Tuesday, 6 August 2013


Confessions of a Pagan God

This is an unusual project in that it is an exhibition of paintings and the publication of a small book of poems to accompany that exhibition.

Dionysus - ancient Greek vase

Although I have been a professional painter for many years, I am entirely new to poetry - but not, I hope, to the world of the imagination that informs all poetry of value.

Magical Horse - Mike Healey

It's true, I have been writing professionally for the stage. radio and television throughout my media career but poetry - well, that is a new adventure for me!

Th Oracle at Delphi - Mike Healey

By way of introduction to Dionysus himself - the subject of this multimedia work - let me start with a few thoughts on ancient mythology.

Greek Mythology

Some Reflections on Mythology

From the creation out of Chaos and the birth of the Olympian gods and goddesses, ancient Greek myths have shaped and informed Western consciousness

Green Man

Through subsequent artistic representations, paintings and sculptures have helped define what we call beauty, setting down a yard-stick against which even modern art is sometimes measured

Shakespearean 'mythology' from The Tempest
3D stage design by Mike Healey

In my work I have tried frequently to reinterpret these classical stories and to find relevance for contemporary audiences

Pagan God by Mike Healey

In some cases I have gone back to times before the classical Greek myths, to an even darker pagan age when fearful creatures inhabited the forests, demanding human sacrifices to appease their anger - as in the picture above


I have also tried to explore the great fertility myth associated with Persephone and her rape and abduction by Hades, King of the Underworld

Demeter - pagan goddess

This great myth - representative of fundamental fertility/creation cycles - is a rich source for artists like me, drawn as we are to natural forms within an ever-changing natural world

Often, however, it is necessary to go against traditional, 'classical' representations and re-invent mythical figures - as in my recent drawing of Venus, the goddess of Love

Green Venus

In the above picture I have made Venus a pagan figure, lustful and somewhat scary - an image far removed from 'sanitized' Classical Greek or later Renaissance representations

It is this constant attempt to reinterpret mythological figures that, for an artist at least, is particularly fulfilling

Mike Healey

Origins of this Project


For the last four years I have been living and working in the South of  France, primarily as a painter of the natural world - plants, trees and other natural forms.

Golden Plant - Mike Healey

When I moved to Greece (Corfu) a year ago, I decided to try and combine both painting and writing - if that were at all possible.

In this short period I have produced no less than three new books (crime thrillers) and have two historical adventure stories in the pipeline. Since the crime rate on this tranquil island is negligible, it is very conducive to murder and mayhem of the imagination!

Mouse Island - Corfu

I have not yet had an opportunity to exhibit my paintings here in Corfu but there is a chance later this year to show my work in a beautiful gallery in Corfu Town, the capital of the island.

It is to that end that I am currently working.

The idea to include poems in this project arose when I began to think about how to title and 'explain' my work. 

Here in Greece it is reasonable to assume that many will know about the ancient Greek god Dionysus (better known by his Roman name perhaps - Bacchus, pagan god of wine). 

However,  not many people will know his origins, the nature of his cult or how he was received in Greece since he was in act a 'foreign import' from Asia Minor.


This meant extensive and intrusive 'signage' for the exhibition. 

Rather than do that I resolved to write a number of short poems that would not only describe the god's 'history' but also go some way to explain the paintings and drawings themselves.

The idea that this could also result in a short, illustrated book to accompany the exhibition (as opposed to a conventional catalog) was an additional attraction. 

And so, that is what I am about to do.

You can - if you care to - watch my progress (or lack of it!) in subsequent pages of this blog!

Mike Healey



Decalcomania is a technique that I have used extensively in my work and which will, subsequently, feature in the exhibition associated with this project.

Here is how to this technique works.

 Maened - Mike Healey

The strange rock formations shown above are created by spreading wet ink (I actually use bone black powder mixed with water) then applying paper, pressing it down and afterwards drawing it back carefully.

With practice you can create amazing shapes. In the above painting I have added a photographic face to turn the shapes into a strange figure.

Yellow Landscape

The above painting used exactly the same technique but the bramble/tree shapes were created with a palette knife. The only two colours used were yellow and black.

You need to work fast for the bone black 'paste' dries quickly.

You also need shiny white paper. Photographic paper is ideal. Although expensive it does not absorb water too readily, allowing you to manipulate the 'ink' on its surface more effectively.

Moroccan Oasis - Mike Healey

If you combine both techniques (pressed paper + palette knife) you can create very interesting images - as in the 'Moroccan oasis' shown above

Once dry, the surface is unstable and will need a spray varnish to fix it. You can use water colour varnish. I use normal hair spray - just as good and a fraction the price!

Blue Landscape

These techniques work equally well in color - in this case,  a thin wash of  blue and black poster paint. In the  landscape below I have painted in the blue sky by hand as a way to define the rock shapes more effectively.

Mountain Curtain

Here (below) is one of the first finished works for the Dionysus Exhibition. 

I have again used decalcomania techniques (first employed by the Surrealists) to create a complex image of three Maenads resting after a ritual 'orgy' of violence.

 Maenads Resting

If you look closely, you can see the bloody remains of a human foot (top right) - all that is left in tact (well, almost!) of the person whom the Maenads tore limb from limb in 
their violent  religious 'frenzy'.

It is generally assumed that the followers of Dionysus were drunk but Robert Graves has argued that it was more likely to have been a much stronger drug. 

Indeed, he suggests that it could have been a raw mushroom - amanita muscario - which 'induces hallucinations, senseless rioting, prophetic sight, erotic energy, and remarkable muscular strength'.


The above collage also uses decalcomania techniques but is in fact a collage with about three distinct 'layers'. It represents the mother of Dionysus - Semele.

So far I have finished seven paintings for this exhibition - only another 19 to go!  

Watch this space!

Mike Healey