Myths and Allegories by Elsie Russell


Jean Cocteau on Myth:

"The re-interpretation of myths is essential if they are to survive. They are handed down from one generation to another like certain stories that are transmitted orally. In the process, they are constantly embellished or they lose their meaning. In any case, they are altered by every narrator. The great myths are not very many in number. Racine, Göethe, Shakespeare, knew very well why their use was so effective: myth is like a key that opens the most unsympathetic soul to writing (or visual art). I have always preferred myth to history, because history consists of truths which turn into lies, while myth consists of lies which turn into truths!"


Allegory in figurative painting is traditionally understood to be a veiled presentation of a story implied through metaphor and symbolism. Surrealist elements must be now factored into our modern understanding of this genre, including the Pandora's box of psychoanalysis.

The language of dreams and visions has its origins in the same sea as that oeuvre of the collective unconscious we call mythology. This opens the door for more personal interpretations of myths, as expressed by Cocteau, and for the mythologizing of personal visions as in the works of William Blake or my "The Madness of Hölderlin". The expression of new cultural myths like that of Frankenstein in "Frankenstein: Creator Meets Created on the Mer de Glace" or of the space aliens and proto humans in the Altarpiece to the Great Mutation also use a combination of established lore and personal vision. My Gaia Altarpiece brings together mythologies from cultures throughout history to make an allegorical manifesto for our planet. My small "Biker Bacchanal" mythologizes a motorcycle gang as if it was a group of merrymaking Arcadian deities. This is not new, as mere mortals have been depicted as gods or magic icons since the dawn of humanity. The process of idealizing human beings, their stories and their environment through art, transposes them into this timeless realm: that of the original virtual reality.

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The Three Graces
1993, oil on linen, 43"x43"
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Gaia Altarpiece
1992, oil on canvas, 48"x 48"
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1994, oil on linen 30"36"
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The Madness of Hölderlin
1995, oil on linen, 48"x60"






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The Return of Dionysus
1987-89, oil on canvas, 48"x 60"
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Frankenstein: Creator Meets Created on the Mer de Glace
1995, oil on linen, 52"x52"
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1994, oil on linen, 24"x30"
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The Loss of Eurydice
1994, oil on linen, 48"x52"
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The Discovery of Ariadne
1981, oil on canvas, 36"x48"
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The Triumph of Pan
1986, oil on linen, 40"x50"
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1982, oil on linen, 48" x 36"
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Eurynome Creates the Cosmos
1994, 27"x36"y
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The Triumph of Venus
1980, oil on canvas, 52"x 72"
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Biker Bacchanale
1994, oil on linen, 12"x16"
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1980-81, oil on linen, 36"x48"
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The Realm of Hypnos
1995, oil on linen (sketch), 22"x24"
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Altarpiece to the Great Mutation
1997-, oil on linen, 48"x52"