The Seven Deadly Sins of Modern Times - acrylic symbolic painting on wooden table by artist Susan Dorothea White, after The Seven Deadly Sins by Hieronymus Bosch
Susan Dorothea White
The Seven Deadly Sins of Modern Times, 1993
acrylic on wooden table, dia. 123 cm (48")

The idea to paint both The Seven Deadly Isms and The Seven Deadly Sins of Modern Times, came from Bosch's circular painting on a tabletop The Seven Deadly Sins. I was struck by the novelty of viewing a painting by walking around its circumference, rather than standing before it. To paint a continuous, circular composition with interconnecting narratives was a challenge and an alternative to compositions with a single static viewpoint, limited by four sides. Instead of the enormous eye of God used by Bosch, I chose to enlarge he iris of our pet cat to represent Gaia, the goddess of the universe.

I reversed the traditional sins, replacing each with its antonym because the opposite extremes are just as "deadly". A noxious species, introduced to Australia, symbolises each "sin". I developed a perspective based on concentric circles for this painting, and for the block-print with the same title.

Indifference replaces Anger; its symbol is the feral water buffalo. A marble statue for cold indifference with nose in the air, looks "cool", wearing wrap-around sunglasses. Icicles dangle from his suit. He ignores the desperate plights of the people at his feet. "Charity" written on the building signifies "as cold as charity"; reflections in the building's windows are "as cool as a cucumber" and "cold-hearted"; and the calculator is "cold and calculating". The overall symmetrical composition is rigid and cold.

Self-effacement replaces Pride or Vanity. The crown-of-thorns starfish, a noxious species destroying Australia's coral reefs, crowns a figure on his knees eating dirt. The musician shuns the limelight as he "hides his light behind a bushel", while I discard an edition of my prints. My paintings face the wall.

Celibacy replaces Lust: I chose the noxious prickly pear for this "sin". A couple deny their sexual desires. The man hits his erection with a large spoon and the woman turns away, crossing her legs while dragging a sheet over her naked body. A sculpture of a cock in a knot stands on the bedside table. A cross and an icon, symbolise the Christian belief in chastity as a virtue.

Workaholism replaces Sloth: the European "busy bee" suits this subject. I keep my "nose to the grindstone", while my husband "burns the midnight oil" working at his computer, with a stack of exams waiting to be marked. Working "hammer and tongs" is indicated by the forger's tools. The pot is "kept boiling" on the potbelly stove, which contains "too many irons in the fire".

Dieting replaces Gluttony, with "skinny as a rat" devouring profiteroles. A skeleton performing a belly dance is the prizewinner of a slimming contest. The winning diet consists of one "curate's egg" for breakfast, "curried favour" for lunch, and "own juice stew" for dinner. A woman, reduced to skin and bone, shuns the lavish spread of food on the table, and pushes away the baking dish with her foot. Behind her is a menu: "Today's Special: Hen's Teeth Consommé and Stoned Crow Tripe, or 2 Peas in a Pod and Thin End of Cheese Wedge; Dessert, 2 Bites of one Cherry; Drink, Vintage Crocodile Tear".

Squandering replaces Avarice. I chose the cockroach for its devouring nature; an enlarged one plays a poker machine and a lottery ticket is crawling with cockroaches. A young woman is "pouring water through a sieve", about to lose the jewellery she wears. A hand "throws money to the wind". A man is "killing the goose that lays the golden egg". The TAB for horse betting, the Casino, and the poker machines represent gambling while "money burns a hole in a pocket".

Sucking-up replaces Envy (for the block-print version, I used Sycophancy). I decided not to use altruism as the antonym of envy, since it is too nice a quality. The noxious cane-toad is symbolic of sucking-up and sycophancy. A "toad-eater" devours a plate of them, and next to him is a bottle of oil for "unctuousness". An "arse-licker" wearing a dress of purple toad-skin, is "crawling" after the managing director. A "slippery" toad sneaks in through the door of the Award Board.

Susan D White

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