My introduction to Greek mythology was principally down to a group of inspirational teachers when I worked at St Aloysius, and one in particular called Ronnie Santangeli who was the Latin teacher there. I was very struck by these rich stories conjured up as way of explaining the world and all the complexity and contradiction of human nature. Unpacking them really brought them to life and made realise they could be an amazing source of inspiration for my work.
The one that really caught my imagination was the story of Orpheus, the legendary young poet and musician, famed for his sweet voice and accompanying lyre. Though he is best known for attempting to bring back his dead wife Eurydice from the Underworld by charming its god Hades with his music, I was more struck by this capacity to enchant with his music. For me, Orpheus is a symbol of creativity, whose talent for singing and music can render everything – even the rocks and the trees – spellbound. This demonstration of the power of creativity over the physical world really chimed with me, symbolising the powerful effect that art can have on human lives.
In this painting, Orpheus is revealed as a young child, a contemporary-looking boy, barefoot and dressed simply in a red T-shirt. In place of the lyre, his instrument is a violin, which relates to the Scottish fiddle of my childhood and my deep love of music. Orpheus is still and composed, a young boy whose magnetising presence has drawn the rams, symbolising the more ordered cultivated world of man, and made the wolves, which represent the wild natural world, docile.
Orpheus has just stopped playing; the wolves have started to twitch and look around, and the rams are getting nervous in their presence. The spell is broken and the wild world must reassert itself. I painted Orpheus several times in several guises, but always as children. In this rendering, the musician is represented by my youngest son Patrick.