The inspiration behind this project occurred when I found a pair of workmen’s goggles in the gutter one day when I was out for a walk. (I’m a bit of a magpie, always finding bits of treasure which I collect and keep in my studio to use in or inspire my artwork.) Walking home with the goggles I had a clear vision of a young girl wearing them, in each of the lenses I imagined two powerful contradictory images.
I had recently watched the HBO series dramatizing the Chernobyl disaster – it had affected me deeply. The idea of the air we breathe being containing an invisible poison, was horrifying. (A disturbing mirror maybe, of the Covid-19 crisis.) Worse still was the idea that the disaster was man made, and the realisation of how close we had come to a global catastrophe.
By nature I am an optimist and, as I walked I had the idea of creating a painting using the goggles with one lens reflecting the image of the burning reactor, and the other showing a pristine landscape, a world we would all want to wake up to.
I had the goggles, now I needed a face – here serendipity lent a hand.
A couple of days later, whilst sitting in a park, I saw a beautiful 5 year old Chinese girl, her hair in bunches. She carefully pulled out of her pink handbag a pair of reflective sunglasses and put them on in front of me. In that instant the idea for the composition of the painting began to solidify.
Back in the studio I started putting together some visuals. (The graphic designer in me at work!)
The idea of creating one painting quickly developed into the concept of creating a series, themed around the ecological and environmental disasters that beset us, disasters of our own making.
As a lover of nature I wanted as many references in the paintings as possible. I researched what birds were worse off as a result from the radiation. There were two species, the Great Tit and the Barn Swallow, both produce large amounts of pigment in their feathers. Because the production of this pigment requires lots of antioxidants, these birds may not have enough to fight to survive. I chose the Barn Swallow as I wanted to reflect the blue in the ionising radiation with the blue in the feathers and blue velvet hair scrunchies.
The goggles are based on WWII aviator glasses – they needed to be oversized and robust.
The cherry is used to symbolise the farmers who carried on working “the fruits of their labours” not knowing how dangerous the ground was. The stem of the earring is 24k gold leaf.
I created the necklace/tattoo as a piece of jewellery that had a double edge, it was made from rose branches, on one hand beautiful the other side it had sharp thorns so had a constricting and sinister, choking element.
Insects were less affected by the radiation, so I decided to have a ladybird as the gemstone on the necklace.
The red of the lips, cherry and ladybird were used as a subliminal metaphor for Soviet Russia.
I painted an apocalyptic wasteland background on the reactor side and calmer on the side of the misty morning and used the same colour palette within the painting to give balance.
Although there have been many oil spills over the years I chose the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 because of the similarities to Chernobyl in the testing stages. Watching the film made me feel exactly the same way as I felt with Chernobyl, sick to the stomach.
Turquoise ocean surrounds a stunning redhead with voluminous hair that floats in the water. I have a regular visitor to my studio window – a Wren, so I decided to have her nesting in her hair, with similar colouring she is almost camouflaged. Protected by the girls hand is a tropical fish trying to survive the speculated 206 million gallons of oil that seeped in to its environment.
In the right goggle the oil rig burns and pours out oil, it falls over the goggle and on to her face as a tear. In the other reflection is a contrasting perfect, clean, turquoise waters and golden sandy beach.
An octopus necklace/tattoo hangs around her neck another symbol for the suffocating situation. In the middle sits the emerald gemstone of a turquoise beetle.
As with the last painting the colours are carefully thought about to bring harmony. Not all the elements I use have to be symbolic – I’ll use them to add interest, contrast or beauty to the painting.
All the paintings depict beauty. It was intentional to use a beautiful face as this is what gives us pleasure and what we all search for whether it be in ourselves or in nature. It was the use of the reflection to convey the devastating side effects of how we treat our environment.
This is an ongoing project and I hope to depict five man-made disasters in total, which I will document the progress here.