The Renaissance of The Crone -Aleah Chapin at Flowers Gallery, London

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There Were Whispers Among the Branches

Using my umbrella to make my way through the busy streets of Mayfair at lunchtime, I finally found myself in a quietpocket of space in Cork Street - a prime location for many of contemporary art galleries in London. I have reached my destination: Flowers Gallery and their current Aleah Chapin exhibition ‘Within Wilds’.

First time I have seen Aleah Chapin’s work was when she, with her fresh MFA, won BP Portrait Award 2012 with her auntie’s portrait .

Her being the first American artist to win the 1st prize,  and the nature of her controversial portrait (perhaps not surprising hated by male art critics and praised by female) put her immediately on the spot. Subsequently, she also gained her gallery representation with Flowers Gallery in London.

She become internationally renowned for her Auntie series, a large-scale exploration offemale body at later stages of life.

The current show is a follow up on those series, but this time the women are placed in dark mysterious landscapes. Shown in a group of three, they are congregating as for either sharing a secret ritual like in There Were Whispers Among the Branches or a celebratory dance under the starry sky.

Our Shouts Were Drowned in the Stars

Our Shouts Were Drowned in the Stars

Rothko Room, Tate Modern

Rothko Room, Tate Modern

Under the Curve of Time

Surrounded by monumental canvases, I came to think of the affect Rothko’s work has on me; shortly described: one Rothko - meh, while room full of Rothkos- yeah. Whenever I visit Tate Modern, I never miss the opportunity to sit down and take the nearly sacred atmosphere of The Rothko Room.

There is a similar ambience in a room of full of Aleah, only completely without ‘meh’ when looking at just one work. Every single painting is painted with tremendous precision; every fold and a wrinkle of the human skin that are done without any attempt for embellishmentbecomes disturbingly beautiful exactly because of that.

To me, her images of mother holding child and her dancing aunties actually do connect to an ancient religion; a predecessor  to the present Judeo-Christian lot that we know of.

The trinity of the Male deity of Christianity - the father, son and the Holy Spirit is merely a permutation of the female deity  represented  by the trinity of the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone of the old religion. The cult  of the Great Goddess has been gradually wiped out as the mobile nomad tribes that worshiped male deities and developed weapon conquered the agricultural areas where the worship of  fertility and life  concentrated more on developing trade and art than building up defense. However, nothing ever truly disappears ; it merely  changes the appearance. That is exactly what happened with once omnipotent Goddess; although she is no longer known by her ancient names, her aspects continue to be present  through symbols and specially through art. The Maiden survived as multiple deities in  Greek and Roman pantheon - she is Artemis/Diane, Aphrodite/Venus; the Mother lives on in Virgin Mary, effectively compressing  two aspects  in one go - and the list goes on. However, what has truly disappeared for a long time is the powerful aspect of the Crone, the older woman, the matriarch. That aspect was still venerated by Greeks as Moirai and by Romans as Parcae, or the Fates. The three female elders controlled the metaphorical thread of life of every mortal and immortal from birth to death. Even the gods feared the Fates, including the big boss Jupiter. 

Of course, the arrival of Christianity turned them to old witches - still dreaded for their power, but now denied the significance and respect their wisdom deserved. From that point and to the present day, as soon as woman passed beyond the sexual attractiveness of the Maiden and the childbearing ability of the Mother, she becomes invisible - with no real place or power in society.

Regretful as it is still might be, there are some changes that gradually take place in that regard. Perhaps the change is always best reflected in art;  ring as it were the mirror of the world. Looking at Aleah’s women, marked by the process of aging, full of vitality and void of disappointment I believe she reflects thechange. Her work has a bold presence and a weighty meaning; in the world filledto the brim with images of maidens and mothers, she dares to be different and makes us see the Crone for what she really is.

Turning away from large canvases, I notice the three small, dark paintings placed on a separate wall. They are close-ups of humble wildflowers, the kind of that is difficult to notice on the ground when you walk in a thick forest. 

Flowers with five petals that have symbolic ties to the fivepointed pentacle of Venus.  In the cult of the goddess, the five petals represent the five stationsof female life: birth, flowering, motherhood, withering, and death. Whether the choice was planned or random I don’t know, but I have seen five petals flowers adorning the hair and the robes of goddesses and saints in Renaissance.

Myosotis

Santa Catherine crowned, Bartolomeo Veneto

Santa Catherine crowned, Bartolomeo Veneto

Primavera, Botticelli

Primavera, Botticelli

Sleeping Girl, Domenico Fetti

Sleeping Girl, Domenico Fetti

I’ve really enjoyed the show; the only exception would be that I would like to see more paintings. Was it worth to leave my studio on a rainy day to see it anyway? Absolutely.


Natalie Holland is a contemporary realist artist, best known for her highly skillful ability to portraiture humanity in her work. 

She received her education in St.Petersburg Academy of Arts, started her career as artist in Norway and,  after attending the studio of Odd Nerdrum in Oslo, proceeded to exhibit internationally, with gallery shows in Norway, Italy, USA and UK.

In 2007 she moved to London, where she currently works. Here, she exhibited at BP Portrait Award 2009 and several times with the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, Royal Institute of Oil Painters and Federation of British Artists at Mall Galleries.