One of the most enduring themes in religious art is The Annunciation. A favourite of Gothic and Renaissance painters, it gave them an excuse to contrast the bling of the Angel Gabriel with the demure demeanour of Mary, without the problem of painting the baby Jesus (judging by the number of hideous Renaissance babies displayed on museum walls around the world, infant proportions flummoxed artists long after they had mastered perspective and foreshortening).
Now, for the first time ever, I’ve painted my own version of the theme. It is not faithful to the conventions of Western art – there’s no Mary, for one thing, and the allusions to the Angel Gabriel appear only in the wings of the birds, butterflies and bats around the baby.
The child in the centre of the composition swims in a swimming pool that alludes to my previous works on this subject. She (or possibly he) exudes light, making it impossible to make out any features. This is as it should be, because I can’t paint something when I don’t yet know what it will look like.
The painting, you see, is of my own child – or at least what I imagine my child represents to me. Right now the life tethered within me is some 14 weeks formed, months away from arriving in the world, but present enough to have changed everything I thought I knew about myself and the nature of existence itself.
This is a happy painting – a distinct progression from the Swimming At Night work, which emerged during a period of very deep depression. I’m about to take a dip in the very same pool that inspired those works, though it is a hot Sunday afternoon rather than a sultry Johannesburg night. My eight-year-old stepdaughter has just climbed out of the water; she added in some details to the painting, including a tulip and a butterfly in the bottom left hand corner. I photographed it before she added two angels above the baby’s head, so I will have to share that with you later.
Her father, my husband and the father of this new life, is waiting for us at home. How amazing it is, how much life can change.