I would seriously love to make writing my full time job, it has become a bit of a passion of mine, but sadly I am not at the stage where it will pay the bills. Especially as some days are just so full of ugliness in my “actual” job that it can be a real kill joy. It’s times like this that I turn to creating something or looking at other’s creations to remind me that there is so much beauty around us that is so easy to miss when you have people demanding things from you, or you’re under so much pressure that you can’t see the wood for the trees. Much like Pandora’s box when you open it so much ugliness flies out, but there stuck in the corner is this little glimmer of hope. Tonight Rebecca Latham’s painting of a swan is my little glimmer of hope.
Because it is that time of year that people run out to buy a card to tell that special person that they love them, I had decided this evening that I was going to write about one of the most iconic symbols, but red roses were simply to obvious, so I turned to the swan. Rambling through Google, of many images of Leda and the Swan, they didn’t really give off the the majestic and elegant image that I wanted, and then… Rebecca Latham’s beautiful work came up, so how could I not share this with you.
Latham is depressingly the same age as me, born in 1979, and is an American based conservation artist. She works in water colours and uses a miniature technique, meaning the amount of detail she works in rather than the size of the painting. She has won numerous awards for her art and is an associated member of many wildlife trusts and organisations.
On reading her biography, it is so obvious how passionate she is about the subjects that she paints, taking up to 5000 photos from all available angles, as well as studying the habits and actions to present her audiences with paintings which are truly beautiful and completely encompassing of the creature she has chosen to present.
I have to say, this particular painting, I almost dismissed at first as at a glance I thought it was a photo. The detail that Latham has bought to her work is phenomenal. The capture of the movement of the water from the swan’s gentle glide, to the more urgent ripples where the bird has shaken off the water which has collected on its plumage. I love how the light plays on the wings, making the feathers almost translucent, small glimmers hitting the water and enhancing the movement of it, bringing the whole painting to life.
Latham has captured that elegance that I think of in swans. For me they are probably the most dignified of the water based birds, you rarely see a swan falling over on the ice, or landing in an awkward position, which could be why they are used to depict absolute beauty by artists, dancers, poets and writers. The image of the swan is so symbolic, I don’t think I even needed to write this article to tell you that, but why?
Long has it been known that swans generally mate for life (although, fascinatingly swans can go through some kind of avian divorce, generally after failed nesting or mating), and it is very convenient that they have long necks that curve and look like a heart when they are close together, but they have been used as a symbol of love in so many myths and legends that it is really hard to identify where it started. In Greek mythology the swan a symbol of Aphrodite (if we ignore what Zeus did while transformed in to a swan) and in Roman Myth Venus had a companion of a swan. In England the swan was associated with loyalty and grace, as well as royalty. All of these things came from the physical appearance of the swan and its actions while mating, which is another layer to why Latham’s painting is so remarkable that it has captured in such astounding detail the very essence that has fed the persona of the swan.
Isn’t it funny then that the story that I have at the fore front of my mind, isn’t that of Swan Lake, and I am not going to roll out some myth about the swan, I am instead going to remind you of the story of the ugly duckling written by Hans Christian Andersen, as it has a lesson which we should all remember about beauty and how things are perceived against what they really are.
I am pretty sure we all remember the basics of this story, but they may have been disnified…
A mother duck has a nest full of eggs. On hatching many cute little yellow ducklings pop out, and then, from the last year, comes a grey and awkward duckling. The others turn and laugh at it, and the other animals which are on the farm where the ducks live physically and verbally abuse the duckling.
Unable to take anymore the duckling runs away from the farm, going to live with the wild geese and ducks, but a hunter slaughters all of this flock and the duckling is left alone again. He is then found by an elderly woman, who takes the duckling in, but her cats bully and daunt the duckling, leaving him no choice but to run away.
As winter approaches the duckling is found by a farmer, and taken into his home, but the duckling is frightened by the farmers noisy children, so once again runs away, opting to live in a cave.
As spring arrives, a flock of swans land on the lake where the ducklings cave is, and in a moment of bravery the swan flings himself out of the cave, thinking that he would rather be killed by such beautiful creatures that live a life of solitude.
To his surprise the swans warmly welcome him, and he catches his reflection in the water, to realise that he too is now a beautiful swan.
This story on the face of it takes me all the way back to my opening paragraph, there is a lot of ugliness in the world, that we forget that there can be such beauty (I will ignore the obvious undertones of not being accepted and violence against those that are not like their own, because I would love to say this is a story about being accepted as an individual, but it isn’t). Latham’s painting echoes this beauty in such a refined and elegant way.
Maybe a little deep and meaningful for today, but I urge all of you to take a walk outside, look up, look out and forget the pressures of work, or the fact that your partner didn’t put his socks in the wash basket for the 207th time this year, or that your child spilled marinara sauce all over your favourite white pillow, and look for the elements of beauty that Latham brings to life in her art work.
What do you think of Latham’s work? Why not tell me in the comments? Like this post? Why not share it?
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