Paradise Regained: The Mythic Understanding Behind a Painting / by Sam Abelow

 “Paradise Regained,” Oil on 30x40 canvas, 2017

“Paradise Regained,” Oil on 30x40 canvas, 2017

Although it is not necessary for the enjoyment of my painting, “Paradise Regained,” I will explain the underlying symbolism that catalyzed the compositional elements.

First Trinity/The Background sections:

The section of ocean represents what is unconscious. This includes all sorts of mysterious or impenetrable aspects of the personality, both spiritual and instinctual. It would also represent the endless (i.e. the horizon goes into infinity) potential for new life, ideas, and evolution.

Below that section is a yellow and pink beach. This area of sand represents the conscious mind, or Ego standpoint. That is why it is brightly illuminated, as conscious awareness is of course what we can “see,” or “know.”

The final section is the rocky area on the bottom. Rocks are immutable and solid, as is the Self. This aspect of the personality is undeterrable, it is the watcher, the observer, the still point within, as known in Vedic and Buddhist philosophy. It also represents the substrate of being, the source of all conscious and unconscious energy. 

Because the Self is the total personality, it encompasses the sky as well. In this sense the rocky ground and sky enclose all that is happening; these sections hold the most space in the paintings, which corresponds to the vastness of such a dimension of the psyche.

Second Trinity/The Trees:

Very obviously stand three trees, although they are highly abstracted and feature no leaves, therefore acting more like pillars than natural growth.

The tree on the left is colored red, which represents the body, instinct, passions like sexuality; it corresponds to sensation, touch, bodily pleasure and fitness.

The middle tree, which is green, represents feeling, as in the ability to extend compassion, to fall deeply into love, to participate in reverence and humility from the gut and the heart. 

The final tree, on the right, is colored purple. This represents intellectual reasoning and understanding. It corresponds to the necessary pursuit of knowledge: history, theories of all sorts. It is mastery of the mental capacity; it is the expansion and application of knowledge.

Third Trinity/The Animals:

On the left there is a Great Egret. I see this bird in my local ecosystem and am always impressed with its profound beauty and elegance. I place this bird on the side of the female character in order to associate her with grace, which is an admirable quality, which extends from a certain attitude. Here, I emphasize the necessity of carrying oneself with self-respect and holding a patient perspective on life.

Center in the painting, between the persons, lying on the rocks is a snake. This animal represents all that is instinctual. I think of this internally: the sexual drive, all that is erotic. It represents the transformation of sexual libido into psychological or creative output. Therefore it is the artistic instinct.

To the right, associated with the masculine figure, is a horse. This animal represents the requirement of assertiveness and action in the world. Because I see the horse as a domesticated creature, it corresponds to the power being brought into the civilized world. It is an attitude of assuredness and confidence.

Final Trinity/The Figures:

In the focal point of the picture are three figures. From left to right: Female person, a simple idol or statue, male person.

The trinity expressed here can be analyzed and described in a myriad of ways. The feminine attributes and male attributes in a relaxed and mirrored stance. They are in harmony, so to speak. The two lovers are in a state of perfection, gazing lovingly. The idol stands behind them, centered — it represents the Ouroboric home of all psychic life, the origins of life. It is both mother and father, as well as child. The two people stand in relation to this ambitious and all-encompassing symbol.

Added details are the fruit, which the woman holds, symbolizing fertility. The man holds flowers, which stand for devotion. The combination of these two attributes indicates a bond which ensures the proliferation of new life.

Paradise Regained:

When I originally sketched out this schema the title that occurred to me was, “Our Little Paradise.” After completion of the painting, I explained the contents to my girlfriend. She suggested that “Paradise Regained” was more fitting to the narrative I had spun up.

I agreed, and liked that it was an allusion, albeit unintentional, on Milton’s epic poem “Paradise Lost.” Although I am ignorant of the meaning of this work, I know that it touches upon Adam and Eve’s notorious “Fall.”

Animals, despite being sentient, do not have self awareness. Therefore they cannot deliberate or choose one action versus another. Humans have the capacity to compare their current state of being to an ideal. This creates a pressure to act accordingly.

Along with this, bodily awareness entails a time constraint, i.e. inevitability of death, to pursuit of virtuous ideal.

So, the knowledge of “Good and Evil” in the Bible entails both a moral and existential burden.

We can ignore this reality, and anesthetize ourselves, place blame on society or circumstance. I would say this leaves us in a somewhat unconscious state.

The ultimate goal is a broader and differentiated consciousness. In this state of being there is highly unique tapestry of meaning which ensures the burdens of life are worth bearing.

In this developed state, we can regain the spontaneity and pleasures of paradise, along with the intellectual benefits and poetic beauty of cultivated consciousness.