#2: On Frogs

Jumping Frogwoman, October 2007, 17” h x 22” w x 20” d, painted wood, found hardware

Next to the sound of birdsong, there is nothing lovelier than frogsong of a Spring evening. In celebration of frogs, I have created a number of works over the years to communicate their critical role in the earth as we know it. Above is a small wooden version of a piece that could serve as a maquette for a larger work in steel. I also did a smaller version in steel.

Golden Jumping Frogwoman, 2014 17" h x 22" w x 20" d painted mild steel
Golden Jumping Frogwoman, 2014, MArion-Lea Jamieson, 17″ h x 22″ w x 20″ d
painted mild steel

This work continues my fascination for the past 30 years with melded animal/human figures, the myths that feature them and how they relate to changing human history.  In ancient religions these figures were  symbolic expressions of a deep spiritual understanding and represented a particular human function/attribute in its purest form.  This indicates that there was a recognition of and respect for the similarities between humans & other species and an understanding that all sentient creatures share more commonalities than differences.  This understanding was lost over time as humans became farther removed from the natural world and failed to appreciate our dependence on it.  This has led to the degradation of the planet through over-expansion of human habitat and the disappearance of the habitats of other species.

The frog is often considered the “Tunnel Canary” in the human global experiment of mining the earth and converting its resources for our use.  Frogs are one of the most sensitive species to global warming and the thinning of the ozone layer.

A male Dendropsophus microcephalus displaying its vocal sac during its call.

Wikipedia states that frog populations have declined dramatically since the 1950s: more than one third of species are believed to be threatened with extinction and more than 120 species are suspected to be extinct since the 1980s. Habitat loss is a significant cause of frog population decline, as are pollutants, climate change, the introduction of non-indigenous predators/competitors, and emerging infectious diseases. Many environmental scientists believe that amphibians, including frogs, are excellent biological indicators of broader ecosystem health because of their intermediate position in food webs, permeable skins, and typically biphasic life (aquatic larvae and terrestrial adults).

Frogs feature prominently in folklore, fairy tales and popular culture. They tend to be portrayed as benign, ugly, clumsy, but with hidden talents.  “The Frog Prince” is a fairy tale of a frog who turns into a handsome prince once kissed. The Moche people of ancient Peru often depicted frogs in their art.

Moche Frog 200 A.D. Larco Museum Collection Lima, Peru

In Panama local legend promised luck to anyone who spotted a golden frog in the wild and some believed that when Panamanian Golden Frogs died, they would turn into a gold talisman, known as a huaca. Today, despite being extinct in the wild, Panamanian Golden Frogs remain an important cultural symbol.

I have love frogs since childhood when my sisters & I would collect them from creeks & ditches & bring them home to live in our backyard pond.  Unfortunately, our cats would catch them & kill them, thus we and a million other children did our bit to reduce frog populations.

One piece I did involving frogs was based on a drawing.

Elegy, 1985 watercolour on paper 11" h x 14' w
Elegy, 1985, Marion-Lea Jamieson, watercolour on paper, 11″ h x 14′ w

Like the Three Graces in the bird blog, Elegy used a famous classical painting as a point of departure and modified it to change the message to include other species besides humans.  Later I used the drawing as a basis for a painting shown below.

Elegy, Dec. 2015 32" h x 42" w oil on canvas
Elegy, Dec. 2015, MArion-Lea Jamieson, 32″ h x 42″ w, oil on canvas

The famous painting on which it is based is the following:

Pietà (1516) Fra Bartolomeo  color on wood 62.2" × 78.3" Palazzo Pitti, Florence.
Pietà (1516), Fra Bartolomeo, color on wood, 62.2″ × 78.3″, Palazzo Pitti, Florence.

Though my first version of this painting was done in 1986, then updated 30 years later, I have been uncomfortable about showing it publicly because of concerns that some might find it offensive which is the very opposite of my intention.  I have never subscribed to the theory that the role for art is to shock the comfortable into questioning their beliefs, and I have the greatest respect for the human search for spiritual understanding and faith. I do, however feel strongly that the mass species extinction of frogs is tragic and am using the pieta symbol as a way to communicate the scope of this tragedy. Because frogs are considered a lowly species, the use of a frog figure to depict Christ may appear blasphemous to some people.  But the use of animal figures to depict Him is not something I made up to annoy people.  When in France, I was surprised to find ancient sculptures & paintings with Christ depicted as a fusion of different animals: part lion to reflect courage; part lamb to show His gentleness; part bird to show his heavenly nature; etc. It is a reflection of our distance and antagonism to the natural world that this type of representation currently rarely appears to my knowledge.

I used another painting from a life-drawing class that was less than successful to create another frog painting.  About 1997, I did a painting called Colourful Robe that exhibited the same problems as describes in the Bird Blog – paintings of women (indeed any artistic depiction of women) has a built-in Kitch factor.

Colourful Robe, 1997, Oil on canvas 36″ h x 30″ w

This is because women have been over-represented as subjects for art, and have been pimped for hundreds of years to communicate such cloying sentiments as The Eternal Woman or Motherhood, or Beauty. Now any artist that uses an image of an (especially) naked woman must deal with centuries of sentimental abuse of the female figure in art.  At one point, I thought that it was the static nature of painting, photography & sculpture that lent the female image its slightly pornographic quality, no matter how innocent the intention.  So I tried making drawings of the female body in motion, which was a slight improvement but still felt uncomfortable with it.  Then I realized that the figure of the human male suffered from the same over-exposure and was difficult to use without conveying tired clichés.

So like the painting of the woman on the beach to which I attached the Stork’s head, I turned this figure into the Frog Queen and was much happier with it. As I said, I regard all of my paintings as works in progress and only stop working on them when they are taken away from me through sale. Below is the first iteration of this painting.

Frog Queen, 2008, Oil on Canvas, 36″ h x 30 ” d

I loved the imperious expression on the models face and wanted to translate that into the Frog figure.  All of these works question & challenge the lowly status of other species and the assumption that they are lesser beings in terms of beauty, grace, authority and divine esteem. The Frog Queen suggests that if frogs ruled the world, there would certainly be no water pollution, climate change, the introduction of non-indigenous predators/competitors, and emerging infectious diseases. The world might be a much more liveable place for all of us.

Though I liked the colourful robe, again I wasn’t satisfied with the semi-naturalistic landscape setting and wanted to make the whole painting into a sculpture study.  I was interested in taking the rules that had been used with the figure and applying them to the surroundings in order to make the whole more logical or make it a world with its own logic, so to speak. In other words, I applied the restricted palette and planar surfaces to the entire canvas.  The idea was to create a reality as though carved in stone – as though the scenario was sculpted out of the side of a mountain.In recognition of my greater understanding of where this series is coming from, I re-named the painting Heket.

Heket, December 2010, oil on canvas, 36” h x 30”w

Wikepedia says that to the Egyptians, the frog was a symbol of life and fertility, since millions of them were born after the annual inundation of the Nile, which brought fertility to the otherwise barren lands. Consequently, in Egyptian mythology, there began to be a frog-goddess, who represented fertility, referred to as Heket (or Heqet). She  was usually depicted as a frog, or a woman with a frog’s head, or more rarely as a frog on the end of a phallus to explicitly indicate her association with fertility.

As a fertility goddess, associated explicitly with the last stages of the flooding of the Nile, and so with the germination of corn, she became associated with the final stages of childbirth. This association gained her the title She who hastens the birth. Some claim that—even though no ancient Egyptian term for “midwife” is known for certain—midwives often called themselves the Servants of Heqet, and that her priestesses were trained in midwifery. Women often wore amulets of her during childbirth, which depicted Heqet as a frog, sitting in a lotus.

When the Legend of Osiris and Isis developed, it was said that it was Heqet who breathed life into the new body of Horus at birth, as she was the goddess of the last moments of birth. As the birth of Horus became more intimately associated with the resurrection of Osiris, so Heqet’s role became one more closely associated with resurrection. Eventually, this association lead to her amulets gaining the phrase I am the resurrection, and consequently the amulets were used by early Christians.

I wasn’t happy with this version either as the background didn’t relate to the figure, and the robe didn’t “read” well, so I did so more work on it as shown here.

Heket, Dec. 6 2011, oil on canvas, 36″ h x 24″ w, Marion-Lea Jamieson

Like all my paintings, it is probably still a work in progress and will likely be re-worked some more in the future. I will put it away then get it out in 6 months or a year and maybe think of ways to play with it some more. Painting is a lot of fun but I already have many paintings stored and no room to store any more. If one is, like myself, more interested in painting than marketing the work, they tend to accumulate. So if I want to do some painting, I get out one of my previous works and re-do it.

I consider all of these paintings as studies for future sculptures.  This one I envision in concrete, again with subtle integral pigments.  I might go back to including the colourful robe as it would be gorgeous to do it in vitreous glass mosaic tiles so that it glowed like a robe of jewels.  I continue to seek a venue for creation of the Heket of the Frog Queen.

Another maquette using the frog/human image is a second version of Jumping Frogwoman in plaster.

Jumping Frogwoman II, 2008, 6.5″ h x 12.5 ” w x 7″ d

I also made a mold to cast her in resin but haven’t got around to it.  I would like to have her cast in bronze but it’s too expensive.

 

 

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