Here is a look at one of my recently finished pieces. It is a watercolour portrait of H.C Andersen´s The Little Mermaid.
It is a very sad and beautiful story about a mermaid who sacrifices everything for love - including herself.
I wanted to include a part of the original story here, so you can get a taste of my inspiration.
In this part of the story, The Little Mermaid has gone to the sea witch and she has asked for help in order to become a human being - but
the price is high.
For the sake of anyone who doesn´t understand Danish, I have included the extract in both Danish and English.
Jeg skal lave dig en Drik, med den skal du, før Sol staar op, svømme til Landet, sætte dig paa Bredden der og drikke den, da skilles din Hale ad og snerper ind til hvad Menneskene kalde nydelige Been, men det gjør ondt, det er som et skarpt Sværd gik igjennem dig. Alle, som see dig, ville sige, du er det deiligste Menneskebarn de have seet! du beholder din svævende Gang, ingen Dandserinde kan svæve som du, men hvert Skridt du gjør, er som du traadte paa en skarp Kniv, saa dit Blod maatte flyde. Vil du lide alt dette, saa skal jeg hjælpe dig?"
"Ja!" sagde den lille Havfrue med bævende Stemme, og tænkte paa Prindsen og paa at vinde en udødelig Sjæl.
"Men husk paa," sagde Hexen, "naar du først har faaet menneskelig Skikkelse, da kan du aldrig mere blive en Havfrue igjen! du kan aldrig stige ned igjennem Vandet til dine Søstre og din Faders Slot, og vinder du ikke Prindsens Kjærlighed, saa han for dig glemmer Fader og Moder, hænger ved dig med sin hele Tanke og lader Præsten lægge Eders Hænder i hinanden, saa I blive Mand og Kone, da faaer du ingen udødelig Sjæl! den første Morgen efter at han er gift med en anden, da maa dit Hjerte briste, og du bliver Skum paa Vandet."
I will prepare a draught for you, with which you must swim to land tomorrow before sunrise, and sit down on the shore and drink it. Your tail will then disappear, and shrink up into what mankind calls legs, and you will feel great pain, as if a sword were passing through you. But all who see you will say that you are the prettiest little human being they ever saw. You will still have the same floating gracefulness of movement, and no dancer will ever tread so lightly; but at every step you take it will feel as if you were treading upon sharp knives, and that the blood must flow. If you will bear all this, I will help you."
"Yes, I will," said the little princess in a trembling voice, as she thought of the prince and the immortal soul.
"But think again," said the witch; "for when once your shape has become like a human being, you can no more be a mermaid. You will never return through the water to your sisters, or to your father's palace again; and if you do not win the love of the prince, so that he is willing to forget his father and mother for your sake, and to love you with his whole soul, and allow the priest to join your hands that you may be man and wife, then you will never have an immortal soul. The first morning after he marries another your heart will break, and you will become foam on the crest of the waves."
I wanted to convey that feeling of longing and sadness in the painting and also the sense of being trapped in between two
worlds. In fact, it almost looks like she is not only breaking the surface of the water but the painting itself and is trapped halfway
between reality and imagination.
I have done some research into the myths of mermaids and other waterspirits. There are many different kinds; Glaistigs, Undines, Nixies, Loreleii, Rusalki, Naiades, Asrai, Selkies, Merrows and more.
The common denominator seems to be that they all represent the ambivalent nature of water. On one hand it is a provider of food and a nourisher of crops - on the other it is certainly also a taker of lives and a very treacherous and powerful element. We are all made of water and we spend the first 9 months of our lives in a cocoon of it - yet none of us can survive in the deep depths of the sea for any longer period of time without our fancy equipment and machinery. It represents a great source of mystery and perhaps the uncharted areas of the sea compare to the uncharted areas of our own minds and potential spirituality.
When Christianity collided with old religions and folklore, new explanations emerged as to why creatures such as mermaids and other faeries existed. The missionaries of Christendom knew that people weren´t just going to completely abandon their old beliefs - so adjustments were made. In Irish mythologi and within the Catholic religion for instance, they believe that all faeries and demons are really fallen angels, who fell when Lucifer challenged God. Some fell to the earth, others fell in the sea and the rest went straight to hell. The ones that fell to earth became faeries and goblins and other such spirits, while the ones that fell in the sea became waterspirits such as mermaids. Following this logic the reason why fairies abduct and torment humans is because they are jealous of us. They are stuck here in our realm until the final judgement day, while we can die and go straight to heaven. They have no immortal soul.
I think that it´s interesting that H.C. Andersen actually incorporated this aspect of the mermaid mythologi in his fairytale. The little mermaid longs to possess an immortal soul just as she longs to have the love and devotion of the prince. In the end the prince chooses to marry another girl and the mermaid will die unless she kills the prince and his bride on their wedding night. She fails to do so and instead throws herself into the waves facing certain death. To her surprise she is greeted by the daugters of the air who inform her that she will not die and fade into oblivion, Because of her sacrifice she is awarded the chance to gain an immortal soul by serving the daughters of the air for 300 years.