According to Douglas’ records, “Ariadne just follows the myth, and here she’s looking out in longing for Dionysius to return.”
In Greek mythology, Ariadne was the beautiful wife of the God of Wine Dionysus (Bacchus), son of Zeus. The daughter of Pasiphae and the Cretan king Minos, she fell in love with the Athenian hero Theseus and, with a ball of woven thread, helped him escape the Labyrinth, after he killed the Minotaur, a half bull and half man who was Ariadne’s half-brother, to prevent the beast from killing human sacrifices at her father’s command. Later she was abandoned by Theseus and rescued by Dionysus, who married her.
After Ariadne died, Dionysus went down to the Underworld and brought her back to life. He then brought her up to Mount Olympus, where Zeus made her immortal at his son’s request.
From a very young age, Douglas was fascinated by ancient civilisations as the sources of our language, culture and philosophy. Nourished by his parent’s substantial library, he immersed himself in Mediterranean history and classical literature including Greek and Roman mythology.
Typically, a good art note can last indefinitely. Ariadne 2003 is a return to a 1995 sketch, which had earlier produced two similar classically inspired paintings, named Myth and Solitude of the Frightened Individual.
After travels in Greece in 1993 and 1995, the country and its links to our origins were uppermost in Douglas’ mind. He embarked on a series of semi-abstract landscapes of historic Delphi, while contemplating how the past informs both present and future. Delphi was considered by the ancient Greeks to be the centre of the world; over the entrance to the Temple of Apollo (God of Wisdom) there was the inscription ‘Know Thyself’ – meaning that man must stand and live according to his nature. It was an expression later espoused by the philosopher Socrates, which Douglas accepted as a benchmark of living
In this erudite vein, he regularly drew from ancient Greek legend and classical literature in the 1990s and 2000s as a means of visually articulating what Douglas saw as an increasingly fractured world. Familiar figures such as Pan, Oedipus, Jason, Penelope and Aphrodite, and their travails, also appeared in his work in this period.
Ariadne 2003 was first exhibited in St Tropez at Salle Despas, Place des Lices 13-19 October 2003 for Douglas’ guest artist show at the 5th Australia New Zealand Film Festival.
The painting came to New Zealand in 2013 for his ‘Douglas MacDiarmid: An Artist Abroad’ exhibition at Jonathan Grant Gallery, Auckland from 10-23 October, as part of Auckland Art Week.
Prepared for Jonathan Grant Galleries by MacDiarmid Arts Trust, August 2021