Have you ever had a wish to create something for years? That is exactly how I felt about my vision for the mythological figure of Medusa.
In Greek mythology, Medusa is one of the three Gorgons, female figures with venomous snakes in the place of hair. Although ancient Greeks imagined the Gorgons as monstrous, around the fifth century BC, sculptors and vase-painters provided a different depiction. Medusa was envisioned as terrifying yet beautiful.
This image was enhanced by the Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses, in which Medusa originally was a beautiful maiden, but when Poseidon (Neptune) assaulted her in the temple of Athena (Minerva), Athena punishes Medusa by transforming her hair into snakes and causing her gaze to turn any man into stone.
The hero Perseus was the one decapitating her head. After using the head to turn a complete army into stone, defeat a sea monster and to kill the king who ordered Medusa’s demise, Perseus eventually gave the head to the goddess Athena, who placed it onto her own shield.1
A fascinating myth indeed. I was determined to make my version terrifying, yet beautiful.
Finally in 2017 I found my face for the portrait of Medusa and thus, I started.
1 Wikipedia, Medusa
Instead of including the snakes in the underpainting, I went ahead with a layer of colour in the face first. In part because I was inpatient, but also because I had yet to research the snakes.
I contacted a local reptile store, Repticura in Leeuwarden and explained my project. The people were very knowledgable and friendly, so that same afternoon I visited, to take a closer look at the reptiles.
Holding a snake in your hands, makes you aware of the strength, as the body uses all its muscles to move forward.
Most of my paintings start with a tonal brown underpainting. Then I continue with multiple layers of colours.
The painting was supposed to be part of a group exhibition, but I wasn’t able to finish it in time. Instead gallery De Fabriek, allowed me to finish the painting during the course of the show.
Until then, I was working on the portrait in my studio. One day, I walked into the studio and noticed the Medusa’s eyes followed mine to the other side of the room. A most welcome surprise, as this definitely helped with the fear of Medusa’s gaze.
Working in the gallery on my Medusa painting.
The newspapers wrote about my painting process and together with the gallery, we decided to unveil the completed painting at the last day of the exhibition.
I worked on it continuously, until it was time to finally unveil the finished painting.
‘Veltman knows her classics. […] Standing on an easel, is the unfinished painting of Medusa, of which the face has fully been established. The mythological creature’s snake hair, has yet to take shape. Veltman went to the zoo and reptile store, to research both movement and behavior of the animals. She will complete the painting in the duration of the exhibition, under the watchful eye of spectators.’Van den Berg, S. (2017, 23 juni) Meer dan klassieke thema’s. Leeuwarder Courant. p.13
The painting sold right after the unveiling and is now in a private collection.
Until this day, this painting remains one of my favorites. Partly because of the visual element, but also because of the mythological enigma as well as the researching process.