“On a hike to a series of rock waterfalls in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, I noticed that I was reticent to even look in the direction of the very young girls cavorting under the watchful eyes of their mothers. This was years before the Me Too movement, but I sensed I was cast in the role of Actaeon in the Greek myth where a hunter and his dogs accidentally happen on the goddess Diana and her chaste cohort of forest dwelling females. Diana, furious at his transgression, splashes water on Actaeon and turns him into a stag, to be devoured by his own dogs. Ovid’s Metamorphoses, from 8 AD, has been one of the most influential texts in Western culture, inspiring masterpieces from Titian to Tiepolo in a long thread from antiquity to today, and now it seems as relevant as ever. What a serendipitous coincidence that the falls are called Diana’s Baths! I’ve tried to put the viewer in the role of Actaeon as well, even though a man with dogs appears in the painting itself. Surely art can still ask something of us, even implicate us in the act of seeing.
The other painting is based on Bocaccio’s Decameron, written in 1352 but which still speaks to our humanity and humor, and perhaps to this historical moment. In the course of escaping Florence’s lethal plague, which killed a third of the population, ten young people pass the time telling one hundred stories over their ten days away from the city. Even though the seven young women sneak away from the three young men to bathe in private, splashing each other with youthful abandon, death lurks behind them, both in the city they’ve left behind and somewhere in their worried minds. The tradition of the medieval Dance of Death reminds us to value, even celebrate, our remaining time, while remembering those lost to us.”