunt me.
I listened to Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time throughout the process of making the painting. The horror of my subject matter, a metaphor. Beauty and strength (the winged horse) brought down by brute force. Christ scourged and crucified.
I worked by daylight with the large sash-window to my left thrown open, and after dark by lamplight. The images of the work in progress vary in colour because of the light conditions, though the photograph at the top of the post shows the painting as it appears when viewed in person. It was scanned for me in the photography department of the National Library of Wales, and the reproduction of its colour is spot on.
I enjoy the images of the work in progress in all their variation, from the blue cast loaned by dusk to the gold washed across from the anglepoise lamp I use after dark. Paintings, once framed and out in the world will be seen in light conditions beyond my control, so I like to see for myself how the effects of light of many types affect the images.