RSC Collaboration - Full Fathom Five

Recently on display 2018-2019 (created 2006-2007)

a cherubin thou wast

a cherubin thou wast

53 X 53 CM

acrylic and sand on board with hand painted pine mount

Prospero and Miranda sit by a glowing brazier. Miranda asks her Father what trouble she was to him during their expulsion from Milan aboard what her father calls a "rotten carcass of a butt, not rigged, nor tackle, sail nor mast - the very rats instinctively [had] quit it."

"O, a cherubin thou wast," he tells her, "that did preserve me."

I was attracted to the shapes of the huddled actors sitting on Miranda's pink coat. The scene invokes paternal love. I chose to create an intimate Renaissance-like work, surrounded for symbolic reasons by a sturdy grey and gold mount. In the play the characters sit by a glowing fire. I added red eyes, perhaps Ariel invisibly watching - a non-human spirit observing the love of a father for his child.

My liberty.

My liberty.

53 X 50.5 CM

acrylic on pine panel in hand painted frame within internally painted box frame incorporating sand and shells

"Is there more toil?" Ariel asks Prospero. "Since thou dost give me pains, let me remember thee what thou hast promised, which is not yet performed me."

"How now? Moody?" says Prospero, "What is't thou canst demand?"

Ariel, who was the slave of the witch Sycorax and freed by Prospero from confinement in a 'cloven pine' by her, longs for his freedom. "My liberty," he cries.

Ariel was discovered by Prospero trapped in a tree. My painting shows the spirit's agonised face, half formed by the knots in the pine wood surface. This image is hardly present, and further obscured by painted glass. The shells and sand are from Ariel's world; the realm of a nymph of the sea. In this production Ariel has a vampiric presence: a disembodied ashen-faced entity. My painting on wood is alluding to the startling Egyptian coffin portraits of the Roman period.

Full fathom five

Full fathom five

102.5 X 83 CM

acrylic and gold leaf on board with hand painted pine mount within internally painted box frame and painted outer frame

(Song from Ariel to Ferdinand)

Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes,
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change,
Into something rich and strange.
Sea nymphs hourly ring his knell.

"A strenuous black calligraphy loops and curls round the volume of green; mottled and patchy areas of white interact with these, while the green is 'seasoned' with amounts of other colors."

Nicolas Pioch, description of Jackson Pollock's Full Fathom Five 1947, The Museum of Modern Art, New York

The shape of Ferdinand and Ariel locked in an icy grip reminded me of the words sung by Ariel's accompanying spirits - "Ding, dong bell." I wanted to show Ariel as Death, holding life-vest-clad Ferdinand in taunting embrace. Ariel's song implies Ferdinand's father is submerged in undersea limbo. These words have significant personal meaning to me.

Wondrous heavy

Wondrous heavy

56 X 58 CM

acrylic, wax crayon, coloured pencil and sand on paper with pencil on card mount and painted slip

Gonzalo, Adrian and Francisco are overcome with drowsiness and drop into an enchanted sleep. Alonso becomes similarly afflicted. "I wish mine eyes would, with themselves, shut up my thoughts. I find they are inclined to do so."

Antonio and Sebastian offer to guard the sleepers. "Thank you," answers Alonso. "Wondrous heavy."

When the four slumber by an upturned boat, Antonio and Sebastian begin to plot the murder of Alonso and Gonzalo.

Sleep. Death. Shakespeare interchanges them. The boat could be a coffin, or a means of transport to the Underworld. I was interested to use profiled figures as in Egyptian art. Seth and Osiris: brothers in murderous conflict. I chose to show pencilled notes and ideas around the painting, which is like the play itself, an artifice.

And look how well my garments site

And look how well my garments site

97 X 78 CM

acrylic on board with hand painted pine mount

"Say this were death that now hath seized them," says Antonio to Sebastian as they look at the sleeping Alonso, Gonzalo, Francisco and Adrian. "What a sleep were this for your advancement!"

Sebastian begins to understand Antonio's meaning: assassinating Alonso will allow Sebastian to become King of Naples. "I remember you did supplant your brother Prospero," he states.

Antonio adopts a regal posture. "True: And look how well my garments sit upon me, much feater than before ..."

Antonio's posture captivated me. I identified with his confident swagger even whilst being repelled by it. He is the usurping Duke of Milan, yet Prospero had neglected his people. I painted his face to match his clothes: either the cloth fits or he is as insubstantial as his robes - an actor in a costume.

O brave monster! Lead the way.

O brave monster! Lead the way.

75 X 75 CM

acrylic, sawdust, sand, cork and gold leaf on board with hand painted pine mount within internally painted box frame

Alonso's butler Stephano and chef (folio: fool) Trinculo encounter the wild foundling Caliban. Stephano has a stash of wine and is liberal in using it to entice Caliban into servitude. Brutish Caliban is regarded as a monster by Trinculo. After Stephano persuades Caliban that he is "the man in the moon" the three begin drunkenly revelling. Caliban promises to show Stephano the riches of the isle. "O brave monster!" Stephano cries triumphantly. "Lead the way."

Here is a political state in miniature. Stephano, freed from servitude to Alonso, creates a new hierarchy, in which Trinculo is an intermediary and Caliban a slave. Fuelled by drink, Stephano bullies Trinculo and Trinculo bullies Caliban. This is a male group dynamic remaining commonplace to this day.

Do you love me?

Do you love me?

112 X 64 CM

acrylic and pencil on board mounted on brown paper with grey painted slip

Ferdinand, incapable of resisting Prospero's powers, is forced to move logs. Miranda appears. Within minutes Prospero's plan seems to be working. Miranda and Ferdinand are bantering flirtatiously. "The very instant that I saw you did my heart fly to your service," says Ferdinand, "there resides to make me slave to it, and for your sake am I this patient log man."

Miranda responds: "Do you love me?"

Here Ferdinand is "measuring up" Miranda. But his instant infatuation is mysterious. The extent of Prospero's powers are unknown. Can he influence minds? From the rehearsal through to the performance Miranda's childlike stance fascinated me. I wanted to capture her on the brink of stepping forward into the unknown.

Be not afeard.

Be not afeard.

89 X 67 CM

acrylic and gold leaf on board with hand painted pine mount

Stephano, Trinculo and Caliban are rich in drink. Caliban persuades Stephano that he should kill Prospero. About to exit to carry out the plot, strange music drifts forth. Stephano and Trinculo fall prostrate, believing the music heralds the arrival of demons. "Are you afeard?" asks Caliban.

Stephano feigns bravery: "No, monster, not I."

Caliban looks up to the sky that is all he has ever known. "Be not afeard," he implores them.

The "Be not afeard" speech by Caliban is one of Shakespeare's most beautiful. Yet it is spoken by what Prospero calls, "a devil, a born devil, on whose nature nurture can never stick." Does this speech show Caliban has a heart? If he has, his treatment is heart-piercing.

In adversity there can be beauty; in a crisis there can be joy. Bird, fish, plane? Dark forces hanging and the richness of love all around.

A living drollery!

A living drollery!

70 X 90 CM

acrylic, wood glue, lacquer and human hair on board and wood, with pencil and ink on card mount

The king's party stop to rest during their fruitless search for the king's lost son. "By'r lakin," Gonzalo sighs, "I can go no further." Just then "strange shapes" appear, bearing a sumptuous feast.

"What harmony is this?" asks Alonso, reacting to the "solemn and strange music" he can hear.

"Marvelous sweet music!" says Gonzalo.

Sebastian is sarcastic: "A living drollery!" he declares, "now I will believe there are unicorns ..."

In this production of The Tempest a huge sled-borne seal is the banquet. The "strange shapes" are mask-wearing goddesses or spirits, in hooded fur coats.

The music is a drone; mysterious and sombre. These are indeed strange shapes: frozen in a painting, yet moving in an endless seeming cycle, as in the famous painting by Munch The Dance of Life.

(Drollery = puppet show)

"Come, children, let us shut up the box and the puppets for our play is played out." Thackeray, closing line of Vanity Fair.

You have made me mad.

You have made me mad.

67 X 84 CM

acrylic, wax crayon, chalk and ink on paper within internally painted box frame incorporating feathers and mirror

Alonso and his companions decide to feast on the viands presented to them by Ariel's ghostly spirit helpers. As they begin to eat Ariel enters in the form of a harpy. To the sound of thunder and lightning he claps his wings and the feast vanishes.

Ariel addresses the three conspirators who supplanted Prospero: "you 'mongst men being most unfit to live - I have made you mad; and even with such-like valour, men hang and drown their proper selves."

My painting's title deliberately twists the text's words. In the play Ariel claims responsibility for the madness Alonso and the others are experiencing. But "mad" can also mean angry. Ariel is tired of the servitude he has been forced to endure. We look at the painting and in the mirror see ourselves. Are we therefore the angry slaves - or are we the manipulative masters?

stand by please

stand by please

62 X 62 CM

acrylic on pine panel in hand painted frame within internally painted box frame

"These our actors, as I foretold you, were all spirits, and are melted into air, into thin air ..."

Ferdinand and Miranda will soon be instructed to sit on chairs by Prospero, to watch a masque performed by spirits. They are anticipating wedlock.

Notes from artist's sketchbook - dress rehearsal Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon 28th July 2006

A tension in the empty theatre, almost silent tiny whispers, the odd deep drum quietly hit, papers rustling, a sudden fraught shout: "can we have you standing by please ..."

I here abjure

I here abjure

82 X 112 CM

acrylic and sand on board with hand painted mount and painted glass

Prospero asks Ariel about Alonso's party. Ariel reports they are caught in enchanted limbo, imprisoned until released by Prospero's command. "Your charm so strongly works 'em that, if you now beheld them, your affections would become tender."

Ariel's humanlike show of feeling causes Prospero to reflect on his own drive for vengeance. "Not a frown further," he commands, "go release them ..."

Left alone he resolves to abandon his powers: "... this rough magic," he soliloquizes, "I here abjure ..."

Prospero is abandoning both his powers and his thirst for revenge. He has called up the storm and now that storm diminishes. I see him as a hurricane-like swirl abjuring the smallest degree of strength. In this scene a mighty, almost electrical force subsides. Prospero falls to his knees kingly in weight, yet spilling potency - the ultimate marriage with his magical powers consummated.



62 X 62 CM

acrylic on board within internally painted box frame

Ariel enters bringing with him Alonso and the others. They become suspended like statues. Prospero looks at his usurpers. "A solemn air, and the best comforter to an unsettled fancy, cure thy brains, now useless, boiled within thy skull" he says eyeing them, "there stand, for you are spell-stopped."

This is the only painting in my series to depict real life. The actors, having broken from rehearsing Act V, wait in sweltering heat before deciding how to proceed. The date is Tuesday 18th July 2006, one of the hottest of the year. The cue they chose to resume from was "spell-stopped".

Let your indulgence set me free. Exit.

Let your indulgence set me free. Exit.

53 X 53 CM

acrylic, gold leaf and sand on board with hand painted pine mount

"Now my charms are all o'erthrown," says Prospero at the beginning of his final speech. The actors have now gone. He is alone on the stage; Ariel has been set free. "My ending is despair, unless I be relieved by prayer ..." he continues, pleading for audience applause to release him from his actorly obligations. "As you from crimes would pardoned be, let your indulgence set me free."

The theme of freedom runs throughout The Tempest. Each character is in some way enslaved. Now Prospero shows he is enslaved too. By leaving the stage he will become like all the other shadows we have been watching - and like ourselves too one day, our performances over.

There are thousands of people out here "trying to be artists". But one cannot "try" to be an artist. One simply is. And the only thing true artists are "trying" to do is avoid starvation.
Alan O'Cain, 14 July 2024 [SITE: A Plain Fish]