The Flying Nun
The abstract sketch that began this painting seemed to be one single unit, a woman gliding through space directly at the viewer. Over time, she became the flying nun, a wise and humorous soul bravely taking flight to the stars, without fear or forbidding. Although the phrase ‘the flying nun’ refers partly to the 60’s television series with Sally Field (funny but not as wise), the four leaf clovers on her skirt indicate an Irish connection, perhaps she is St. Brigit, the Abbess of Kildare. She is surrounded only by the sky, traditionally a symbol of infinity, eternity, immortality, and transcendence; it is the residence of the gods. A star is painted in white on her breast, representing celestial goodness, a noble person.
St. Brigid, a convert of St. Patrick’s (the patron saint of Ireland), founded a double monastery in Kildare around 470 AD, famous for its hospitality. At the time, the Roman Catholic Church was troubled that the monastery was for both men and women, and also askance at her druidical associations. She would not conform to the norm, and would brush aside the rules, even of the church, in order to bring out the best in others. Because of this ability to remain an original and fulfill her spiritual potential, she is venerated as a prototype for all nuns. She bridged the gap between pagan and Christian beliefs. Within the inner sanctuary of the church there was a perpetual flame, surrounded by a circle of bushes, which no man was allowed to enter. There is speculation that she was the high priestess of a community of Druid women, who led the entire community into the Christian faith.
The Church considers her chief virtues to have been gentleness, compassion, generosity, and her happy devoted nature. She saw beauty and goodness in all creation, and is famous for her extraordinary relationship with animals; wild ducks would come light on her shoulders when she called to them. So great was her cultus in Europe, that the Medieval knights chose Brigid as the example of the womanly model of perfection. In 1283 AD, three knights took the head of St. Brigid with them on a journey to the Holy Land. They died in Lumier, (near Lisbon, in Portugal) where the church now enshrines her head in a special chapel. There are many churches dedicated to St. Brigid in France, Germany, Austria, and Italy.
‘Camelot’ and ‘astronaut’ are written in white paint on the very pale lavender of the nun’s breast, the words separated by a stripe of red ribbon. Camelot, the home of King Arthur’s court, is a name steeped in associations with legends of brave knights, compelling beautiful women, the mystical and magical powers of Morgan and Merlin, the love of Guinevere and Lancelot, the Isle of Avalon, and the quest for the Holy Grail. It is a name evocative of an age of noble heroes; it brings us back to the past, to a place which spawned endless stories, but whose history is still shrouded in mystery. (For example, St. Patrick was British, and it has been postulated that he actually came from Avalon, the location of which is under continuous debate. Some say that Avalon was in Wales, as this was the region called Britannia by the Romans.)
Astronauts are contemporary heroes, courageous explorers who shoot off into interplanetary space, bravely seeking answers to questions that may have no answer. Perhaps the flying nun is one such soul; perhaps she is an abbess from Avalon, an astronaut from Camelot, searching for the Holy Grail as she soars gracefully through outer space, floating silently in an orange sky.
Spatium, Latin for “space”, and the expression aere perenius, which means “longer lasting than brass”, comprise the rest of the text in the painting. I chose to define space, by the use of an expression that refers to time. This connection expresses the continuous enduring aspect of space, an entity without borders, an “extension, considered independently of anything which it may contain; […] the interval between two points of time”. Space, in painting, is defined by its boundaries. Time, which can be a moment, a space, an age, in the past, present or future, or forever lasting, as in absolute time: “time considered without relation to bodies or their motions; duration flowing on uniformly”. In essence, the valiant nun is the vehicle through which the eternal and the relative aspects of space and time are explored.