By George Franklin
Some interesting and astute questions have come my way from collectors about the works of Shaun Taylor. A couple of recent ones are in regard to, “Still Life With Grapes”. These are questions that have nothing to with form or color though those elements are of course important. One question is, why the choice of objects painted? Was the painting merely a collection of random decisions or was it carefully thought out? I always appreciate philosophical discussions and as someone who looks for underlying meaning not just in a painting but in a novel or a conversation, I must confess that in my own personal collection I rarely purchase something that use representational objects without understanding the meaning of them .
Often when viewing works of art ( or anything actually) we look at them on a superficial level but if we understand symbols, we can get a story from the painting or work of art. In Taylor’s “Still Life with Grapes”, we have an abundance of meaning. The focal point and undoubtedly the most important object considered is the bunch of grapes and the vine. What easily comes to mind (initially, at least) is the symbolism of Dionysus, the god of vintage in Greek mythology. But the grapes and the vine also have another meaning, one just as ancient with the vine being the symbol of God’s chosen people, the children of Abraham. Furthermore, In the Bible, grapes are used as a symbol for altruism. Grapes are mentioned frequently as positive objects. Wine, by extension, is said to represent faith because it derives from grapes. In "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," by Julia Ward Howe, God is said to be "trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored." In this case, the grapes symbolize anger that destroys evil.
The other prominent object represented in “Still Life With Grapes”, is the mirror. Mirrors, as symbols in art, are replete with meaning. The oracle of Apollo at Delphi demanded of the ancient Greek ‘know thyself,’ and mirrors have often been used as symbols of wisdom and self-knowledge. But Apollo also required ‘nothing in excess,’ and the mirror can just as easily imply vanity, an unhealthy amount of self-regard. The peril of over admiring one’s mirror image is encapsulated in the ancient Greek myth of Narcissus, the beautiful boy who having fallen in love with his reflection in a pool, pined away and was turned into a flower. In Christian art the mirror came to represent the eternal purity of the Virgin Mary. As the medieval writer Jacobus de Voragine wrote: “As the sun permeates glass without violating it, so Mary became a mother without losing her virginity… She is called a mirror because of her representation of things, for as all things are reflected from a mirror, so in the blessed Virgin, as in the mirror of God, ought all to see their impurities and spots, and purify them and correct them: for the proud, beholding her humility see their blemishes, the avaricious see theirs in her poverty, the lovers of pleasures, theirs in her virginity.” In the history of art, gradually, however, the mirror came to be associated with the negative values suggested by the myth of Narcissus as Vanity and Deception rather than Truth and Prudence.
Another object represented in “Still Life With Grapes”, that seems to make a significant statement, is the knife. In the painting we see the knife as only a tool that serves a practical purpose. The artist has used it for another purpose, however. Many cultures have utilized the symbolism throughout time and for varying reasons. There are many general themes that have been associated with knives, as well. These include: pain, betrayal, revenge, and sacrifice. Obviously, these are not the most positive or uplifting of ideas. The most personal meaning regarding knife symbolism focuses on the nature of our minds. This relationship is a messy duality. On the one hand, our minds can speak of clarity, good fine judgement, and great actions. The mind can be caring, logical, and rational. All of the goodness from within the depths of our hearts can be lived out because of our great minds. However, the mind can play nasty tricks on us, as well. It can become our worst enemy, even stabbing its “owner” in the back. It can be cruel, tormenting us and allowing negative thoughts and images to pass through. We can only hope that this duality will not be balanced, that it will lean much more in the direction of the former.
The other objects in the painting play a lesser role and do not necessarily do more than what is already well stated symbolically in, “Still Life With Grapes”.
“Still Life With Grapes” is available for purchase at www.shauntaylorart.com For more information contact; http://www.shauntaylorart.com/contact.html
By George Franklin