Ekphrasis

Ekphrasis = a vivid, dramatic written version of an art work This is a new page about new kinds of writing about painting.

writing painting
The family on a tight rope, watercolour & ink, 42x30cm, 2022

I realise that I begin most paintings in a visual and entirely non-verbal way. The title might give some clue as to what I think it could be about but paintings are mostly give reign to my imagination, making them up as I go along.

This painting is not a myth or even a story yet. But it could be. Experimenting with inspiration from Marina Warner’s world of myth and ekphrasis, I decided to write a short ekphrastic story version afterwards. Read my ‘mythic versioning’ below…

Or if you are intrigued and inspired by the cast of characters, possible plots and metaphors, email me your ‘story’ version by July 20th 2022 and I’ll post the painting for free to whoever sends me the best myth.

The story is yet to be written – or if has been, there’s always a different version. Email: delphahudson@gmail.com

The family on a tight rope (or carnival transformations of circadian myth)

The blue and yellow chintz curtains were firmly shut. Their very stolid solidity was safe and secure and she hoped would guard against intrusions of any kind.

They did not entirely black out the bright midsummer’s evening, yet she optimistically closed her eyes and invited sleep to whisk her consciousness away as softly as theatre curtains soughing across a stage.

In this she was not disappointed. She did sleep. The only rather irritating thing was, as we all do sometimes, she dreamt vividly that she was awake.

Far above the cities and town of a rather beautiful but perhaps bucolic Britannia was stretched a tight rope. Any excitement from the vertiginous effect of finding herself balanced on this gossamer thread was somewhat ruined by the crowd that she found herself sharing the tight rope with. Indeed were it not for a sudden sharp intake of breath as she looked down, she might have found enough lung capacity to shout at these creatures that were sharing her space, although calling the inch of rope ‘a space ‘was generous to say the least.

Ridiculously threatening any possibility of living space, she asked herself, who could they possibly be?  None of these small children wrapped like anacondas around her torso were hers. Yet she felt entirely responsible for them. Fearful even. One of them was on the back of a warthog like creature, who in its friendly fashion was also letting one of the cling-on kids touch it.

She hardly dared look elsewhere or she might lose her balance and fall but from the corner of her eye she saw something ridiculously large, strange and lost on the warty creatures back. Green and slimy, she could feel something dripping like snot on her skin. Or it could be any one of the grasping children.

This made her realise with a shock that, in turn, she was also scattering something very generously into the open mouth of a she-cow. Now that can’t be right. Surely a cow is a she, so there should be no need to add ‘she’, yet there was something to entirely comically human about her. There was also a cow-girl on stilts milking her, so she wasn’t your average cow for sure.

Perhaps that might be a very useful thing, she thought, as the children will need feeding. She was then annoyed at herself. Just like her to be so practical. Why couldn’t she just change places on the high wire with the cow-girl on stilts. Or the naked girl who was resting her hand fondly on the red she-cow like an affectionate familiar friend? But she didn’t fancy the look of the yellow fanged creature. Perhaps that’s why the couple in the corner seemed to be cowering at a safe distance.

Certainly changing places with any of them seemed preferable to the sticky residue rippling off the amphibious thing behind, which was threatening to make the babies and children slither off. Of course, by now she wanted them to slide off, as she was getting very tired. Yet she decided, she would not make any sudden movement, she would stay still and do her bit – the best she could do in the circumstances – and hope not that she and her surrogate children would not be pulled in by the swirling mountain between the curtains.

Ah the curtains….

Delpha Hudson June 2022

Writing is integral to the production of ‘visual texts’. You can read other notes on paintings by Delpha here:

example of latest painting
The sixth sense of understanding, in the studio November 2021, acrylic on canvas, 200x180cm

Writing on ‘The sixth sense of understanding’

Whilst I don’t often so directly reference other works of art (though like all painters appropriate constantly) I was drawn to the imagery, colours, and patterns in the most beautiful of all Tapestry Cycles La dame a Licorne a series of 15th century Flemish works in the style of mille-fleurs.

Interested in the symbolism of animals and plants and interpreting them, five of the tapestries are understood to depict the senses whilst the one I reference –  the sixth tapestry’s meaning is more obscure. It bears the words ‘a mon seul desir’ – ‘to my desire’, yet one of the interpretations I like best is that it is not about selfishness but represents the sixth sense – understanding. Since my paintings address care and empathy in order renegotiate status for such acts (often by women), re-appropriating some of the symbolism seems a perfect way to re-represent women’s lived experiences.

I had been painting curtains, using the canvas as woven cloth to reference women’s work and proposing affirmative change in domestic space. Figures invading household patterns, replacing the idea of merely looking (witness) with Ettinger’s empathetic notion of ‘with-ness’. We are all in the warp and weave of everyday life but asking questions about what we value.

Zooming in on central tent of the ‘a mon seul desir’ tapestry, the flaps of the tent in my painting become curtains. The central figure is a strange composite medieval-contemporary figure, who looks askance at the tree as she  plucks a pomegranate. Pomegranates represent fertility, but also a pause in fertility—perhaps in myth and in life. She has a red dress with a panel featuring female figures in childbirth, Medusa and a baby roughly painted in her muff(!)

On the curtains and the floating sphere on which she stands, mythical and everyday creatures mix with pattern and become the pattern. It was a departure for me to include animals in painting. They became mythical creatures, metamorphosing half-women half beast composites. Aiming to humorously represent domestic lives of mothers and carers, I also wanted to create new transformative symbolism. I threw everything into the patterns – monsters, unicorns, rabbits, dancing bears, she-wolves, lions, bat women (Jorugama), a qualupalik (an Icelandic monster created to scare children away from the ice) stryx, babies riding goats, and children in unicorn T. shirts clutching cuddly toys.  

The extreme eclectic mix becomes almost a carnivalesque experience, an alternate reality certainly, and an alternative space. Bakhtin’s notion that the carnival creates an alternative social space characterised by freedom, equality and abundance is a useful one. During medieval carnivals rank was abolished and everyone was equal. People were reborn into different human relations. Useful ideas for ways in which we might transform and metamorphose representations of domestic life, women and carers.

Figures, animals and hybrid creatures find their way through our subconscious and can confront contemporary concerns. Ancient myths, symbols and patterns speak to us in the present and and offer visions of complex yet changeable realities. 

Delpha Hudson, December 2021

painting for sale
Consider the lilies…oil & bitumen on canvas, 150x180cm, 2021

I love the idea of a process that creates multiple paintings within a painting. The title is taken from a biblical quote that infers that we need not work or toil as all will be provided. This painting laughs at the implication as in patriarchal societies often it is women who do all the work. It also riffs on a famous lily pattern design textile and classical Italian painting with the figure who pulls back the curtain.

The lily pattern is eaten away and partly destroyed in replication and an additional cast of characters hide in its domestic undergrowth. They are all care-givers and home-workers. The loosely dripped black bitumen paint provides dark treacly textures that obscure and destroy the pattern further. The cloth, the linen and the material (the subject and object) of painting create an interplay between our material senses and our experiences. Patterning becomes a language to be subtly invaded and changed, as dark symbol for adaptation.

Delpha Hudson, June 2021

painting for sale
Despised and ashamed I tell you truly by them all I am condemned, 190x160cm, mixed media on canvas, 2021

This is the first of a series of new large paintings on canvas that feature tapestry-like curtains as the main stage on which narratives play out. For mental health reasons, I have for many years often visualised cloth or curtains to cover ‘subjects’ of anxiety. They help me to prevent hamster wheels in my head. Like shutting a book on an unpleasant chapter, you know it may open up again but it gives temporary respite. The process has had limited success as things always leak through, yet it has helped to cloak some things until I could deal with them.


The title is a quote from Aechylus’ play ‘Clytemestra’, and aims to mock societal condemnation of women that aggravates their frequent feelings of guilt. Something that mothers and women so often experience. The painting’s medievalesque figure-stories explore women caught between societal judgement and an inherent guilt that tells them they must be a fault. Visually exploring past and present reveals devious cultural psychologies that trap women in cycles of guilt and anxiety and suggest that we share and laugh at our common condition in the hope that we can change society and ourselves.

Delpha Hudson, January 2021

oil painting for sale
Last and least wait till everything else has been eaten, oil & bitumen on canvas, 60x50cm, 2021

Paintings create rich tapestries of dark yet colourful scenes that aim to re-shape our thinking about equality and visibility. Narrative is a central function of language and to learn to speak is to tell a story – yet that story has primarily been written or illustrated by men. Creating differentiated narratives that layer and connect time, people and equality, takes us on a journey and that ‘once upon a time’ tells us that things change. As we exist in the middle of our stories, we all need to be reminded that we can make the ending different.

The title is inspired by ‘The Double X Economy’ by Linda Scott.

Delpha Hudson, 2021

painting for sale
A history of domestic appliances, oil on canvas, 100x120cmx4cm, 2021


Exploring power relations and hierarchies, the title denies its historical and religious references, yet patriarchy is there in the central trinity of figures juxaposed with a coat of arms of 5 ‘diapers’, the diamond patterns that led to the synonymous American ‘diapers’ because of the diamond pattern cloth. We call them nappies in the UK.

Bizarre domestic settings situate women and mothers in new imaginary realms that challenge domestic legacies of inequality, guilt and misrepresentation that damage women’s mental health. Dripping and layering canvases creates dynamic networks from which figures weave narratives that aim to humorously engage our empathy and propose that we initiate new conversations about who and what we value.

Delpha Hudson, 2021

delpha hudson painting for sale
Song of the masses as they pass on by, 80x100x4cm, 2020

Painted during lockdown, I had sketched out ideas for this painting nearly a year before. I was thinking about overcrowding and the political push for more housing; the idea of ‘space as the final frontier’  – and often the tipping point for poverty for many as housing is a huge issue – and a very pressing local issue here in Cornwall.

Strange now, to finally complete the painting as we create space between us because of the Pandemic. The thought of humanity crushing together, it seems, will be increasing an anachronism even in cities, and many countries around the world. Most of us have the luxury of some space. But if we do not? What are the psychological pressures on people who don’t have enough living space and who cannot get away from others? (even their families). You might recognise a nod to Gin Alley, Goya’s flying figures, the star trek enterprise, colourful skyscrapers and surreal buildings with ‘eye’ graffiti (from a photos of a real place). This is a busy, gaudy palette of colour used to communicate the joy and distress of humanity – with dreams of escape.

Delpha Hudson, June 2020

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