“An Exchange of Gazes” refers at one level to the gaze of a European artist discovering another culture, which mirrors back to her images that are familiar.
After many years immersed in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, I spent 2006-8 researching indigenous myths of Venezuela, discovering parallel stories. The central themes of most of these stories: - the chaos and dangerous undifferentiation symbolized by doubling and reflection, the power of the gaze, the magic of the shapeshifter who eludes the eye, the possibility of rebirth through water, - are behind the title “Mirar/Mirror”.
I also discovered a parallel bestiary of animal spirits that slither, swim and storm through these canvases, and a new source of vitality that explodes in layers of color and texture. For this inspiration, and for the opportunity to present some of my inner journey to the public, I am deeply grateful to the Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
Of the many myths about Maria Lionza, modern-day cult figure, I picked the most prominent. It was predicted that a girl with beautiful green eyes would bring ruin if she ever saw her reflection. Despite being placed under guard, she finds a lake, and when she gazes into it, a giant snake emerges, incorporating her, expanding and finally bursting, releasing her in a new form that brings prosperity and protection to her people. Narcissus, as described by Ovid, is depicted at the moment in which he realizes he is doomed by his fatal attraction to his reflection. He transforms into a flower.
As the plumes in the painting of Maria Lionza indicate, she can be seen as a modern reflection of the indigenous myth of Huiio. “A supernatural anaconda, many times larger than any visible one, Huiio is the mistress of all water and the mother of everything living in it. Quite literally ‘the Plumed Serpent’ she wears a feathered rainbow and lives under the rapids with her mawadi people”(de Civrieux,: Watunna, An Orinoco Creation Cycle).
In Venezuela, the giant anaconda is also feared as a malignant spirit whose mesmerizing gaze is fatal. Like Medusa, whose hair was a mass of snakes and whose gaze turned victims to stone.
The Shapeshifter/Encantado escapes or takes advantage of a situation by slipping into another form. In Venezuela, the pink river dolphin, Boto, assumes the shape of a man in order to seduce and impregnate young women. In Ancient Greek myth, Zeus does the same, adopting a variety of irresistible forms, of which the Swan is just one. In Metamorphoses, Ovid tells how the sailors who tried to kidnap Dionysus were transformed into dolphins, destined to protect and help future sailors. So closely were they identified with humans, that to kill a dolphin, in Ancient Greece, was considered an act equal to murder and punishable by death. As Botos age, they becomes translucent. In this painting, translucency and a swirl of shapes keep the eye guessing.