Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Storm Brewing in a Teacup on Downton Abbey

12 x 16'', acrylic on gessoed hardboard
painting #241, 2016

Last month I received an invitation from the Fog Forest Gallery to submit a painting for a group exhibition that would give the viewer some respite in the wake of the current political uncertainty looming with the upcoming presidential elections in the US and the series of violence / terrorist attacks in the past year alone that seems to be on the uprise and constantly in the news. The exhibition is entitled ''Art for a World Gone Mad'' and runs from September 22 to October 15, 2016.

In my still life painting, entitled “ Storm Brewing in a Tea Cup on Downton Abbey”, I chose to document aspects of the critically acclaimed British television series and draw a parallel by allowing us to appreciate  how much the world has indeed changed in the past century for the betterment of humanity in most instances.  

Downton Abbey chronicles the life of the aristocratic Crawley family and exposes the lavish lifestyle of a disappearing elite class and the relationships they entertain with their many servants. But all is not so rosy at the Yorkshire castle. The main story line centers around the heir and descendants of the Earl of Grantham with their on-going struggles to financially sustain the domain as they meet the challenges of the modern world. Although the series is fictional, it does become quite credible as it follows the timeline in the UK during a very turbulent period in their history between 1912 and 1925.  Some of the events that filters through the script written by the show's creator Julian Fellowes include the sinking of the Titanic (1912), the ravages of World War I, 1914-1918 (17 million casualties, 20 million wounded), the 1918 flu pandemic, aka- Spanish flu (in excess of 50 million deaths), women's suffrage in 1918 (right to vote) and the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921).

The themes and drama that are explored in the six seasons are still pertinent today as they were back then and these include: social classes, snobbery, secrecy, sibling rivalries, woman rights/equality, political revolts, conflicts, infidelity, betrayals, feuds, murder, conspiracies, loyalty, blackmail, sabotage, bullying, scandals, racism, refugees, war and love.

The world in which we currently live in is fast paced and in a state of constant evolution. Much can be said about violence in its many forms, but many historians suggest that we are actually living in the most peaceful period of the past 500 years.  Advancements in human rights, technology and medicine alone makes the world a much better place than a century ago. 

The world economy, religious beliefs, the oil industry, control and power does rule the planet at this point and time. Terrorism, drugs, gun control, poverty, corruption, unemployment, politics of fear and division, global warming are some of the current issues we are faced with in 2016.  It's easy to get overwhelmed with the state of the world when we are constantly being bombarded by the media to a point where we become desensitized in order to cope.  While it is easy to reflect on the past when life appeared simpler, except it is not always true.  But one shouldn't lose hope because there is still a whole lot of goodness in the world today. 

As a painter, a great deal of my artwork does document aspect of popular and mass culture.  I do try to put a positive spin in the imagery. I've occasionally done paintings reflecting the economy or political climate by using a Monopoly Game board as a prop, which in turn becomes a form of symbolism.  I am not turning a blind-eye on all that is happening in the world today. We live in a world where we have to adapt in order to strive and move forward. We also need to take time for ourselves by taking care of our body, mind and spirit. I believe in the laws of Karma / the Golden Rule and try to do good, show gratitude, compassion and respect towards others.

With “Storm Brewing in a Tea  Cup on Downton Abbey”,  I've place a tea cup on top of a book that holds imagery detailing the work achieved behind the scenes with set decoration, costume and hair design, in recreating authenticity while filming the series at Highclere Castle.  The book was written by Emma Rowley and published by St. Martin's Press (2013).  The tea cup and saucer done in a Moroccan pattern is by Grace's Teaware. The setting is my own backyard. King Cole Tea is steeped locally by Barbour's in Sussex, NB. It has been widely renown as the favourite tea of Maritimers for the past century. 

I've actually watched the whole series of Downton Abbey twice. The first time, I binge watched the first four seasons on Netflix then tuned in on PBS for the remaining last two seasons. Then, I replayed the five seasons again on Netflix while I started this painting. I was hooked after watching just one episode. A combination of brilliant writing, a stellar cast and stunning cinematography helped create one of the most beloved and widely watched television dramas in the world. It's a serial where happiness is fleeting for most characters. The daily ritual of drinking tea is often the only constant they can rely on. Even while in the trenches of WWI, Thomas Barrow is serving tea to Matthew Crawley steeped from a cooking pot over a campfire. I leave you with words of wisdom from the matriarch of the Crawley family, Lady Grantham, brilliantly played by Maggie Smith.
''Just the ticket.  Nanny always said, Sweet tea is the thing for frayed nerves''
from Season 1, episode 3.
Fog Forest Gallery
14 Bridge Street, Sackville, NB
(506) 536-9000