Today’s small painting of Mercury in preparation for the larger Planets Series.
I’m creating Planets series paintings for two exhibitions this year – a smaller series of studies for a June exhibition at my studio in Abbey hill, in preparation for an exhibition and talk to take place in Autumn this year.
This is a continuation of the Planets Series I’m creating this year, which takes inspiration from the planets as understood in Medieval cosmology, and the seven books of Narnia which were each inspired by the seven planets, as discovered by Michael Ward, author of ‘Planet Narnia’.
Info about June exhibition Here
(I’ll post more about the September exhibition and talk soon, once some more details are confirmed).
Mercury corresponds to The Horse and his Boy in C.S. Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles – a book that grew on me more and more each time I read it. Its Mercurial qualities, as imagined by C.S. Lewis and explained by Michael Ward are to do with messengers, communication, speed and twins among many other things, reflecting the God Mercury (also known as Hermes) the winged messenger, the fact that Mercury rules the constellation sign of Gemini (the twins) and of course the quicksilver nature of mercury itself as a metal.
I haven’t yet posted C.S. Lewis’s ‘The Planets’ poem, which was remiss of me since it was reading this poem which led Michael Ward to the discovery that each of the Narnia Chronicles corresponds to the Medieval planets.
It’s a beautiful poem, but for today, I’ll just post the part of the poem that corresponds to Mercury …
Next beyond her
MERCURY marches;–madcap rover,
Patron of pilf’rers. Pert quicksilver
His gaze begets, goblin mineral,
Merry multitude of meeting selves,
Same but sundered. From the soul’s darkness,
With wreathed wand, words he marshals,
Guides and gathers them–gay bellwether
Of flocking fancies. His flint has struck
The spark of speech from spirit’s tinder,
Lord of language! He leads forever
The spangle and splendour, sport that mingles
Sound with senses, in subtle pattern,
Words in wedlock, and wedding also
Of thing with thought.
It’s difficult to say why I enjoy the Horse and his Boy so much out of the series, it’s richly imagined, as always, with atmospheric contrast between the lush decadence of Tashban, the brutally hot desert and the cool green woodlands and hills of Archenland. Descriptively it’s testimony yet again to Lewis’s genius for relating atmosphere, but I think the characters are equally compelling.
The two main characters, Shasta and Aravis, both undergo a change in consciousness – Shasta experiences acceptance for the first time in his life since being abandoned as an infant. Aravis also experiences acceptance, and learns compassion and consideration for others, having been treated if anything even more cruelly than Shasta.
In the book, Aravis tells her story (in a style the horse Bree describes as ‘high Calormen’ , stylistically the equivalent of the Arabian Nights). She describes how, after her mother died, her father re-married and arranged to have Aravis married off to a man decades older, who she has never met, although she’s only 12 years old.
Aravis decides that suicide is the only route to escape, and sets herself to this grim task in a forest clearing, but her mare, Hwin (a talking horse from Narnia who’s been captured in slavery) intervenes and pleads with Aravis to live and attempt escape to Narnia.
Harrowing stuff for a ‘children’s story’, but as always Lewis deals with these more brutal realities using a distanced or lighter touch; in this case ‘High Calormen style’, yet it’s still one of the most moving passages in the Narnia Chronicles. And it demonstrates several Mercurial qualities:
Commerce – com-merce. Merchants. The idea of Mercury the messenger- trading and exchange. Aravis is being sold by her own family. Shasta’s adoptive father also tries to sell him to a rich merchant.
Communication – verbosity, writing, speech. Aravis has a fine, articulate grasp of language thanks to a privileged, though cruel, up-bringing.
Shasta then becomes an involuntary messenger who has to deliver important news with haste – he discovers that Archenland, ruled by King Lune, and then the castle of Cair Paravel in Narnia will be attacked by Calormen.
Shasta, Aravis, and the horses Bree and Hwin must speed across the desert from Tashban to Archenland to warn King Lune before they’re attacked, and in the final rush to warn the king, Shasta has to run across land for miles to deliver the message before it’s too late. All very Mercurial! Lastly, he discovers that he is in fact the twin of King Lune’s son – bringing in the Mercury and Geminian theme of twins.
When painting my view of a castle under the influence of Mercury, I tried to get the sense of quicksilver through paint dripping and merging representing the sea that surrounds the castle at high tide – Same but sundered – the idea of twos in birds flying above the castle (winged messengers), and two very small boats which might meet in the waterways. The last idea was a reference to words and communication (a bit clunky maybe as a reference!) in the fine blue lines drawn horizontally suggesting writing paper. Mercury is a bright star, and represents bright ideas too, so I gave the castle a halo of light, which doesn’t show up quite so well in the photo (at the top of this post). I think it works quite well as an image.
And here’s a quick sketch I did earlier ..
Tomorrow I’ll post my Moon painting, which still needs a bit of work…