Allegorical paintings represent abstract concepts through pictorial symbols and extended metaphors. Artists paint one thing, while meaning another, or might literally paint allegories- as in, the painting depicts well known literary allegories. In which case, perhaps the art is a “double” allegory. Allegories are stories and symbols of moral importance, generalized truth, messages of warning or encouragement, and philosophy found in writing, theater, and art.
“Narrow Way” was inspired by the allegory of a narrow difficult road to spiritual enlightenment and true happiness, while the road to destruction is wide and easy. The addition of an apple tree that produces poisonous fruit on one side, and life-sustaining fruit on the other was my own artist contribution and alludes to another well known metaphor for “good and evil”, “temptation”, and “free will”. Abstract concepts, conveyed through symbols and extended metaphors, may push an artist to paint in a different style.
Rather than painting a more natural incline in the two roads using perspective, skewing, distortion, and variation of hues, the paths are painted nearly flat, as if pictures on a map. A break from traditional techniques and approaches tells the viewer that this is a different type of painting. Why is it different? What does it mean? In this way, the artist succeeds in the goal of an allegorical painting: inspire the viewer to ponder the meaning of the art.
“Narrow Way” is an allegory representing generalized truth about the human condition (the difficulty man sometimes has in choosing good over evil, resisting temptation). This type of allegory is shared by diverse scholars, playwrights, screenwriters, artists, musicians, educators, and leaders of world religions. While likely in disagreement about the analysis, moral responsibilities, or solutions, generalized truth itself is fairly universally accepted. In the next painting, “Predator and Prey Alike“, the allegory is philosophical, moving beyond generalized truth.
“Predator and Prey Alike” depends heavily on painting techniques to convey action. The extended metaphor is philosophical, proposing that the animal kingdom is treated equally by God, regardless of whether an animal is the king of beasts or his helpless prey, and the same is true of mankind. In the circle of life, all will die. None will reign forever. This allegory represents the concept that no human is higher than another in the eyes of God. All will eventually meet the same end. Tyrants with power to enslave others and their downtrodden peasants alike will meet the same fate.
Painting a generalized truth metaphor (like “Narrow Way“) may be depicted by a clean simple composition, while painting a philosophical allegory (like “Predator and Prey Alike“) may be represented with a complicated composition, containing many subjects, action, and busy storytelling elements. Of course those rules are made to be broken. When I throw out suggestions and strategies, they are merely meant as ideas; sharing what I’ve experienced in my own work.
In this last example of an allegorical painting, “Armor of God“, the intention is to provide a meaningful experience to the viewer. Painting for emotional impact relies on powerful contrasts and bold lines. The oils go from the darkest darks to the lightest lights, and the only spark of color is through the gold armor and radiant light. This painting relies on illusion to create a suspenseful and stirring composition.