This is a portrait of my friend Janie, who marched in the Tucson All Souls Procession with calavera face paint and a headdress of illuminated butterflies. Janie, like me, is a mythologist as well as an artist, which is why she chose to combine Psyche’s butterfly with the calavera mask to symbolize the mystery of body and soul. Psūkhē (psyche) is the ancient Greek word for the breath. The Greeks saw the breath as the manifestation of the living presence of the soul in the body. They also imagined the evanescence of breath in the movement of butterfly’s wings, and represented the goddess Psyche, wife of Eros, with butterfly wings. The connection of the butterfly with the calavera is seen too in Mexican folk art, an intuitive image of belief in the soul’s survival of bodily death.
This painting was inspired by Kenton Hyatt's photograph (my husband and creative partner and an honorary member of the small Myth Sisterhood Janie and I are members of) of Janie at the Procession. The paint is meant almost, but not quite, to pin the butterfly, preserving the hyper-real intensity of the moment and the photograph that initially captured it, but also present a painterly surface and scintillation to convey the paradoxical movement of psyche in the moment of death. As a painted portrait, it captures Janie’s intensity in a rare moment of still focus between brilliant smiles. The dryness of the face paint and the butterfly lights magnified the wrinkles in her skin, and the acrylic craquelure beneath the glaze of oil paint maps a beautiful terrain of mortality. Janie and I are the same age, and mindful of the approach of death as one naturally becomes with age. At the same time, both of us believe that Psyche is present in art-making, and in making art we become immortal.
NB July 23, 2015: What I did not know when I was making this portrait, which I completed on peculiar inspiration in only a week, is that Janie was suffering from a rapid-onset illness and died of sudden and unexpected complications two days after its completion. I did not have a chance to show it to her--though I believe that was not the point. Rather, our myth-sisterhood and Janie's closest companions felt Psyche's tendrils reaching out from this beautiful and loving soul. All unknowing, we discovered that Janie was powerfully present to each and all of us, and that each of us had strongly felt her spirit in the days before her passing. She died peacefully in the company of her beloved husband, Jim, with loving family nearby.
Archival quality giclée prints of this painting on rag or canvas are now available at Saatchi Art.