My change of direction painting of Circe the Greek Goddess
My change of direction painting of Circe the Greek Goddess
Ellie Contreras painting Circe

My change of direction painting of Circe the Greek Goddess

In this blog post I am going to try and explain why I felt I had to completely change my art practice, how I got through the termoil this created and my breakthrough painting of Circe – the Greek goddess.

Earlier this year I went through some inner turmoil about my art practice. I had been painting, portraits, figures and some still life paintings in an expressive style from life or from photographs and although I was happy with these paintings and I still am, I couldn’t shake off the feeling that I was just painting ‘pretty pictures’ that I thought people might want to buy and not expressing what was in my soul or producing anything that new or different to what a lot of other artists were doing. I also felt that my greatest resource, my imagination was being neglected. I was too occupied with realism, representing an object, sitter or photograph and although I would push the bounderies of representation with the way I painted the subjects and introducing different colours and semi abstract elements, I felt the confines of a representational art practice was holding me back.

Identifying this problem threw me into utter turmoil and confusion. I wasn’t sure I was ever going to come out of it and find my direction. The problem was that I had been learning and practicing how to paint in a traditional way since I was a 13 when I got out every book from the local library on oil painting and started to teach myself how to paint. I knew I had to discard a lot of this in order to find a way of painting that I felt comfortable with and that allowed me to express more than just a subject but also stories, ideas, cultures and feelings.

I had the idea of painting Circe the Greek goddess after reading a wonderful book by Madaline Miller . I love this character from Greek mythology. She was exiled to an island for eternity where she discovered she had a gift for sorcery using plants. One day some sailors who came across her island, attacked her, thinking she was a week helpless woman on her own. After that she was determined not to let that happen again and made a potion to turn any subsequent threatening men into pigs. To me she represents women reclaiming their power as women are doing now with the Times Up and Me Too movements. Like most women I have been patronised and made to feel insignificant by men and Have had to put up with unwanted and inappropriate comments and advances. Circe was my way of expressing my desire for women to be able to take back their own inner power, free of shame and judgement.

I attempted painting this subject several times but each time I failed because I was hanging on to some degree to my years of practice and training of painting in a realistic way. Then finally I had a breakthrough. I let go and drew the figure and distorted the proportions to how I wanted it to look rather than being anatomically correct. In this I was inspired by modigliani (read my article about the Modigliani retrospective at the tate) and also by Marc Chagall’s painting ‘The Kiss’ where the figure is floating in the air and bending in an impossible way to give his beloved a kiss.

Marc Chagall’s painting ‘The Kiss’

The Kiss Marc Chagall

I also treated the painting in a much more holistic way which is what I learnt from Bonnard (read my article about that here) . My paintings before now had been largely focused on a single figure or object, I wanted the whole canvas to play a part in setting the scene and telling a story.

Finally I felt like I had made the breakthrough I had been waiting for but I wasn’t sure what people would think of it, being so different to my usual work. Everyone I showed it to had a very positive reaction and a chance encounter at a party with an art loving couple with a growing art collection lead to a sale. This really gave the boost I needed and the confidence to continue down this path of development.


Amedeo Modigliani – Lunia Czechowska, c. 1918.

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