The Desire to Go Deeper Down: The Meaning Behind 'I'll Walk Into Your Parlour' Part 2
In my last post - Click Here if you missed it - I detailed how depression led me down a path where I actively tried to see how depressed I could get, to see just how far I could go down. Now I'll look at how this all fits in with my painting 'I'll Walk Into Your Parlour'.
Firstly, let's look at the title: it's fairly obviously a reference to the Mary Howitt poem 'The Spider and the Fly' which has the first line:
'Will you walk into my parlour?' said the Spider to the Fly.
In the poem, the spider eventually charms the fly to a dinner party where the delicacy on the menu is Pie and Mushy Flies. Munch, munch. In my painting, all of the charming and seducing has already been done and I'd reached the point where I would willingly enter the spider's abode. I actively wanted to seek its slathering maw. The composition echoes this idea of a spider's web with the lines of the descending walls converging on the centre of the eye.
There are lines bisecting these converging lines that complete the web-like structure.
As I've written about in a previous post, the walls were inspired by a location in Owston Ferry that had terrified me as a child. I dreaded the thought that I would fall into the water and be consumed by the darkness.
Last time I also detailed how I would lie on the floor for extended periods of time in a misguided attempt to escape the severe mental pain I was suffering. The walls in the painting represent pain. It took me a long time to choose the colour that best felt like pain to me but I was happy with this cool blue-green that I finally mixed. At the bottom, the walls are melting and flowing down into the eye. This is exactly what I was trying to achieve by lying on the floor. I thought that I could dissolve into the floor and get away from the pain. Funnily enough, I never managed this superhuman feat.
Something that is easy to miss in the painting - especially looking at it on a tiny screen - is the small figure in the upper lefthand corner:
I don't want my paintings to reveal all of their secrets at first glance - after all depression heavily guards its secrets and intentions - so the man walking down the stairs was intentionally kept small. By this point, the depression was almost fully in control and there was very little left of me. My thoughts almost exclusively belonged to the illness. The tiny part of me that was left was being guided to a false safety. What will the man do when he reaches the bottom of the stairs? In my mind, he steps off into space without a single second's pause. We're back to the title again...
In each of my paintings, I've included a creature. For this one, I wanted a creature so huge that only a small part of it would be seen: the eye. You can imagine the rest for yourself. The idea on which I based the creature was safety. That is what I thought I was going to get by going deeper into depression. I used my usual process of free association in the planning phase of the painting and a number of interesting words came up that somehow related to safety in my mind: 'creation', 'start of life' and 'many animals'. At the time, I didn't consider how they were related but on looking back I wondered whether this was a desire to restart the world, to move away from the pressures of modern life and begin again.
Everyone will have a different view on what the pressures of modern life are, but for me they revolve around an endless cycle of working too many hours and having no life just so that you can buy stuff or do things to make you happy. The only thing is, the initial high of purchasing new stuff wears out incredibly quickly and the next 'must have' pops into view. All of these purchases and expensive experiences are then posted on social media for all to see, get envious about and work even harder (or take out loans) to then pay for even better stuff and experiences. None of this made me happy. For me the opposite is definitely more true, spending time with people I care about engaging in simple experiences makes me happy. When I think back to my childhood and the favourite of my granddad, it's this: walking home from school with him, talking about what we'd done that day and eating some fresh strawberries that he'd just picked from his garden. The cost? Hardly anything. How much was it worth? A stupid amount of happiness.
I recently watched a documentary about a woman dying from cancer and someone said to her that no-one on their death bed wishes that they'd bought more stuff or had more expensive experiences, they wish they'd spent more time with loved ones and I think that's very true. So for me, this creature had to represent a return to simpler times, although not necessarily a return to some rose-coloured glasses past. This would be a fresh start with less work for everyone, a lot less stuff and less of a focus on image and more on enjoying the experiences we have in a mindfulness type fashion. This is my idea of safety from the modern world.
Many animals were used in the creation of the creature: Sea Anenomes, Wolf Fish, Fangtooth Fish, Regal Horned Lizards, Leaf Beetles, Blue Poison Dart Frogs, Common Vampire Bats (for the creature's nose - as an aside if you want to see some really strange noses, search for bat noses, they're very impressive) plus I added a few slug-like tentacles as a garnish (I couldn't resist!). All of the constituent parts swirl around towards the centre as if in a whirlpool; vicious circles are a huge part of depression and I wanted to show this visually. One of mine - there were many - went something like this: I lay on the floor because I was depressed, this led to more feelings of worthlessness, so I became more depressed etc.
I gave the creature a cataract to blind it. This was to show that the depression didn't treat its attack on me personally. It was the same as any other illness. It went about its business without ever seeing its victim, it just got on with the job of making me depressed.
Depression took me to some very dark places. The idea that I went there willingly scares me. But now, if I ever found myself back there I hope that I would be able to spot the spider's web that I am diving into and take steps to avoid it.
If you have your own interpretation of my painting, please let me know in the comments box below. I'd be interested to read them.