In the court of the sultan
Oil on canvas
Image size: 30.4 X 30.4cm
Framed size: 45 x 45cm
In the court of the sultan is one of a group of little paintings that are mystical, witty and playful. They are magical tableaux with the aura of ritual or a shrine. They suggest the idea of a theatre stage and its realm of symbol and metaphor. Their size is tiny, as it would be with a small devotional religious image. The primary square shape of the format in this picture is mandala-like. The square shape is restated in borders and brackets.
Visual rhymes connect the images. The cat and the elephant correspond generally in bulk and shape, and wittily, the cat's tail sets up a mischievous dialogue with both the elephant's trunk and its teapot handle-tail. The glowing blue ball under the cat's paw echoes the nearby gleaming gooseberry. Puns and rhymes such as these conjour a world that is artificial and magical.
The elephant teapot / inverted cat conjunction is very like a mirror image, and suggests co-existent dual realities, opposites of conscious-unconscious, above-below, male-female, and their harmonious ambiguity and integration. And like a mirror image it is essentially intangible, unquantifiable, and mysterious.
A spirit of playfulness, delight and mischief is very much a part of this group of small pictures. They are odd, absurd, quirky, yet essentially serious. Their apparent charm, is deceptive, and held in check by irony, and by their cool and exact visual structures. With the postcard image of the cat, a picture within a picture, the viewer is looking at an illusion of an illusion.
The powdery pastel blue and beige colour harmony contrasts with the magically vivid hot orange gooseberry. Some of my paintings are dense, elaborate and technically complex, but here soft colour and a simple quality are appropriate.
Gentle exoticism or orientalism permeates the picture. This exoticism is quasi naïve and ironic. In this way, the picture is somehow funny while evoking something serious. The Indian elephant is only a little teapot.
Over the years I have sometimes used ordinary banal or kitschy objects but presented them as if they are precious and of special value. This reversal of the status of objects has an echo in the alchemical notion of making gold from its opposite, base matter. The choice of these lowly objects in my work is therefore not merely ironic or playful, and at a deeper level they also carry more serious meanings.
Despite or because of their puns and playfulness, I hope the picture keeps its mystery and enigma. An invitation to the viewer for imaginative participation is ever present. Even the title should tease. The pictures in this group are simple, but not simplistic. Their meanings, as with all my work, are multivalent.