R. H. Ives Gammell: The Hound of Heaven

by Elizabeth Ives Hunter

 



 

Over a long period of years Francis Thompson's poem evoked in my mind pictorial ideas for which I remained unable to find imagery susceptible of conveying my meaning. The reconstituted mediaevalism which a literal reading suggested was particularly foreign to my purpose. Eventually I decided that it would involve only a slight change in terminology to consider The Hound of Heaven as a history of the experience commonly called emotional breakdown rather than as the story of a specifically religious conversion. The change did not, it seemed to me, traduce the poet's intention. It suggested, however, a construction capable of conveying the universality of his subject to many persons who might otherwise think its application limited to individuals professing a particular creed. At any rate this interpretation immediately brought within range a quantity of pictorial ideas which had haunted my thoughts for many years but for which I had never found a connecting link capable of giving them artistic unity.

The link was then provided by C. G. Jung's book The Psychology of the Unconscious. For an artist interested in the imaginative appeal of his thesis more than in its lasting scientific validity, Jung demonstrates convincingly the close relationship between myths, symbols, and poetic imagery, and the perpetually recurring emotional patterns of human life from which they evolved. The book did not supply me with my images, for the majority of these had long been lying in sketched form in my portfolios. But it took these sketches out of the category of unrelated literary reminiscences and pointed the way whereby I might make them into a unified and personal expression.

With this new approach I returned to The Hound of Heaven, and the ideas, notes, and sketches accumulated during many years almost immediately took their place in an ordered scheme. It remained to fit them into a series of compositions and then to paint these compositions to the best of my ability. In so doing, I inevitably found it necessary to supplement my initial ideas with symbols and pictorial details arrived at through further study and research. Some of these symbols are obscure in character, but a knowledge of their exact significance should not be necessary for an understanding of the pictures. A symbol effectively used should give a sense of being appropriate and artistically right before it is fully understood, though it may convey different meanings to different people. If it fails to give a sense of rightness from the start, it is artistically unsuccessful and no subsequent elucidation will alter the fact.

It remains an essential part of my intention that these pictures should be open to various interpretations and my purpose would be defeated were I to define the subject-matter strictly, thereby limiting its connotations. The age-old myths, rituals, and symbols from which this subject-matter is derived have meant many things to many men because they embodied the deep-seated fears and aspirations of mankind. Their lasting effectiveness has been in some measure due to their vagueness and ambiguity.

-- R. H. Ives Gammell. Foreword from A Pictorial Sequence painted by R. H. Ives Gammell based on the Hound of Heaven by Francis Thompson.


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