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The Royal Butterfly Portrait in Red is Reinterpreted - Relevant to the Pacific Region

Monarch (oil on canvas, 92cm x 92cm, 2024) features a red hibiscus flower, a faded Monarch butterfly in silhouette with a damaged wing and the wispy white suggestion of a Chinese pale blue grass butterfly resting against a chrysalis which hangs from a thin branch. The entire scene is set against a bold red background, much like Jonathan Yeo's recent portrait of King Charles (whom it was said underwent the metamorphosis from Prince to Regal throughout four sittings).

I was profoundly impacted by Jonathan Yeo's painting. Its size was so grandiose, and the color so apparently intense, I felt it demanded attention. The method of leaving most of the work understated and focusing on the subjects face lent the work an ethereal, almost supernatural quality, that many commentators found somewhat threatening. The color, as well, tended to hint at danger or alarm.

When it was revealed, Yeo's work received so much media coverage. I felt the ripples from across the globe. As a piece of art, it was very successful, because in an image saturated world, it still had the power to surprise, to get people talking, reacting. About this portrait, everyone had an opinion or something to say.

Perhaps it was the color red that so many found unnerving. In nature, resembling blood, it tends to signal alarm. In new age beliefs, red is the color of the root chakra, resonant with survival and life blood, with security and wellbeing, with being grounded and having our basic needs met. In religion, it tends to resemble the Devil. And in politics, it is associated with both China and communist beliefs.

In recent months, small amounts of red had been sliding into my palette, often depicted in rugs or the earthy brickwork of homes. Apart from that, I have veered away from the intensity of red in my works. It felt garish, unsettling, unsafe.

To challenge my insecurity and address my shifting palette, I decided to embrace the color more fiercely in at least one work. Coincidently, the hibiscus bush at the back of our garden had recently begun flowering in shocking shades of red.

Yeo's painting incorporated the symbolic monarch butterfly to represent metamorphosis. I searched for the symbolic meaning of red hibiscus, which was inter alia, peace in the Pacific region.

I endeavored to make peace with red, this glorious, life giving color, by embracing the pinks, oranges, purples and browns I found within the petals of the bloom. And I continued to experiment with barely-there paintwork and partially suggested forms, embedding the flower in a vibrant field of the same base hue. This notion (embedding the foreground subject into a field-like background of similar origin) appeals to my sense that we are all essentially One.

As to the relevance of a fading damaged monarch, and an emerging Chinese butterfly, in relation to peace within the Pacific, you shall have to form your own view.

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