An octopus is fascinating.
The sea creature (perhaps, even the original sea monster) is so ancient that even as a word, with its plural octopi, it has retained a fossil-like grammatical form.
The emphatically armed animal has been a subject throughout the history of art; its likeness is found painted on ancient Minoan clay pottery that dates back to ca. 1500 BCE.
Adding to its complexity, as a biological function, the organism secretes ink. It is as if genetically, evolutionarily, and anatomically the species is natured to be an artist. But, alas, the octopus – O ancient calligrapher! – has had so much ink spilt without a canvas to catch it.
Luckily Jennifer Caviola, the artist behind our piece of the week, has set out to capture these creatures in her own canvases – perhaps, we can portmanteau the genre into octoportraiture.
“I think [I paint octopi because of] their 8 arms and tentacles can be so graceful and so gestural, that it is almost like painting a human,” she says.
Our piece of the week, Dance with the Octopus, is a work of acrylic on wood (18”x24”) that depicts an octopus and a female figure against an ink-dark background.
The octopus in the painting, whose arms go beyond the page, gracefully conducts and harmonizes the composition.
As the title suggests, the painting lends itself to dance and music. It seems nearly beyond the reach of coincidence that the octopus and the octave – the most basic, fundamental interval of music – share an initial syllable and its emphasis on the number eight.
Eight makes a melody.
With graceful, flowing arms, it is as if the octopus is forever dancing to its anatomical musicality.
“I like to think the women in my work share characteristics with [the octopi], a lot of the time I use animals as totems in the work,” she says.
The woman and the octopus in Dance with the Octopus are formally connected through color and line.
“I find it interesting to find ways to have [the octopi] interacting with the women in my paintings” says Caviola, “either they are worn like a hat, or wrapped around bodies, or in this one, simply existing in the picture plane with her, as if they were equals and partners and facing something together.”
In juxtaposing a human being with an octopus, Caviola reveals the two species’ uncanny similarities: the woman’s flowing hair and is not unlike the octopus’ flowing arms and they both have two eyes attached to their respective cranial kingdoms.
“I think I paint the things best that I enjoy painting, and [octopi] are certainly the most enjoyable to create,” she says.