I was intrigued by the description in the Cotswold Open Studios' catalogue of the latest paintings by John Lendis. "His new body of work is a pursuit of Ophelia through the Cotswold villages and through the lives of the artists who used to inhabit the places where Lendis now lives and works". So I went to see for myself and met him in his barn of a studio situated in the middle of the countryside.
When I arrived he was chatting to another vsitor and lamenting the fact that his cadmium red oil paint was taking weeks to dry on one of his large paintings. It was due to be shipped overseas imminently. Later he was very forthcoming in replying to my enquiries about the inspiration and ideas behind the images depicted in his striking and fairly large canvases. Ophelia has been imagined so many times by so many different artists that she seems to now have a life independent of the Shakespeare play. His red haired muse glides amongst the reeds in 'Kelmscott' or stares out at a snowy cotswold scene in 'Elsinore'. My personal favourite was 'Southrop Ophelia' (below) which I saw later at his gallery exhibition.
|Southrop Ophelia, 2012|
Oil on Linen
180cm x 200cm
Mr Lendis has said that for many years he has used the symbol of the fox to signify the myth of the artist which now, in these recent works, encounters the myth of Ophelia. However the painting reminded me momentarily of Gauguin's Loss of Virginity (1890) where the little wolf is sitting on the girls chest. It also called to mind some of the ideas I looked at for my Uni dissertation on 'Fairy Tales, Fine Art and Feminism'. I was researching the work on Little Red Riding Hood done by the artist Kiki Smith who tends to depict the relationship between the girl and the wolf as one of outsiders collaborating. They understand each other. And there is a suggestion that the heroine recognises something of herself in the animal. I think there's a hint of that in this painting too.
Having recently moved back to settle in the Cotwold countryside, Lendis sees this area as representing a timeless romantic spirit, rather like Ophelia herself. I have never come across his paintings before now, but apparently most of his work in the past has been an exploration of his personal relationship with the landscape or place where he lives. But he has left room for the viewers own interpretation of his images which is an aspect of great narrative painting that I enjoy.
The following week I travelled up to Moreton in the Marsh to see his exhibition entitled 'Brook' at the Celia Lendis Gallery. It was well worth the trip. Take a look here and read more about his work. I found his images really inspiring and it has sparked off loads of ideas for my own work.