Lion: 6 1/2” x 7” x 4 1/2” - oil on canvas, plastic, archival board, steel wire, wood, acrylic paint, glass
Hercules may well be the first lion tamer. His struggle with the Nemean Lion ended with him getting a super powered cloak impervious to weapons, and the vanquished lion becoming immortalized as the constellation Leo. These days the lion act at the circus may consist of an aged cat prodded to jump through a ring of fire, while PETA members protest that lions belong in the wild. PETA may have a point, but lions and humans have been pitted against each other since the gladiators fought them.
Lions are apex predators that bring down prey often larger than themselves. They are designed by nature to be efficient killers with their powerful jaws, long fangs and sharp talons. For a man to beat a lion he must have great prowess in fighting and courage. Throughout history these qualities have been coveted, lauded, and rewarded across civilizations.
The lion is also a sun symbol. Their mane resembles the corona of the sun and their golden color mimics the sun. The sun shines from Leo during the hottest time of the year, late July and early August. August is also the month when the Nile floods. Because of this, the head of a lion is often used as a font on fountains to symbolize the sun and the source of the Nile’s life giving water.
My inspiration for Lion lay with the banner. I have long held a fascination with circus and carnival banners. Their loud colors and sensational imagery would fire my imagination, often in ways that would make it impossible for reality to compete. There was also something horrific and frightening about the subjects they were advertising. Provocative and voyeuristic, they relied on our baser curiosities to capture our attention. As a child, my parents firmly forbade me to enter into the dim and creepy recesses of the sideshow. When I was finally able to quench my long held curiosity, there was crushing disappointment. What was so tantalizingly appealing on the banners was in reality often a fraud, or nearly so. The banner images could set the imagination running, but the reality was a tawdry ruse. This became one of my major life lessons in disillusionment. Was it my fault for expecting something impossible, or was it the fault of the circus for advertising falsely? A little of both I believe, even if Barnum did call the public suckers.
Still, the imagery on the banners stayed with me. On them the lions looked more fierce, regal and frightening then their pallid and toothless real life counterparts. The banner images lived and fostered a world of my own creation where such perfection and magic could exist, where the impossible seemed probable, and however horrible our fears, they were never a danger. -AB
Lion was part of the exhibition, Dangerous Toys
at Curious Matter, October 13 - November 11, 2012