In an artist statement prepared for her current exhibition, Irish painter Molly Judd talks about her interest in “storytelling through compositional works”. And she does it masterfully, seamlessly marrying formalistic concerns and powerful narrative to produce evocative and demanding imagery.
There are ten paintings in “Losing Stories”, his solo exhibition at the Dedee Shattuck Gallery. Six of them are directly inspired by Greek mythology. The other four are more elusive, more personal. But all resonate with a palpable sense of loss.
Much of ancient Greek myth deals with loss and tragedy, brought about by the usual themes: jealousy, lust, betrayal, infidelity, pride, vanity, greed, and impiety. These Olympian gods and goddesses were unforgiving and, in their anger, reveal their all-too-human weaknesses.
Judd, working with an understated earth tone palette perfectly suited to his exploration of the subject, produces work that feels timeless, yet topical. She draws on the sensitivity of old masters such as Titian and Goya.
It should be noted that she studied with the Norwegian figurative artist Odd Nerdrum, who composed the manifesto “On Kitsch” and it must be recognized that a little of this philosophy and this atmosphere, with its inherent romanticism and its images charged with emotion, also shines through. .
“Atalanta” is Judd’s beautifully rendered depiction of a young girl whose marriage was prophesied to be her undoing. Alas, her father arranged a marriage for her and she agreed to marry any suitor if he could outrun her in a foot race, an impossible task as she was so fast.
However, a suitor named Hippomenes, with the help of a gift from the goddess of love Aphrodite, threw three golden apples and Atalanta stopped to retrieve them, allowing Hippomenes to win the race and to Atalanta itself. The loss was his freedom.
In Judd’s painting, Atalanta looks desperate and full of regret, as she takes a golden apple in one hand and hides the other two fruits behind the other, as if in shame.
“Death in the Forest” captures the pivotal moment in the story of the hunter Cephalus and his wife Procris. There had been infidelities on both sides. The husband had been seduced by Eos, the goddess of dawn, and the wife had slept with a man named Pteleon, who had bribed her with a golden crown.
But they loved each other and made up but the old jealousies remained. One day, while Cephalus was hunting, Procris spied on him from the undergrowth. Hearing a rustle, he threw his infallible magic javelin and he impaled his wife, making him both a killer and a widower of great grief.
Judd captures the moment of Cephalus’ thrust and the javelin’s entry into Procis’ body as an inevitable singularity.
A highlight of the exhibition is “Callisto Bathing”. Variously described as a nymph or as the daughter of King Lycaon, Callisto (or Kallisto) was the favorite servant of Artemis, the goddess of the hunt. She and all her accompanying sisters had taken a vow of chastity but Zeus seduced her by disguising himself as Artemis herself.
Judd’s painting shows the moment, months later with a swollen child’s belly, when her suspicious companions forced her to strip. She was humiliated and banished from the virginal circle of Artemis. The pain is evident on his face.
Other paintings steeped in myth include the depiction of the great hunter Orion about to meet his fate at the sting of a scorpion, Jason’s theft of the Golden Fleece, and the sleeping god Argus just before his murder at the hands of Hermes.
Judd’s other paintings do not receive the touchstone of mythology or legend. But they talk about the loss, in a more personal way. Tracks include ‘Surrender’ featuring a woman kissing a donkey, ‘One for Sorrow’, featuring a red-haired woman on the verge of tears, and ‘Heavy Eyed’, featuring a young man, looking askance and seeming to feel the weight of the world on his shoulders.
The staff is universal. And that can become the stuff of a myth.
‘Losing Stories: Paintings by Molly Judd’ is on display at the Dedee Shattuck Gallery, 1 Partners Lane, Westport until 23 July.