oil on canvas 22″ x 15″
completed in 2000
This is one of my earlier paintings done while I was still at college in 2000, it was done with my snake, Cornelia, in mind. My beloved Cornelia left her shell 7/8/1991 (August 7th) and left her earthly life 8/7/2011 (July 8th).
The story behind this painting is below.
snake on grass
Snake on grass is one in a pair of two paintings I did in 2000 during my fourth year at college. The other painting, titled snake in grass, was done in the same style and colours, and depicts a similar red snake, but the snake is painted in amongst the grass. This painting, snake on grass, is the only larger painting from my earlier work that I have brought over with me from the US to Australia—snake in grass is still back in the States in storage.
During my time at college, I took many different and various courses in art and art history as requirements towards a bachelor’s degree in studio art. One of the styles and movements introduced in art history was Cubism. I felt intrigued and inspired, especially by the works done by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, referred to as Analytic Cubism. I loved the fractured shapes and distinguishing lines and almost unrecognisable subject matter, but what I loved most were the muted earth tones.
I had already fallen into a style of painting that was very much me, but I decided to break away from this and try something different. Snake on grass was painted first. I felt an ease and an escape from my perfectionism and decided to do another to accompany the first. Ultimately though, this style was not my own and did not feel like my voice, so I never returned to it.
The snake in this painting is of my own beloved snake Cornelia. Cornelia was a corn snake, a type of rat snake native to southern parts of the US, and a very common breed sold in the pet industry. Late August in 1991, when I was 13 years old, I picked out a baby snake from a local breeder and brought her home with me. She was adorably cute and not much bigger than an average earth worm.
She had always lived in my bedroom in her wooden and glass enclosure until the autumn of 1996 when I went away to college. Pets were not allowed, except fish. My second year I brought my fish aquarium, but my third and fourth years…I broke the rules and brought my lovely snake to live with me in my bedroom.
My roommates didn’t object, and anyway everyone who met her thought she was a great snake. Looking back now, I don’t really know how I got away with it, or how my mum even agreed for me to break the rules, but I guess all I cared about was that my beautiful dark red and orange friend was with me.
We again parted briefly for a few months in 2002 when I went to Europe, and again for about a year in 2006 when I moved to Toronto. But it wasn’t until 2008 when I left for Syria, that our lives together would become more separated than together.
I had made a harebrained decision to stay in Damascus for a while. I left all my belongings behind where I had been living in a share house, and left my two cats and my snake in the care of one of my housemates.
My intention was to give Cornelia away, I didn’t want the responsibility of looking after her any more—but I was also in a place of insanity and not thinking clearly about my decision to leave. When I returned to the states, I went to live in Chicago instead of back to Minneapolis. I lived in Chicago for about nine months from the end of 2008 into 2009. It was during this time that I received an email from my former housemate telling me Cornelia had escaped from her enclosure and was lost.
One way I have often thought about my relationship to Cornelia has been to compare her to Nagini, Voldemort’s snake in the Harry Potter series. I feel as though Cornelia was to me, as Nagini was to Voldemort. In other non-Harry Potter words, I feel we shared a deep and intense connection, and I have often noticed a pattern of behaviour and circumstances between us. Whether or not this is true outside of my own thoughts and feelings, whether I have anthropomorphised her or placed snake-like attributes on myself, doesn’t matter. In my heart she meant, and still means, a great deal to me.
So when Cornelia was lost, which also happened to coincide with the darkest and bleakest period of my life—I was lost.
It turned out that she had become trapped behind a vent or something in the wall, I can’t remember the specifics, but my former housemate had eventually managed to lure her out with food. Shortly after, I asked my mum to collect Cornelia and take her back into her care.
When I finally moved back to Minneapolis, I moved back in with my mum, and once again Cornelia and I were reunited. But just ten months later I made my next harebrained move and left for Australia.
I was only with Cornelia once more for a brief time in April 2011 during a visit back to the states. She passed away on July 8, 2011—one month before her 20th birthday.
I had never known grief, and the deep sadness that her death brought was almost overwhelming. I felt a mixture of loss, sorrow, and regret—and a powerful feeling of guilt. I felt as though a piece of myself had died.
I still mourn her loss at times, though not nearly to the depth I had initially, and I still feel a sadness for her departure. I’ve always been comfortable with death, I feel I understand it, but her death feels too closely tied to my own personal feelings to take a detached view with her. I think though, it is the guilt I carry around with me which will never quite let me feel completely at peace and over her passing.
My deepest guilt, more than my abandonment of her, more than my taking her for granted, more than my careless attitude towards her, is a guilt that preys upon me the most. It is a guilt that I never fulfilled a promise I had secretly whispered to her, a promise that I would let her, at least once, have a romp in the grass.
I had it thought out, I would put together a sort of penned off area out in the garden, where I could keep an eye on her while she explored and enjoyed a bit of outside time. This painting was created with that thought and promise in mind, of Cornelia taking in a bit of fresh air on and amongst the grass.
But it never happened. It’s this thought and feeling that brings tears to my eyes and an ache to my heart. She never had the chance in her nearly twenty years of life to feel the grass on her beautiful shiny smooth body, she never had the chance to explore outside of her human made confines—she never knew freedom.
This painting has come to carry these thoughts and feelings for me—a symbol of her freedom, a symbol of my freedom. A symbol of freedom.