Updated: Oct 12
A few months ago I was either reading an art history book, or doing something art history related when I came across a painting by Thomas Cole which belonged to his series The Voyage of Life, completed in 1842. This series consists of four paintings: Childhood, Youth, Manhood, and Old Age. Considering it was 1842, and it was painted by a man... surviving the American wilderness, navigating the river of Life, having a guardian angel always watching over you. The paintings are filled with symbolism and religious intonations and were of its time.
These paintings are full of detail and are wonderful to look at, but I wanted a more modern representation and a different take, so I wondered how would I tackle the subject in my style.
This is the result:
The blabbing baby that delights everyone, is showered with soft toys, cuddly blankets and for the more ambitious parents, educational toys. And never forget the noisy toys, filled with garish sounds, those that are powered by batteries that suddenly disappear.
I wrote something of a poem to go with this painting. Those years growing up thinking nothing can destroy you while you are constantly hormonal and all emotions are heightened and everything is a disaster, but you still feel invincible.
Growing-up is tough.
Being a teenager is tough.
You want to be seen,
You want to be invisible
You want to belong
You want to pull away
You want company
You want to be left alone
Scream, shout, cry
You are a mess
You spend hours in front of a mirror
You want to be perfect
You have to be perfect
It. Is. Never. Ending.
Growing up is tough.
But you hope everything gets better.
You hope to survive it.
You make yourself invincible.
You hope to be a grown-up soon.
(R. A. Holland)
What is adulthood but a tug of war between obligations, resting, having fun, spending time with friends and family and sometimes just wanting to spend the entire weekend in bed, asleep, because you are exhausted.
Do you ever feel overstretched?
Torn between must and want?
People telling you what you should do/have, now that you're a grown-up?
That idea that if you are keeping busy, you MUST be achieving something?
Even if it leaves you so exhausted, you want to spend the entire weekend asleep....
Then back to the grind.
Occasionally fitting in a holiday here and there, but trying to cram in all the fun activities to make up for lost time.
Trying to learn how to balance work and life
This busyness is exhausting.
Each person deals with life as best as they can, and we also need to take care of our mental health. But adulthood is just dealing with all those curve balls life throws at you.
4. Transition and Harmony
Thomas Cole paints Old Age and the person dying and going to heaven. Which I see as a bit extreme because in 2022, people are living longer, old age/retirement now takes up a longer period of a person's life.
At this stage, I know several pensioners who are travelling and doing all those things they couldn't while they were stuck in their 9-5 routine. Of course, not everyone can do that is they become ill, or don't have the financial stability to do so. But they still pursue hobbies and learn how to relax - whenever possible.
This painting, however, is inspired by those who surround me, and in this case, my grandmother.
We grew up with an Erythrina tree in our garden. And I always associated that tree with my Danish grandmother. The red sword like flowers made me associate it with Denmark and it's flag. My grandmother also told me stories of the very distinct four seasons in Denmark, something we didn't really have growing up in Brasil. How the woods would turn orange and red during Autumn. I was able to witness this in person when I lived near Copenhagen for 5 years.
I decided this final painting in the Voyage of Life should celebrate my grandmother, who turns 103yo on the 22nd of October. I asked my mother to take reference pictures of my grandmother's hands so that I could paint them.
This concludes my contemporary take on The Voyage of Life.