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'Siren' by Conor Walton
'Siren', oil on linen, 50 x 45cm, 2012

In mythology Sirens were female figures who lured sailors to their doom with their beautiful song. To some extent I see myself in this role as a painter, luring the viewer – not necessarily to his or her doom – with a visual ‘song’ as beautiful and heartfelt as I can make it.

Rhapsode Amphora by the Berlin Painter in the Metropolitan Museum, New York
The Rhapsode Amphora
The pose of my female figure is based on the Rhapsode Amphora by the Berlin Painter in the Metropolitan Museum, New York. My siren plays on a primitive lyre made from a tortoise shell, like the ‘first’ lyre which Hermes fashioned for Apollo.

The nudity and blatant eroticism of the figure (expressive of quasi-orgasmic release, vulnerability and loss of self) reveal raw, primal energies working through the body, feelings so powerful and overwhelming that even pleasure in its outward form can resemble pain.

'Siren' (close-up)
Eroticism is emphatically not an end in itself here: while the woman’s beauty is certainly a visual lure, she is not obviously sexually ‘available’: she appears complete in herself, lost in rapture and oblivious to the viewer (who is mirrored by the distant onlooker in the boat). While her closed eyes look inward, the upward tilt of her head points heavenwards. She sings of life and fate, of ecstacy and suffering, death and rebirth. The whole of nature sings through her.

In a somewhat puritanical age when even the idea of erotic art is surrounded by doubt and moral ambivalence and often denigrated as inherently exploitative and pornographic, I think we need artists to reclaim erotic beauty and desire as fundamental aspects of human experience, deserving of the greatest respect and the most serious artistic treatment. The Erotic marks the point of highest tension between body and spirit. It is and always has been core territory for ambitious artists. Physical beauty can, of course, be an end in itself, but it can act as a physical representation of things felt powerfully but unseen, and a pathway to the metaphysical.

'Siren' (close-up) by Conor Walton

‘Siren’ is part of a series called ‘Allegories of Painting’, ongoing now for twenty years. My intention is that the figures in these pictures stand for some aspect of painting itself, an idea of its nature, its power and possibilities. I have to try to live up to this idea, and realize these possibilities in the work itself. As a painter, these pictures are thus both my ‘articles’ and ‘acts’ of faith. It is not my intention, however, that they be overly self-referential: they are obviously not just about painting. I think a consistent philosophy and outlook on the world emerges through them.

- Conor Walton, 2023