Gray Matter Series: Half Sick of Shadows


"I am half sick of shadows, said the Lady of Shalott" Alfred Tennyson, "The Lady of Shallott"

The Lady of Shalott painting by Waterhouse haunted me at that time in my life when I did not understand the answers I was looking for. Trapped in a reality that I seemingly had no control over,  I was drawn in by the colors, textures, the desperate look in her eyes. It was as if this Pre-Raphaelite image somehow captured the ethos of my depression and anxiety that I had no vocabulary for yet. This woman dared to try look at the world directly, to demand her space, and instead felt as if she had done something terribly wrong.


The Lady of Shalott is also a poem by Tennyson, and was my introduction to the character via Anne of Green Gables when I was a girl nerding out on PBS. Like Anne Shirley, I had a penchant for dramatics, but most of it was internal rather than externally expressed.

When I revisited the poem and painting while preparing a piece for the Rourke's 59th Annual Midwestern Exhibition, I viewed it through an entirely new lens. One that as an adult woman in 2018, I understood as isolation and disconnection from a sense of community. She is living under an undefined curse, that will impact her if she looks on the world (Camelot, in the poem) directly from her window. Instead, she views the outside world from a mirror in her home. 

Eventually, she grows weary of this filter. "I am half sick of shadows" she states. When she looks out the window the mirror cracks, and so does she, in a sense. She assumes that the curse is upon her, feels the enormity of her "disobedience",  floats down a river in her boat surrounded by the tapestries she's woven of her "mirror views", and dies.

This now speaks to me of the dangers of isolation and the importance of community. If she had only realized that the crack had been a metaphorical death on her "heroine's journey" and actually a path to a deeper connection with herself, she would have been able to shed the shame she felt akin to Eve eating the apple; a casting out and shaming of women's desire for answers and higher understanding of our true nature.


The base of the my 16-piece painting has a likeness of the Lady of Shalott. Part of me felt I could stop here. If I had, it would have been more recognizable to many viewers. However, I felt the need to transform this sadness and disconnection for myself.


Here is an in-process view of the painting. There were many layers that went into this, as there are many layers to healing our cultural wounds.


The final painting, before being broken apart. Each piece can stand on its own, each piece is still part of the whole. 

The final work is on view at the Rourke Art Gallery and Museum as part of The 59th Annual Midwestern Invitational "Camelot Revisited" until September 2nd, 2018.

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anna lee