A question of childhood appears in oil

Johanna McWeeney has graciously allowed me to use a detail from her oil painting ‘Evensong’ on the ‘About’ page of this website. The full painting, in oils, which is 100cm x 70cm, is shown below.


I first learned of this painting when Johanna exhibited it at the concluding exhibition of works carried out during the ‘Art Month’ held at Powderham Castle. During the month of June, many artists were invited to produce works inspired by their visit(s) to the Powderham Castle estate.

Imagine my surprise (and, I have to admit, shear joy) at learning that my ‘What are we doing to our children?’ ‘action’ had set off a train of thought in Johanna’s mind - such that she has incorporated the actual phrase, as well as the sentiment, into ‘Evensong’.

Johanna kindly shared with me some of the ‘meaning’ and ‘feeling’ behind the work.

The painting is called 'Evensong' - from the last word of the poem which surrounds the picture. The poem can be seen in the Chapel at Powderham Castle.

The little girl clearly represents childhood joy, but also expresses despair – the despair at the loss of childhood.

Dogs appear a lot in Johanna’s paintings since, for Johanna, they represent unconditional love, safety and peace.

The little boy and the angel facing him can be seen as a unit - a spiritual response to sadness, loss and difficulty.

The music at the bottom is from a book called the Bird Fancier's Delight (published 1717) - music written for recorder to be played to teach caged birds to sing. The significance of the particular extracts is simply that Johanna wrote out the music for the Nightingale in reference to evensong - a word, when paired with the cooling dew of the poem, brought to mind birdsong at the end of the day.

'Evensong' is also referenced in the inclusion of the church, which can be seen in the distance from Powderham. And the house, the 'warm abode' in the poem, is by “Pet's Corner” where Johanna also met the pig. The pig is included because the inner part of the painting was designed to encapsulate all the things Johanna took from her visit.

The border outside the poem references the pattern on the chapel ceiling and the inner part of the border represents one of the many gateways at Powderham, and which give that sense of possibility - where can we go now?

This ties in with the OORFC question – “What are we doing to our children?”

This question remained in Johanna’s mind, and while her work is simply an expression of the inner child, or childlike joy, there is the contrasting sense of sadness.

Johanna also exhibited, in complete contrast to ‘Evensong’, a fun piece.

Johanna McWeeney ‘Landscapes of Childhood’  Acrylic on MDF board 41cm x 28cm

Johanna McWeeney ‘Landscapes of Childhood’ Acrylic on MDF board 41cm x 28cm

'Landscapes of Childhood’, 41cm x 28cm, was partly painted using an OORFC potato which Johanna received when visiting my ‘Office’ at Powderham. The work describes the movement and light of a forest landscape under a bright sky.

The shapes of the clouds and trees were made using potato prints!

Although using the potato prints was just a bit of fun – it is still, in a sense, looking for that childlike wonder - by actually directly recreating a childhood activity in a 'grown-up' medium (acrylics) for an event which created 'grown-up' expectations.

To learn of these responses to ‘What are we doing to our children?’ was quite unexpected but very satisfying. Thanks, Johanna.