Category Archives: Metaphor

Romantic Painter

I am a romantic painter. I have found definitions of “romantic” such as  a sensibility; primitivism; love of nature; sympathetic interest in the past, especially the medieval; mysticism; individualism.

I am also sentimental. Webster defines someone who is sentimental as a person excessively prone to feelings of tenderness, sadness, or nostalgia.

That brings me to nostalgia. I am nostalgic and find myself attracted to the Irish notion of a gentle melancholy that permeates life. While I reflect on Ireland and my Irish paintings, I am also thinking about why I am drawn to certain subjects, places, or ideas.

Such thoughts drew me to one of the first paintings that I ever did. I was on a painting retreat in France with no experience at all. Each day we would be driven to some exquisite location to paint. We would arrive and scatter, painting whatever we were drawn to. One could have chosen a lovely view, goats, a forest and other people.

Ruins was done by romantic painter Ann Hart Marquis

Ruins, acrylic on canvas, 11×14 inches.

I wandered around and found a three story 19th century home that was in ruins. What happened to this house, I wondered. Why didn’t this seemingly once lovely place undergo repairs? What was its story? Of course, that was what I decided to paint.

I have learned that I am drawn to emotions and events that I perceive may exist or have existed. That is one reason that I am drawn to Ireland and spent so many years in France. I was and am enchanted by the history, the way people lived, the myths, the beauty of both structures and raw nature.

I think that the classical definition of all of the above can be summarized to this description:

The Romantic embodied “a new and restless spirit, seeking to burst through old and cramping forms, a nervous preoccupation with perpetually changing inner states of consciousness, a longing for the unbounded and the indefinable, for perpetual movement and change, an effort to return to the forgotten sources of life, a passionate individual effort at self-assertion, a search after means of expressing an unappeasable yearning for unattainable goals.

I especially like the part about unappeasable yearning for unattainable goals. If I ever get a clear idea of what those goals are, I will let you know.


The Metaphor of Ladders

I have a thing for ladders. I am not as intrigued by ladders as much as I am by trees, but I do find it somehow fulfilling to paint a ladder. I have done it many times, and have found myself thinking about painting another ladder or perhaps incorporating it into a painting.

painting depicting a ladders at night.

Red Ladder at Night, acrylic on canvas, 16×20 inches, 2006.

So being a curious person and liking to do research, I set out to investigate their symbolic meaning.

The first article I read suggested the ladder is rich in symbolism and metaphor. The horizontal rungs represent progressively higher levels of consciousness and the two vertical uprights, represent the symbol for duality.

painting showing how a ladders are used.

Waiting for the Lion—Viewpoint, acrylic on canvas, 16×20 inches, 2010.

According to Josepk Panek, since the ladder has no moving parts, it symbolizes ascension by way of personal desire and effort. “The Ladder also reminds us that reaching the highest realms of consciousness is not a short, swift journey. Each rung represents a gradual ascent whereby wisdom, knowledge, enlightenment and perfection are earned by us one step at a time.”

a painting showing a ladders leaning on a tree.

Precarious, acrylic on canvas, 20×24 inches, 2011.

Well, I have to say that my journey upward has been long and slow. Before I started painting I read about Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I think it influenced my journey to becoming a more aware, perceptive and perhaps even a more creative person. When I first learned about the theory, I was probably struggling to get to the third level. I spent a great deal of time in the second rung. Today I like to think that I am integrating the top level, but i suspect that is a life-long project.

chart showing ladders of needs

Maslow’s Hierarchyof Needs

Painting Titles

For the last two weeks I have been writing about metaphor and how a creative work can have different meanings to different people.

Coincidentally, several days ago I posted an announcement for my upcoming exhibit at the New Mexico Cancer Center on Facebook. The announcement also contained this painting.

Ann Hart Marquis- how painting titles influence a viewer's response

The Ravine, 18 x 24 x 1.5 inches, acrylic and charcoal on birch cradle.

I gave it no title on my Facebook post and said nothing about it. Within two minutes my friend Robin Sanders, an ex-Marine who lives in Texas, made this comment about the painting. He obviously didn’t give it much thought, he just pulled an association from his life.

“The struggle is real for these surviving five lone trees. Set among the desolate but green hills, they are what’s remaining… SURVIVORS.”

This is not what I was thinking as I painted the scene, but because of this young man’s experiences, he came up with a different metaphor than I would. He probably would title this painting “The Survivors.”

This painting is part of a series that I did at my artist residency in Healdsburg, CA in June. I could have called it Hill Oaks, or Looking East, but I chose to look at the painting from a different perspective. My metaphor? Perhaps looking into the future, being in awe at all of the open space or wondering what was beyond my sight.


Which brings me to painting titles. With some paintings, the title reflects the metaphor that I am trying to project. Some paintings just get a descriptive title. In any case, I think that titles or art work deserve a little thought or introspection. I don’t title a painting until after it is finished because I don’t know where it is going or how I will know when it is finished.

In Lisa Pressman’s art blog  she says that painting titles “are crucial—not only for the viewer but also for myself. They are a suggestion, a signifier, an open door, a thread, the light: to a way to approach the image.” I couldn’t have said it better.

Do painting titles influence you?

Metaphor Part II

Last week I wrote about how metaphor is used in art to express emotions and frequently abstract ideas. That also applies to having an object or phrase or dance move that represents what otherwise could not be expressed.

In response to my post, several of my readers suggested that I explain some of my metaphors in my paintings. As I mentioned last week, an artist may not always want to explain their personal feelings that appear in their work, or sometimes they don’t know themselves what or how a particular object or scene appeared in their work.

But I will attempt this mission by starting with one of my favorite paintings by Salvador Dali. This could simply be a painting of woman looking out of the window.

Salvador Dali-Person at the Window

Person at the Window, Salvador Dali, 1925.

But does it bring to mind any feeling or questions for you? It does for me. I wonder what she is thinking? Is she feeling lonely? She seems quite isolated in a bare room, but the view is lovely. Is she loving what she is seeing or does looking at the water make her wish she were somewhere else?  We could go on guessing. Dali never explained his art, he just painted.

Here is one of mine that I will try to explain to you. I painted this while at a week-long workshop in Taos, New Mexico, a truly beautiful place to paint.

Ann Hart Marquis- a metaphor of a swing

Red Swing, acrylic on canvas, 12 x 12 x 1.5 inches.

Obviously, beauty was not what I was feeling. I gave little thought to the subject matter of this painting. It just appeared on my canvas. What does it mean? Perhaps that life is fragile or perhaps one may want to be careful before trusting something that may seem appealing, but on closer look is not. This painting was the first one to sell at my exhibit in 2011. Several other people also inquired about buying the painting. I have no idea why it appealed to someone else, or why she bought the painting. It doesn’t matter.

Oneness as Metaphor

Ann Hart Marquis- a painting of a lone tree that is a metaphor for individuality

Summer Solstice, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20 x 1.5 inches, 2008.

Many of my paintings have to do with oneness, individuality, being alone, freedom. I also have a thing for ladders and monoliths. I haven’t figured them out yet. How about you? Any metaphors in your creativity?


Almost since I began painting, I had the feeling that I wanted my work to represent something that was not only my expression of myself, but something to which the view could relate. I wanted my paintings to arouse feelings whether they be happy, sad or nostalgic.

I wanted my paintings to have a message. I still do, but certainly not all of my paintings could be said to be metaphoric unless you consider a simple flower to be representative of something other than natural beauty or new beginnings. After all, Georgia O’Keeffe’s flowers were just that.


Black Iris (1926) by Georgia O’Keeffe


The word that comes to mind for me is that I was attracted to and had the desire to paint metaphors. The dictionary defines metaphor as something that is being used to represent something else, perhaps an emblem or a symbol. Some obvious, some not.

“The function of a metaphor in art, whether in painting, sculpture, or writing, is generally to evoke a certain feeling or thought in one who reads or witnesses the work. Metaphors use symbolism and comparisons to strengthen a point, and they may also act to represent certain ideas or thoughts. Visual metaphors may be obvious or abstract, depending on the artist’s emotions, ideas or experiences.”

Ann Hart Marquis- a chair that acts as a metaphor

Green Chair, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20 x1.5 inches.

The exact meaning, if there is one, behind a visual metaphor in art seems to depend on the frame of mind and feelings of the artist who created the work. It also depends of the frame of mind of the viewer. Otherwise, the meaning is lost to all but the artist. In other words, a chair is just a chair.

A Creative You-Turn

Guest Post by Tim Anderson

I have been a professional photographer for more than 40 years, and a fine art photographer for almost 15 years. Several months ago, however, I had decided to not do any more fine art photography. It just became too much of an effort to arrange for a model, scout and pick a location, schedule a time to shoot, and then spend even more time post-processing.

I felt that I had quite a lot of work archived that I really hadn’t done anything with, and that when the time came I could do something with those. Well, that time came only a few months after I had decided to take that break, mentioned above. I was in the middle of what I will call a “you-turn.” This is a point at which you may run up against a wall in your creative pursuits, and feel there is nowhere else to go. The tide was ebbing.

My you-turn came late in the evening one day as I was making the rounds of the house, turning off lights, etc. I was walking past the dining room, and took a peek out there to make sure the outside door was locked.

Shadow and Light-Suttelle

My eyes were drawn to a silhouette (above) on the south wall. We have a very large painting there and I noticed a very compelling group of lines and shadows, which were created by the very bright outside yard light casting shadows from window posts and other framework of the windows. I took out my camera gear and proceeded to work with the shadows. I placed several Winnie-the-Pooh characters in the light’s path and their shadows were were also cast on the large painting. I worked on a variety of shadowy effects until more than an hour later, when I had shot my last frame. That was my “you-turn.”

Shadow and Light-untitled

I only needed that one image projected on the wall to light a fire under my semi-extinguished creative spirit. Since that night I have created two completely different new series, “French Noir” (below) and “Shadow and Light,” (above) which are both driving me to new adventures in post-processing as well as being able to enable me to view some of my long-forgotten photos in a new creative light.

French Noir, untitled

Just when I thought I was creatively blocked I was offered an opportunity. Has that situation ever presented itself to you? If so, just take a slow look around and you may discover all the inspiration you need to make your own you-turn.

Good luck!

How to Train Your Imagination

Guest Post by Mary Lou Blackledge

What sets humans apart from the many species of life on the planet is our ability to imagine and our desire to create.  When the human brain engages itself in a creative way, looking for inventive possibilities in familiar patterns, new solutions in every field of work and life become possible. No less a cerebral megastar than Albert Einstein wrote, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Our world is looking for new inspiration, but we have to hone our imagination to ignite ourselves and to develop the eyes with which to envision new journeys, new possibilities.

Eden. ©Mary Lou Blackledge

The Last Eden, acrylic on paper, 36×26-inches. ©Mary Lou Blackledge

The artists of the Abstract Expressionist movement sought to use the power of the unconscious mind as they created their massively innovative works. They believed that simply reporting on what was already visible to the eye was an insufficient starting point. That said, my own initial forays into painting were that of a “pictorial reporter.” For years I focused on representational architectural street scenes. I felt safe doing that. I knew that I could conquer perspective and illustrate the familiar contours of the physical world. But my evolution has called on me to search beyond the familiar, and the safe and the known, for visions that emerge from the unseen portals of consciousness. By sourcing my work from an inner perspective, I aim to create works that unleash my, and your, imaginations.

Blue Note,  Acrylic on canvas, 36" x 30",  ©Mary Lou Blackledge

Blue Note. acrylic on canvas, 36×30-inches. ©Mary Lou Blackledge

I work with an intense and lively palette. I do not premeditate a composition but instead apply the color with movement and with eyes wide open in surprise and delight. I hope that the viewer will have a similar experience when entering my paintings… a visceral attraction to the colors and then an exploration of the elements suggested by the forms within the composition. I develop many narrative elements within the painting which I hope will be doorways to an individual visual and emotional journey. For example, in my painting “Blue Note,” imagine a hot jazz club in New York City: can you see the clarinet, the ties of the trio of jazz musicians, the noise and heat and movement of the city?

The Improper Gentleman, Acrylic on canvas, 36" x 30"

The Improper Gentleman, acrylic on canvas, 36×30-inches. ©Mary Lou Blackledge

“The Improper Gentlemen” is an amusing portrait (yes, a portrait!) of an outwardly proper gentleman (can you see his little hat, his portly belly, his pressed slacks, his eyes slung absurdly outside his face as if to see better, and… use your imagination now!)  But that is just what I see. Venturing into abstract painting, as an artist or a viewer, is an excellent way to forge into new color or structural territory, but also to learn not to flinch at the metaphysical surprises which always seem to follow a creative seeker… and an excellent way to fertilize your imagination.

A good example of drawing the viewer into an abstract work with narrative elements is my painting, “The Archaeology of Dreams.” It presents as an abstract painting, with layers of color and revealed marks. But a closer look reveals a number of odd and intriguing figures which may, or not, be connected. Is this a story? Is it a dream? I think a good painting is one which draws the viewer in, emotionally and visually. Who is the little girl in the sparkly party dress and why is she peering on her tip-toes through an open door? Who is that lone man jogging slowly through the rain with a large umbrella? Is the girl waiting for him? Who is the woman on the hilltop? Is the waterfall her tears? Why is there a strange tunnel in the mesa and where does it lead? What happened to the abandoned city and why is there a cow in the foreground, drinking placidly from a clear pond?

© Mary Lou Blackledge -  The Archeology Of Dreams

The Archaeology Of Dreams, acrylic on canvas, 30×30-inches. ©Mary Lou Blackledge

I trust that you will, as you look at non-representational paintings, allow yourself to travel, to see things that no one else can even imagine.

Dancing in the Moonlight

As I have mentioned, when I was growing up my family lived deep in a very rural area of northern California called Bennett Valley. During my first and second grades I attended Bennett Valley School which was built in 1878. As I recall, there were about 12 of us who attended this one-room school house. It was on a beautiful wooded hill, not far from the road and those two years of school were probably some of the most significant years of my life.

AnnHartMarquis-Dancingin the Moonlight

Dancing in the Moonlight, acrylic on canvas, 20×24-inches. 2011. ©Ann Hart Marquis, sold.

The reason those years were so memorable was due to our teacher, Mrs. Margaret Perez. She handled all of us in six grades with ease. We sat at tables, I don’t remember desks. I also don’t remember her ever raising her voice except for the time the snake got loose. She was refined and gentle. Mrs. Perez had a gift. Although we were country children, she treated us as if she were teaching in San Francisco.

It was she who first introduced me to classical music, and I loved it immediately. She took us  to see the classic ballet movie Red Shoes. I of course then wanted to be a ballerina. Ballet lessons were not an option for me for several reasons. I remember vividly, however, that she let me dance in front of the class. I was wearing a brown checked dress and brown oxford shoes. I did my best Isadora Duncan although I had never heard of Isadora Duncan. I was very shy, but when I danced, the world went away. Mrs. Perez added depth to my life and opened windows that I never knew existed.

Annhartmarquis-Dancing in the Sunlight

Dancing in the Sunlight, acrylic on canvas, 14×14-inches, 2014. ©Ann Hart Marquis, sold.

To this day dance has been one of my passions and I have carried it over into several of my paintings. Dancing in the Moonlight (top) is my first “dance” painting. Dancing in the Sunlight  (above) is the second. My last is Waltz (below).


Waltz, acrylic on canvas, 24×36-inches, 2012. ©Ann Hart Marqus

Thank you Mrs. Margaret Perez. I have thought of you often.

Has there been a special teacher in your life?

Waltz is currently available.  If you have questions or want to purchase it, please contact me. It is 36x24x1.5-inches, acrylic on gallery-wrapped canvas with sides painted to continue the scene for a finished look. The price is $675 plus shipping.

Contact me if you live outside the continental USA for additional shipping charges.

Taking a Stand

This is the first painting that I did in my new series. All of the paintings in this series come from my imagination. When I started painting this first one, I knew I wanted a group of trees in some kind of orange-ish motif with a limited palette. I started by painting the entire canvas in turquoise. As I remember, I then divided it roughly in thirds for the sky, trees and foreground. Next came the large group or trees in the middle. I randomly drew a few trunks and then built the tops of the trees as I added more trunks. Then I added white/ochre to the trees on the left. The foreground took on a life of its own.

It sometimes takes me a while to come up with a title of a painting. I don’t think that I have ever started a painting knowing what the piece would be titled. As soon as I finished this painting I titled it “Taking a Stand.”


Taking a Stand, acrylic on canvas, 20×24 inches, 2014. ©Ann Hart Marquis

Now that I am writing about my paintings I  can’t help analyzing why I painted what I painted and then realizing that some of my titles and paintings have more obvious meaning to me than others. So in this painting I realize that it reflects my, dare I say, personal and political leanings ​toward my personal well-being as well as the environment. I am now writing more about the plight of our natural world, contributing more to environmental causes, signing more petitions, and concluding that I must “take a stand” in a more direct way than I have before.

All of my paintings require that I ask myself and therefore, the viewer, to consider the beauty, fragility and health of our environment.

This painting is currently available.  If you have questions or want to  purchase please contact me. It is 36x24x1.5-inches, acrylic on gallery-wrapped canvas with sides painted to continue the scene for a finished look. The price is $575 plus shipping.

Contact me if you live outside the continental USA for additional shipping charges.

Horse Crazy

As a child and adolescent, there were three major influences in my life and eventually art. I have written posts on two of them: my Portuguese father and the beautiful place where I grew up in northern California. It now seems time for me to write about the third, which was my horse.

The Irish Influence

From the time that I can remember, I was in love with the horse. I was horse crazy. I have no idea why. I was rarely around horses, but every time that I saw one, I became excited and mesmerized by whatever lovely creature I was seeing. It could have been a 25 year-old antiquarian, or a swayback mare, I didn’t care. Loving horses seemed to be a part of my psyche. Irish folklore says that that if you are Irish, loving the horse is in your blood. I am half Irish, so maybe some of the mystery lies there.


Cheval Blanc, 1881, Toulouse, Lautrec

Cheval Blanc, 1881, Toulouse Lautrec.

Freedom to Roam

I would not be the person I am today had I not had a dream fulfilled by my father. After almost eleven years of begging for a horse, the Christmas when I was eleven, my father told me to go look out the window at the back pasture. There a dark bay horse was standing. I was overwhelmed. I cried. That was one of the few times in my life when a dream came true. My life totally changed from that point on. First, I had to teach myself to ride. After that small task was accomplished, with only a run-away incident and one encounter with a barbed wire fence, I could then enjoy complete freedom. I rode off into the hills in the morning with my horse and faithful dog and came home for dinner. I learned independence, self-confidence and a sense of adventure.

AnnHart Marquis-Meand my horse duke

Me, age 13 and my horse Duke on a gloomy day.


You may be asking how my horse (whose name was chosen by my father) Duke affected my pursuit of being an artist. Most artists are independent, they frequently spend time alone, they need to be self-confident if they are going to believe in their art and it helps to feel like art is an adventure.


Tete de cheval blanc, 1815, Theodore Gericault

Tête de cheval blanc (Head of the White Horse), 1815, Théodore Gericault.

The Painted  Horse

The next question that comes to mind may be why I don’t paint horses. Needless to say, I am very sentimental about them. The thought of painting a horse touches something deep inside that I am not ready to explore. Someday, I will do a series. In addition to that, I am awe-struck by the many magnificent paintings of horses over the centuries. Here are two more that I love.


Have you ever had a childhood dream come true?


Blue Horse I Franz Marc

Blue Horse I , 1911, Franz Marc.