Artemis arrives at Glyndebourne in May 2012
Deborah Bell is a leading South African painter and sculptor whose work is created in dialogue with multiple worlds, texts, histories and consciousnesses. She is also widely known for her collaborative projects with William Kentridge and Robert Hodgins.
Bell’s drawings, etchings and monumental sculptures possess a kind of ‘mystical godliness’ which comes from deep within her. Her art making is a spiritual practice in which the role of the artist is to ‘co-create the world, to materialise what exists and has existed for all time’. Inspired by museum objects from ancient civilisations, including African, Babylonian and Egyptian, her work incorporates multi-layered references to past and present worlds. This connection to ancient sources and memories is linked to her spiritual beliefs and how she defines herself as an artist in Africa, working with materials such as clay and bronze.
Bell’s work is fundamentally informed by a personal search for the ‘Self’ and she often draws on spiritual imagery from a wide range of sources. This continuity of form and content within Bell’s opus allows the possible meanings within her work to reach beyond the personal search of the artist herself.
I first started working with the image of Artemis/Diana The Huntress in the 1980’s. In Titian’s depiction of her in “The Death of Acteaon” she moves into the painting in full stride – right arm out holding her bow, whilst the left is pulled back in memory of the arrow released.
I responded to this representation of female power, focus and freedom, and used it in my own work as a symbol of some promise of the future. At times I just used the image of the bow, and in one instance I portrayed a woman trapped between wall and pulled back door, whilst her bow hangs on an opposite wall out of reach, evoking powerlessness and despair. However, as a symbol of feminine power, she also appeared in many paintings, etchings, drawings and even ceramics. I have been holding the thought of creating a sculpture of her for many years. I knew she had to be monumental, and in 2010 I built a new studio space to house her construction. When I had the armature complete, and was beginning to clad her in plaster, my three Great Danes came to join me, and moved around me as I worked. Their scale in relationship to the piece was perfect, and this inspired me to create three mythical dogs to accompany her.
Artemis was a demanding sculpture to make – she insisted on her pound of flesh. I fell off the ladder, broke a toe and damaged my ribs, and the constant vibration of the angle grinder took a toll on my hands, which resulted in surgery. However, despite all this, I knew I had to complete her. She was my promise of the future. Now, she strides forward, but no longer holds her bow in her right hand. Instead, her right arm becomes the arrow. With her eyes closed and her unstrung bow held lightly in her left hand, her focus and intent become the way forward through her outstretched arm – and her dogs, eyes wide open, quivering in onwards rushing purpose, become the arrows of her desire.
In England, and at Glyndebourne, Artemis will be at home – not only is there the claim that in Celtic times a temple to the Goddess Diana stood where St Paul’s is today, but she is has her place in opera – take ‘Phaedra’, Iphigenia in Aulis, L’abore di Diana…
Deborah is represented by the John Martin Gallery. A full biography and further information can be found here: http://www.jmlondon.com/artists/deborah-bell/
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