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Harpies and Beatrices

2016 – Media: pastel on canvas, 18 x 18 inches.

The women Dante encounters in his voyage through Inferno, Purgatory and Paradise.

Who are these women?

Luigi Pirandello would say they are one, no one, and one hundred thousand.

If they were one woman, she would be a woman on the verge of despair, who loses herself, sinks into the depths, clambers her way back up and finds herself again on a journey that is at once terrifying and purifying, similar to Dante’s in the afterlife.

If these women were just one woman she would likely be a woman afflicted with depression who, crushed in a bottomless abyss, travels through the bowels of hell.

She would shun the inner journey above all others. Yet she cannot turn back; she pushes ahead into darkness. Gasping, blinded, she walks as if on a tightrope through entrails that close in on her, and only after three days (three years?) finds herself on a newly tilled path, rising.

Someone and something has altered her path, defying gravity. North is south, the bottom is now the top, the earth has become water, sky.

The healing has begun. The long, tiresome uphill path seems insurmountable at first. But the woman is not alone. She has a guide, one who speaks with her, who says what she needs to hear so that she will not turn back; so that, in the words of Thomas Hardy, she will keep running far from the madding crowd.

The black recedes, fades to grey, her pain slowly becomes less unbearable, the quickened flesh looses its grip on her. The woman still wears her terrestrial shell, but it weighs less on her. She can bid her guide farewell, if she so wishes, and continue on her own.

If, rather, these women were no one, their journey would have been reversed, beginning on high they would descend into the abyss, into the dark copse, into nothingness.

But if they were one hundred thousand, they would be all of us, inhabiting the infernal and heavenly purgatory of our every day.

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