Friday, October 4, 2013

Helen of Troy

                                                                    By Petar Meseldzija

On the road to Troy, Helen receives a vision – 50X70 cm, oil on MDF board.
A few years ago, a private collector from Belgium commissioned me to do two paintings. First painting was to depict Guinevere, King Arthur’s  beautiful but unfaithful wife; the subject of the second painting was Helen of Troy. The first commission was finished three years ago, the second one a few months ago. 

It would be very cool, even romantic, to say that the reason for this delay was my internal struggle with the painting, because I was not able to find the right model for Helen, for no woman I knew was beautiful enough to ignite the fire of inspiration and help me achieve the unachievable: to depict one of the greatest beauties of all times, a beauty so glorious, a beauty so divine, and so lethal at the same time, that initiated one of the most famous wars in history, the Trojan War. A war in which the greatest heroes fought and died, including the greatest of them all, mighty Achilles. A war that raged for 10 long years, eventually bringing the devastation to the city of Troy and its inhabitants;  A war that gave birth to the famous Trojan Horse; A war that eventually produced  wondrous wanderings of Odysseus, and inspired a blind ancient Greek poet, Homer,  to create two of the greatest and most important epic poems of Western literature, The Iliad and The Odyssey.
Unfortunately, the real reason for the delay in finishing the second painting was much more trivial; because of my extremely busy schedule, combined with some health issues, I could not find time and peace of mind to focus on this commission.  

However, once I did manage to give my full attention to the painting, things got a little tricky. The main question was – what should I depict, and how? There were so many possibilities, and so many different ways to do it. At the end, of all the interesting, dynamic and juicy moments from the story of Helen of Troy, I chose to depict a   nonexistent  moment, so to speak. Recognizing this as a conceptual weakness of the piece, I tried to neutralize it by giving the painting the title “On the road to Troy, Helen receives a vision”.
By choosing to depict this uneventful moment, I sacrificed many potentially attractive scenes for the sake of something more elementary. I tried to bring the composition down to the story’s very essence: the irresistible attraction between a man and a woman, that eventually produces a fatal ending.  This is a timeless theme, and while the outer elements change through time, the essential components stay the same - forbidden love and irresistible passion, betrayal and subsequent devastation.

As you can see, I used only three elements to point out the essence of my interpretation: a feminine element, a masculine element, and a vision. Although definitely not the most beautiful of women, my Helen is dressed in a simple but richly draped clothes. She is bathing in light.
The masculine element is reduced to the archetypal symbol of masculinity – a strong, muscular body, a spear, and a shield; and it is placed in the shadow. There is no glittering armor, or richly decorated clothes that would suggest this person is Paris, the prince of Troy.

And the third element of this composition is a vision of a broken ancient Greek helmet, with a serpent coming out of it, and biting its own tale. In the image of a serpent biting its own tail, or so-called the Ouroboros, lies the thought of devouring oneself and turning oneself into a circulatory process. Ouroboros is a symbol for the integration and assimilation of the opposites…it represents infinity or wholeness. Ouroboros slays himself and brings himself to life, fertilizes himself and gives birth to himself. (C.G. Jung)

I mostly don’t like to explain my paintings verbally, for I think if the painting is good, it  will speak to the spectator in its own language. But sometimes an indication of the general context is necessary, and in this particular case I thought a few hints were needed in order to help the understanding of the piece, and to enhance the experience.  My intention was not so much to present a pictorial story that one needs to read as a book - although I understand that this might be the first impression - but more to show a few symbols, and through bringing them into a certain relationship with each other, I hoped to stimulate certain questions to come to the surface.

Questions like:  does Love knows about the morality, or is Love a phenomenon that transcends all the concepts known to men, and therefore should stand above all judgment; what is the actual relationship between the sexual attraction and Love, between the personal benefits and Love; is there something like unconditional Love; can Love sometimes be considered a sin, or is it always a virtue; having in mind the terrible consequences of their afire, were Helen and Paris guilty of selfishness and egoism; or were they just the little figurines  in the game of chess played by Gods; or do their actions have the power to influence Gods; in other words, do Gods need man, as much as man need Gods...?

In spite of my wishful thinking, I don’t believe that my modest pictorial contribution to this everlasting dilemma has the ability to bring forth some of these fundamental questions, let alone to give an answer. However, it is true that these thoughts have played an important role, inevitably influencing the composition and the creation of this painting. 


  1. Thank you for this post, Petar.
    I really enjoy your work and I thought it was an interesting read.

  2. Fantastic piece Petar! It is great to read how much you thought about the symbolism and story behind the scene, giving this ancient myth new life to today's audience. That might be the most important part of the painting, but I also love the technical side to it, with the bright light on Helen and all the different hues you manage to put into the painting and still keep it all working as one. Thank you for sharing it!

  3. Love those juicy colors and brushstrokes.

  4. Sir, you are a great story-teller and I don't mean this as an insult, as in your painting and your explanation.

  5. The colors are very lively and I really dig the symbolism in the painting. Thanks for sharing this Petar.

  6. This is spectacular. Thank you for posting it

  7. To elaborate.... ...such attraction has to have a " I care for nothing else, I must have you " quality and you brought that out remarkably .They both see the future and both feel it doesn't see-saws between the desire and the regret...but desire wins. You have here the tension of knowing the consequences and going ahead anyway