Oil and 24k gold leaf on wood panel,
36"h x 48"w, Item No. 20509,
Some years ago a collector of my work sent me an article from Overland literary journal called ‘The Wildness of Girlhood’ by Bonnie Mary Liston. I was so taken by it that I held onto the article and have now based this painting (and indeed most of my current work in general) on the ‘wildness’ aspect of pre-adolescent girlhood, that connection and love for the natural world.
Here are portions of that article:
“Emily Bronte wrote in Wuthering Heights, 1847: ‘I wish I were a girl again, half savage and hardy, and free.’ Catherynne Valente wrote in Deathless, 2011: ‘She knew herself, how she had slowly, over years, become a cat, a wolf, a snake, anything but a girl. How she had wrung out her girlhood like death.’
There is a period in many little girls’ lives, around the age of ten, where they go completely wild. Not in the sense of Girls Gone Wild, which depressingly clogs up the search results, but in the most natural sense of the word – feral and free.
I’m talking about the girls who become obsessed with horses, or wolves, or witches, and who knew themselves to be wild creatures like those. They vanish outdoors, hiding in trees, sticking their hands in the dirt, making potions from mud and sticks. They escape into complex worlds of their own imagining, shared between other little girls or solitary kingdoms.
Every four years or so, the young girls of (ancient) Athens between ages of five and ten would go into the woods to make sacrifices to Artemis, run races, dance and live like bears. Literally. They were called arktoi, which means ‘little bears’, and they were supposed to run around pretending to be bears, wearing special bear skins or – following one of those periodic Athenian budget cuts – saffron-coloured robes.
If wildness is behaviour outside of societal norms, it pays to remember that society is a human invention. And while we keep working on it, adding and removing elements like the world’s largest and most volatile game of Jenga, the building blocks of our society remain fundamentally racist, sexist, and unfair to most. ‘Savage’ behaviours exhibited by Indigenous peoples living in places that other people wanted to occupy could include such terrors as: having relationships with nature that were enriching instead of destructive, not living up to western beauty standards and their puritanical shame and disgust for the human body, not participating in such occupations of civilised people as advanced weapons manufacture, capitalism, or invading and colonising. Things that seem normal in Western society, like working too many hours a week in a grey box where you can’t see the sun to pay off debts, are not natural behaviours for humans. Whereas things that might feel very natural, like the desire to jump into large bodies of water or being passionately in love with the Moon, do not always seem normal.”