The Manead Etchings

Thomas Cornell’s meditation on Dionysos reflects his concern for the relationship between humanity and nature, including a response to feminism. The maneads were associates of Dionysos, women who left their domestic chores to be free in nature. The etchings were made outside in a particular environment.

In the 1960’s, much of Cornell’s work was made in response to rapid social changes in the world. He found Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy and studied The Bacchae of Euripedes. In his work, Dionysos signifies the essence of modern scientific and critical discovery, and is emblematic of liberation and resistance to the politics of domination. Critic Martica Sawin wrote “for Cornell, Dionysos becomes synonymous with nature and by extension a symbol of the environment, threatened by excessive emphasis on progress and rationality. Hence, he celebrates him not as an inciter to bacchanalian frenzy but as a benign host to a humanity capable of existing in a harmonious symbiotic relationship with the environment.”

The maenad etchings in this exhibition were begun in the mid-to-late 1970’s. They are images of powerful, independent women Their freedom in nature seemed a natural synthesis of feminism and environmentalism, which have now emerged as key issues implicit in all politics and explicit in the green political ideology.

For example, an intimacy with the environment is evident in the integration of the figure with their surroundings; rather than outlining the figures, figure and ground fluctuate with sensitivity given to the edges. They were etched from direct experience of modern woman and wooded scene and gain in intensity from direct perception.

Cornell expressed his appreciation for the opportunity to show these images as a comprehensive unit for the first time.

 

Rose Marie Frick, Frick Gallery, Belfast Maine

May 1990