If you ever dreamt of being a Greek hero/ine and sail the seas like Odysseus, overcome impossible tasks like Hercules or be a skilled, renowned warrior like Atalanta, then David Ligare’s paintings will go straight to your heart. With his love for Classicism, this contemporary American artist is bringing Ancient Greece back to life in a hyperrealistic style that emphasizes light and open spaces. As he puts it, light symbolizes enlightenment and his paintings abound with it. There is a great sense of tranquility and vastness in his art, which reminds me of José Manuel Capuletti’s works.
Despite its apparent simplicity, Man with Crow is a contemplative painting infused with mythological symbolism and the desire for knowledge. A young man, wearing a toga from the waist down – a reference to Ancient Greece – is seated on a chair and holding a crow in his hand. The pose itself is reminiscent of philosophers trying to grasp the mystery and meaning of life. With his attentive eyes and half-open mouth, the man looks as if he’s engaged in a profound conversation with the crow. As is often the case in Ligare’s paintings, the backdrop is a calm sea and clear sky, scenery alluding to the Mediterranean.
The crow is the key to the painting and its symbolism is complex. Across many cultures crows and ravens represent death, but also magic, mystery and knowledge. In Ancient Greece, crows were considered messengers. As the story goes, when Apollo – the Greek god of light, prophecy and truth – sent a crow to spy on his lover Coronis, the crow returned with the news that she had fallen in love with a mortal named Ischys. Enraged and distrusting the messenger, Apollo turned all crows to black (they had previously been white), but later sent his sister Artemis to kill Coronis.
Ligare has previously contended that “the essence of Classicism is balance – the balance between opposing forces – say, Apollonian order and Dionysian chaos”, a view echoed by Nietzsche in his 1872 essay The Birth of Tragedy. According to Nietzsche, this interplay between reason, order and self (as represented by Apollo) and pleasure, chaos and self-abandonment (Dionysus – god of wine, ecstasy and ritual madness) is evident in Greek tragedies, where even though the heroes fail to alter their fate or make sense of it, they become part of a larger, collective narrative which appeals to and is appreciated by the audience.
The Apollo-like figure in Ligare’s painting can thus be seen as a vehicle for a story as old as time: the search for a meaningful life. As worthy as the ideal of pursuing knowledge is, reason needs to be balanced by emotion, by mystery and by the sense of belonging to an entity larger than the self, where personal boundaries disappear – the collective pool of humanity.
You can visit the artist’s website here.