The Crying Spider – Odilon Redon

As you can image, I talk about art quite a lot.  Simply because I enjoy it, but sometimes my choices do seem to perplex some.  For example, I know that this picture will confuse the person who sits next to me at work.  Very often we have conversations about the differences of how I view art to how he does.  With this in mind, before I have even posted this, I can tell you, that he will say about this piece is “That wouldn’t happen… a spider with a man’s face”.  What I do know is that he will read this, chuckle and then tell me that he doesn’t understand how I see what I do in in the piece but it is interesting nonetheless.

Odilon Redon was a French artist born in 1840 and lived until 1916.  He was known for his drawing at an early age.  He studied sculpture, etching and lithography but his studies were interrupted when he was draughted to serve in the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 – 1871.  Redon then moved to Paris and continued his artistic career, working in charcoal and lithography.  Working in only shades of black he called his visionary work “noirs”.  Redon moved on to oils and pastels in the 1890s, and showed his appreciation for the Hindu and Buddhist cultures during this time.

His work has been described as a synthesis between nightmare and dreams, and throughout all of his styles you can certainly see how his audiences could see a multitude of things within his work.

“The Crying Spider” is one of Redon’s “noirs”, and shows a human face on a spider’s body, tears fall from the eyes of the face, and oddly the spider has 9 legs (that I can count anyway).  Created in charcoal, it has a smudgy nightmarish quality too it, the eyes of the man seem hollow and unfulfilled and they stare out blankly just off centre, not meeting the gaze of the viewer.

The body of the spider is undefined in comparison to the legs and  is almost as though the face is emerging from a void.

Redon said about the colour black:-

“One must respect black, nothing prostitutes it. It does not please the eye and it awakens no sensuality. It is the agent of the mind far more than the most beautiful colour to the palette or prism.”

This statement really defines where Redon was while painting his “noirs”, and the series of work shows many odd creatures and plants.  It has said that these works where the outpouring of Redon’s psyche, displaying his inner emotions at any given moment.

His work happily sits within the symbolism movement, as  the images are derived from artist’s dreams and fantasies, his visits to the Natural History Museum, reflections on Darwin’s evolutionary theories and on the early stages of psychiatry and dream research, and finally, his fascination with the invisible world of science that can only be discerned through the microscope.

Redon wanted to “place the visible at the service of the invisible”; thus, although his work seems filled with strange beings and grotesque dichotomies (a clear division between two opposing factors), his aim was to represent pictorially the ghosts of his own mind.

On his “noirs”, Redon stated:-

“I have often, as an exercise and as a sustenance, painted before an object down to the smallest accidents of its visual appearance; but the day left me sad and with an unsatiated thirst. The next day I let the other source run, that of imagination, through the recollection of the forms and I was then reassured and appeased.”

Spiders often have the meaning that our own choices impact how we construct our own lives – this is seen through the spider being a spinner of webs and masters of their own destiny.  They also have the symbolism of growth and power attributed to them.  The face being added to the spider in this contexts says to me that there are regrets in the way in which the artist sees his current construction.  This could be due to memories of the Franco-Prussian war as we know that many suffer PTS after coming out of a war situation, no matter what their role was in it.

I find this type of artwork so interesting, as it is not particularly beautiful, but it is so raw, allowing you in to the artists inner sanctum, and displaying what is essentially his own emotions at time of creation.

What do you think of “The Crying Spider”?  Why not tell me in the comments?  Like this post?  Why not share it?


3 thoughts on “The Crying Spider – Odilon Redon

Add yours

  1. I count 10 (legs/feet).

    If you take the image and remove the scant high lights from the eyes, you get a distant, menacing visage. Adding those 20 or so pixels of “tears” changes the whole intent of the image.

    Artists, sheesh, complex creatures the lot of them.

    Liked by 1 person

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