Flora & Fauna III (Ivy & Harley)


Well-known member
As I finished with the last painting I was looking a good bit at the German Renaissance (Mannerist?) painter Lucas Cranach. I was always struck by the contradiction in Cranach's paintings. On one hand, he was the favorite portrait painter of the moralistic leaders of the Lutheran Church... including Martin Luther himself. On the other hand, he was popular for his erotic nudes.


Artists of the Renaissance... and most of art history prior to the mid-19th century... frequently employed classic Biblical and Greco-Roman narratives as a justification for painting the nude. With few exceptions, just painting the nude for its own sake like you might paint a landscape or a still-life simply wasn't acceptable. Thus, Cranach's painting here portrays the Judgment of Paris. But honestly, I find this painting and others like it by Cranach barely make any real allusion to any "high-minded" narrative. Rather, looking at the girls pouting and preening and posing I find this painting has more in common with Playboy centerfolds... or the classic Pin Up paintings of the 30s-60s... that I was looking at a good deal at this time.


I was perusing the book, The Great American Pin-Up, by Louis K. Meisel, a good deal. Meisel is an art writer, collector, and gallery owner who has the largest collection of Photorealism (and gave the name to the genre) and classic American pin-ups. At the same time, I was also looking at the DC comic series: DC Comics Bombshells, in which the heroines and antiheroines are based stylistically on WWII-era Pin-Ups.


I began to toy with the idea of a painting based on something as "shallow" as the Pin-Up as opposed to the "high-minded" Greco-Roman or Biblical narrative... or even classic faerie tales. I began playing with the theme of Ivy (Poison Ivy) and Harley (Harley Quinn), two villains and later antiheroines from the DC Batman stories. Over time, the narratives around these two characters evolved into something of a Love-Hate relationship.


I was intrigued with this image as a way of moving away from the two standing figures... which I felt often had something static about them. Actually, since the last painting, Sisters, I haven't painted another work employing two standing figures.


But I ended up building upon the frequent kneeling pose of Harley Quinn:


While Harley Quinn is actually a highly educated psychiatrist (Dr. Harleen Frances Quinzel) she is often seen as submissive to various lovers: the Joker, Poison Ivy, Wonder Woman, etc... (As a side note, her name comes from James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake... can you get more "high-minded" than that.

I began this new painting with a standing figure of Ivy and the kneeling Harley:


At first I gave her "pig tails" and sneakers to suggest Harley's somewhat naïve... almost adolescent nature. I later eliminated these details... thinking that these may be a bit too controversial... suggesting a girl not of legal age.

I rapidly set about establishing the surrounding halo and giving it far more decorative details than in any painting up to this point.


I began to have the floral elements of ivy... actually lilies... surround the figure of Poison Ivy.


At this point, I've begun to employ my usual reddish primer before the color of gold is applied.

With this painting I began to add the gold leaf before I added an color.




Around this time I came across images of this medieval astronomical clock in Prague. I was fascinated with circle off-center within the larger circle and carried this idea over to the painting.



I saw the image of a sun and moon in this... the crescent moon to the left and the sun to the right... and decided upon making it a rising sun:




I decided upon a contrasting color scheme of red-green with green for Ivy and red, the dominant color in Harley's costume:


I carried the red into the lower half of the halo beneath the sun:


One of my studio mates kept pushing me to continue the flowers down below in the halo. I tried it... and didn't like it... so I had to sand it out and paint over it:



I went back to the black & white checker board as a color that could hold its own against the brilliant contrast of red & green. It also suggested the patterns of the Harlequin:


After I had worked out the color of the background down to the midway point, I took photographs and began working out ideas for the background on the bottom half at home, on the computer:




I ended up going with another circle within a circle... reverse to the top.


And then... finally!!!... I began work on the figures



At this point I got rid of the "pigtails" which not only made Harley look too much like an adolescent... but also were visually awkward IMO.
Initially, I went with a short, boyish hairstyle:



For whatever reason at the time I didn't like it... although looking at it now, I think it works fine. Ultimately, I went with a longer hairstyle... perhaps because it carries the eye from above to below.






With all the work involved in online teaching I get to post maybe one of these paintings a week. This week will be especially hectic. Its the end of the grading period which means grading... with half the students rushing to submit their work at the last minute. At the same time, I need to put together new lessons for the start of the second semester, Monday. At least I'm not further stressed out about the elections anymore. Beyond the national elections, we had a local levy on the ballot that might have spelled layoffs had it failed (and we all know what subjects get slashed first). Luckily, it passed with nearly 70% in favor... and this levy is good for 10 years. That and Betsy DeVos' termination should take a lot of stress off of me and other teachers.