This is one of a series of paintings I am working on based on mythology, using the characters and stories as a way of exploring and expressing my own experience and ideas from a female perspective. ‘The Maenads’ is a very personal painting which deals with my own mental health problems due to a long battle with alcohol addiction and my subsequent recovery in 2014.
Title: The Maenads
Medium: Oil on canvas
Size: 80cm x 80cm
Dionysus the god of wine is the central figure. This beautiful charismatic god represents how an alcoholic like me sees alcohol. It has a magnetic pull; we have an uncontrollable and insatiable longing for it. The figure fills the entire canvas in the way that alcohol is the central obsession of an alcoholic’s life, more important and more powerful than anything else. In the background you can see the Maenads (translated as ‘raving ones’) who are the female followers of Dionysus. From a distance it looks like they are dancing and drinking and having fun but if you look closer you can see their red, blank staring eyes. Women trapped in alcoholism often appear to be okay to the outside world but underneath lies the private mental anguish. An alcoholic can feel like they have no choice but to carry on drinking because they can’t see a way to break free much like the Maenads relentless following of Dionysus.
The figure on her knees on the left represents myself at my point of surrender and asking for help. She is being held by a figure who represents my mentor who helped me in my first year of recovery. She had herself successfully broken free from addiction many years before which gave me hope that I could do it and was there for support and guidance while I learned how to live without alcohol. You can see that one of the Maenads is trying to pull her away to continue to follow Dionysus, this represents the struggle between the ultimately rewarding but more difficult path to sobriety and the easier but more damaging familiar behaviour. The message of hope in the painting is that there is the possibility of recovery.
The main colour of the painting is red to represent red wine, and anguish and torment, it gives the painting a menacing atmosphere. My painting style is influenced by the artist Amedeo Modigliani, ancient art and tapestries. The distortions of the figures allow me to be a lot more expressive.
By being open about our mental health struggles we help to break the stigma and shame which is especially relevant to female addicts. With this painting I hope to reassure people who are still trapped that there is a way out.