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  • Madeline Mitchell

Not so Black and White

Updated: Dec 27, 2019

My ‘Not so Black and White’ series differs from most of my works in the sense that it does not revolve specifically around endangered or misunderstood animal species. Instead, I wanted to play around with the concept of universal emotions and how they are natural and necessary. The use of wildlife imagery is meant to convey the idea of ‘natural’ emotions that play an integral and primal role in who we are as humans. The works in this series should make you feel those universal, primal emotions. Each piece embodies a different emotion and attempts to represent them in new ways that still ultimately feel familiar to us.



Grief


The first in this six-piece series, ‘Grief’ portrays the image of the suspenseful predator versus prey moment between a hawk and mouse. Grief is represented not only in the tense and inevitable moment of the mouse’s demise but is also represented in both of the individual figures. Feelings of grief are not always consistent in varying situations and among different people. Sometimes we relate to one character or the other, the hawk or the mouse, while other times we somehow manage to feel like both. Let me break it down in a less cryptic and convoluted way.

Take the hawk, it is a classic predator-type, sharp talons, piercing gaze and gaping mouth. Very intimidating. The overall impression is one of aggression and attack. Oftentimes in the midst of grief we ‘go on the attack’ so to speak and lash out, usually at the unsuspecting people around us, as a means of survival. Rather than succumbing to feelings of vulnerability, in the situation of fight or flight, we choose to fight. In the process of our attack spurred on by grief, we become very much the predator in the situation and, as a result, create more grief.

On the flip side of this, we have the mouse. Bright eyed, small and completely unaware of the threat swooping down upon it. This is the kind of grief that hits us the hardest, when we are unaware and simply blindsided by it. We are exposed and at our most vulnerable in the moments just before our grief swallows us whole. These situations make us feel like prey to an unavoidable and natural predator.

Ultimately, though, just like the predator versus prey dynamic, grief is natural and necessary. Grief is essential in maintaining the balance of a fully developed life that ties us even closer to our humanity and empathy.



Fear

Fear arises most often when we are out of our element, unprepared and lacking in either skill or experience. The panic seems to tilt our perspective of the world into a place that is off-kilter and wrong. Fight or flight, just like in our moments of grief, compels us to either run or fight when confronted by our fears. It can feel as though you are adrift in the middle of the ocean with no control, seconds away from drowning, where your only options are to either sink or swim.

“Fear” portrays the image of a lion thrashing about in the ocean. Claws out and head struggling to stay above the surface. The fear is palpable in its eyes and the wrongness of the image, a lion out of place in the ocean, along with the tilt of the horizon line creates a tense sort of anxiety. It’s paw, in the foreground of the painting, creates the dual illusion of the lion both reaching out for help while also attacking the viewer with its’ sharp claws.

The unpleasantness of fear makes it hard for us to see the value in it. However, it is important. Fear teaches us how to survive and often compels us to continue to survive in situations that are overwhelming and seemingly impossible. Fear forces us to not just lie down and die, but to either fight or run until we are able to fight another day.



Joy


Ah Joy, doesn’t she just make you all warm and fuzzy inside? Joy gives us all a much-needed reprieve from the two previous, taxing emotions of fear and grief. In contrast to both fear and grief, which seem to press down upon us in an attempt to make us feel small, joy fills us and expands us into the biggest, happiest versions of ourselves. Joy is big and warm and comforting in a way that feels like the biggest, deepest hug.

“Joy” features one of my favorite characters, a big ol’ fluffy snowy owl named Harriet. Harriet’s a big-boned girl with fuzzy, inviting feathers that absolutely demands to wrap you up in the softest, biggest hug of your life. Her large eyes are sparkling with light that conveys a childlike innocence and wonder. The whole three by four-foot canvas is filled with Harriet, stuffed to the brim and bursting with her joy. Harriet makes you feel that flutter in your heart that brings an unexpected, delighted smile to your face. Just like joy, she is big and warm and comforting in a way that makes you want to give her the biggest, deepest hug.




Loneliness


Loneliness is a cold kind of feeling. Isolation, whether it be physical, mental or emotional can make survival difficult. We cannot exist solely on our own. Still, it is not uncommon to find ourselves stuck in moments of loneliness where our surroundings feel dark, desolate and empty. It’s funny that loneliness makes us feel perpetually alone, and yet it is a universal emotion that creates a commonality and unity among all of us as we all have felt it before.

There was a story recently of a tree frog named “Toughie”, the subject in my work ‘Loneliness’, living in captivity as the very last of his kind. Toughie’s passing in 2016 saw the end of the Rabb’s fringe-limbed tree frog species. It got me thinking of just how lonely of an existence that must have been. To be completely alone, to be the last surviving in your species and to be the utter end of it with your passing. It’s a very specific and unique kind of tragedy and yet the empathy we feel is familiar. We are none of us Rabb’s fringe-limbed tree frogs (scientifically proven, in fact, as of 2016) and we have no true way of knowing if Toughie was even capable of comprehending the loneliness of his situation, but we are none the less, all of us, able to understand his loneliness in a way that brings that familiar ache to our chests.

Loneliness makes it painfully evident to us that we cannot exist alone. We need others in every way- physically, emotionally, mentally, even spiritually. Simply put, we are not meant to be alone in this world and we cannot survive without each other. It is when we understand that our loneliness is not ours alone, not our unique sole burden, but a shared thing among humanity, that we begin to realize we were never alone.




Rage

A roaring in your ears, rapid breaths, blood rushing, heart racing; these are all symptoms, often accompanied with both satisfaction and shame, that we attribute to rage. The all-consuming feeling can cloud our judgement and erase our reasoning, but it seldom arises without reason. Anger often comes when there is a threat to our safety or well-being that demands that we protect ourselves. It is an essential defense mechanism evolved to preserve who we are and our ways of life.

“Rage” features the massive and threatening face of a silverback gorilla essentially going ‘ape-shit’ (not sorry for the pun). With sharp teeth bared and eyes vacant, there is nothing warm and inviting about this creature. Standing in front of this 3’x4’ painting, you cannot help but feel small and vulnerable. It is in your face, seemingly lunging forward, feeling as though it is just about to attack and swallow you whole the same way rage, if not kept in check, can consume and swallow you whole.




Love

Love is a constantly developing thing. It starts off small and precious and grows into an infinite and resilient thing. All love must be nurtured and handled with care. Love and growth are essential to one another and so we must cultivate the love in our lives in order for it to survive.

“Love” depicts the image of a dove hatchling, fresh into the world, utterly helpless and small. It is not independent, it cannot fly or sing and, in all honesty, it is not entirely cute or cuddly. It is raw and real and new. It needs time and constant nurturing to grow before it can soar beautifully through skies and sing out its’ love melodies. We must not only accept, but embrace our little hatchling at its’ ugliest, its’ most difficult, before we can see it develop into the full embodiment of love that it is.


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