As a student at the South Australian School of Art in the early 1970s, Christine McCormack found herself drawn to the otherworldly, black and white lithography of French symbolist Odilon Redon (1840-1916).1 Known for his haunting works on paper, Redon’s imagery evokes the dark subconscious of internal wanderings, bordering the territories between reality and dreams. He wrote, ‘my drawings inspire, they are not to be defined. They place us, as does music, in the ambiguous realm of the undetermined’.2
Motivated by Redon’s ability to make the subconscious visible, McCormack created this series which illustrates the narrative of Persephone, the Greek goddess of vegetation and daughter of Zeus and Demeter. According to Greek mythology, Persephone was abducted by Hades and forced to rule the Underworld with him. This led to severe drought and famine, which continued until the gods of Mount Olympus revealed Persephone’s location and Zeus ordered her release. Hades, however, was cunning and by feeding Persephone pomegranate seeds he lured her back to the Underworld, where she was obliged to spend the winter months of every year from then on, only to return to the gods above in Spring.
The Persephone series by McCormack began as a poem written by the artist before it was illustrated across nine lithographs. The work evokes a dark atmosphere with heads and hands longingly searching for an obscure cosmos, and waxing eyes that slowly emerge from the earth. Paying homage to the melancholic symbolism of Redon’s late nineteenth century works, the series speaks to the plight of Persephone recasting the iconic Greek myth and allowing for renewed and empathetic interpretation.
McCormack created the series using a limestone lithography process. In this method the surface of the stone is ground back in a circular motion until it is smooth. The image is then drawn directly onto the stone using lithographic crayons and inks which give the prints a soft, painterly quality. Rich tonal variations, from velvety black to subtle grey, are created by applying and removing ink with cloths and blades.3 Prior to printing, the stones are laboriously washed and inked, ensuring lighter tones are retained throughout the lithograph’s development. The stones must be kept damp while printing, meaning artists often work quickly to complete editions.4
Eight of the works from the Persephone series are held by FUMA and can be viewed online via the museum’s Online Collections Catalogue.
Exhibition and Public Programs Manager (Acting), Flinders University Museum of Art
Adelaide, Australia, 2020
© Flinders University Museum of Art
1 C McCormack, personal correspondence with Madeline Reece, 1 July 2020
2 D Cibelli, R Neginsky, ‘Light and Shadow in the Dream by Odilon Redon’, in Light and Obscurity in Symbolism, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, England, 2016, pg 55
3 ‘Stone Lithography’, Edinburgh Printmakers, accessed online 7 July 2020, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E38B0swb4vo>
4 C McCormack, personal correspondence with Madeline Reece, 1 July 2020