Currently running at the Hugh Lane Gallery, Anne Madden’s Colours of the Wind – Ariadne’s Thread is a collection which explores the ancient Greek myth of Ariadne, a classical heroine who saved Theseus from death at the hands of the Minotaur on the island of Crete. Through her use of saturated colour, abstracted forms and larger-than-life linen canvases, Madden takes the myth one step further. In Madden’s interpretation of the story, Ariadne weaves her way through the skies, represented by the golden thread. These skies skip from serene to joyful to ominous, reflecting the heroine’s tumultuous journey.
The contrast between the confines of the labyrinth and the open celestial spaces throughout the exhibition is conveyed through the juxtaposition of dark with light, and of ordered lines with more frantic, irregular ones. Viewers are taken neck-breakingly quickly from an ominous crimson field containing the skull of the Minotaur and a bolt of white light (‘Light and Dark’) to a vibrant orange and yellow sky across which billows an ethereal lilac thread (‘Ariadne’). Despite their visual differences, the paintings work as a group. They mirror the highs and lows of Ariadne’s life and relationship with Theseus, culminating in her ultimate fate as a goddess, reflected in an enormous, multi-panel rainbow of colours (‘Aurora Borealis’).
The main reason behind the exhibition’s strength, as well as its weakness, is its classical inspiration. Without knowledge of the story of Ariadne and Madden’s symbolic approach to the subject, the experience of the collection is quite different. On my initial visit, without having researched the show much, it was difficult to join the dots of Ariadne’s story. The visual signifiers of different characters and locations (with the exception of the image of a bull’s skull named ‘Minos’, obviously the Minotaur) weren’t immediately apparent. Though fun to stroll through and take in, it lacked the same interest and complexity. The story of Ariadne makes the paintings much more satisfying to view, giving them a clearer coherence which I found helpful in understanding the rationale behind the exhibition.
Colours of the Wind – Ariadne’s Thread is a collection of works which appeal to both the eye and the mind. Madden’s paintings evoke feelings of loneliness and fear, triumph and freedom which transcend the ages separating us from those who wrote the many stories of Ariadne to begin with.