Contemporary realism - Detail of
Detail of "Planetary"

“Planetary,” Kristy Gordon’s triptych narrative painting, is also the title of her current solo exhibition of contemporary realism at Langham Cultural Center in Kaslo, BC, through June 6, 2021. The paintings in “Planetary” interweave motifs from disparate genres and time periods—from Old Master history painting to contemporary portraiture—to create an inclusive narrative about the shared struggle, strength and resilience of people in today’s global climate.

Here, Gordon takes us up close and personal in the process and purpose of painting “Planetary.”

Narrative painting Planetary by Kristy Gordon
Kristy Gordon, “Planetary,” 2021, oil on canvas, side panels 20”x10,” center panel 20”x16″

Planetary: From “Breakdown” to “Breakthrough”


“Planetary” was initially conceived of as a sort of “breaking down” painting, in which a version of me was devoured by a demon. As the painting developed, that image started to feel less true, probably because I was pulling out of that period of despair. I now think of this triptych as a “breakdown to breakthrough” painting.

The formal composition was inspired by Hieronymus Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights,” although I have reversed the order of his panels so that we now move from hell on the left to paradise on the right. In Bosch’s version of paradise, there’s a strong vertical movement of a fountain rising toward the sky. I have inverted this to create a downward vertical movement running from the waterfall back into the earth, signifying a return to the self and to Mother Nature.

Narrative painting - Detail of "Planetary"
Detail of “Planetary”

One of the fantastical flowers in paradise reveals a large pink pinecone, a symbol of the pineal gland because of their similar shape. The pineal gland is associated with the third eye, so this pinecone is a nod the mysterious power of our intuition.

The central panel depicts an interconnected web of figures, connected by vines that are mirrored by the curves of a snake. Snakes are an important symbol through various traditions, from ancient Egypt to Mesoamerica to the Bible; here they represent magic. Behind them all is a mystical hybrid creature with a snake tongue. For this, I drew inspiration from Tibetan art, as well as looking at dogs and wolves for the face and cat tails for its hair-like ears. Whether this creature is helping or hindering is deliberately left ambiguous.

Contemporary realism - Detail of "Planetary"
Detail of “Planetary”

The left-most panel is not ambiguous at all. The demon cat flower is definitely threatening as it holds me in its claws ready to devour me. Do you recognize this pose of a woman clutched by a giant beast? I borrowed it from King Kong!

In the distant background of the hell panel is a pixelated image – a nod to the simulation hypothesis, begging the question: “What is real, and what is unreal?”

Narrative paintings -Detail of "Planetary"
Detail of “Planetary”

This painting includes nods and references to so many different things, from Dutch still life paintings with their elements of vanitas, to contemporary sculpture, Indian miniatures, and Persian rugs. I love weaving such different references into my paintings, finding a way to make it all work together. I also had my friends pose for me for many of the figures.

Contemporary realism - Detail of "Planetary"
Detail of “Planetary”

Ultimately, I want “Planetary” to capture the craziness of life, this big, beautiful, sacred mess that we’re all moving through.

Kristy Gordon with her narrative painting, "Planetary"
Kristy Gordon with the installation of her narrative painting, “Planetary”

Connect with Kristy Gordon:
Website | Instagram

Related Articles:
Planetary: Large Works by Kristy Gordon
How I Got Into My First Art Gallery
How I Found My Artistic Voice – And You Can, Too

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