The Elizabeth 1 Series

Diane Roberts’ paintings are the result of her investigations into the nature of female power and the position of women in male ordered societies. Her subject is Queen Elizabeth 1 and the accepted official portraits made of her during her reign. Images of Elizabeth 1 as an archetypal heroine have been created for us by history teachers, films and television. We have been persuaded to believe that the Queen was a person of strength, a powerful monarch and an astute politician. However, this popular verso of her character may itself have been entirely manipulated by her advisors, or manufactured by subsequent historians.
The examination of the life of elizabeth1 has been a means for Diane Roberts to explore herself and her own awakening to feminism. Through a process of research and evaluation, she had aimed to discover female history and to redefine the image of women as more than just housebound.
The inspiration for her own work comes from the original portraits of the Queen and particularly those in Hatfield House. By focussing on the clothing and embroidery within these pictures, Diane Roberts celebrates the artistic achievements of women within the decorative and applied arts. She communicates concern for their position to be upheld beside the Fine and so called, Higher Arts.
For herself, she finds painting the best method of interpreting and presenting her ideas. Using a combination of traditional brush-painting and various printmaking techniques, she works to build up rich colours and multiple picture planes rather than create illusionary, perspective space. The resulting paintings are visually seductive, with design and two-dimensional decoration being their immediate attraction. Working on a monumental scale, the artist liberated herself from some of the traditions of easel-painting.
Beyond its strong visual impact, the series also carries for her,
‘..A deeply felt criticism of those symbols that basically reinforced
patriarchal power, despite their connection with a woman.’’
By transporting specific motifs into a contemporary context, Diane Robert attempts to rationalise, and at the same time subvert their original function. They now play a key role in the creation of surreal and humorous images which may be interpreted on several different levels.
So what are these symbols and what do they mean?
The rainbow appears prominent and glowing in The Series and alludes to Elizabeth 1 in a goddess-like role, with the capacity to have control even over natural elements. The ermine represents purity and the queen’s virginity.elizabeth1’s resistance to marriage could be construed as a personal affirmation of her absolute power and control. It is however ironic, that the notion of purity can also be seen as restrictive of women’s power.
The Snake has associations with wisdom. In the Series, it is also connected with matriarchal cultures and goddess-worship.
The Pelican symbolises Elizabeth’s loyalty to her people, the belief being, that a pelican would rather tear its own breast to feed its young than let them go hungry The Phoenix is am ancient sign of rebirth and represents the reinforcement of Elizabeth’s lineage and her rise through cycles of change and transformation. The recurring motifs of the ruff and gloves are personally significant for Diane Roberts in her association with the meaning and function of clothing and self-adornment
They are also represented as being beautifully crafted and decorated items in themselves.
The ruff, along with the bum-roll, signifies a general and not necessarily historic conditioning to wear restrictive clothing for the sake of fashion.
The gloves have a more intimate meaning relating to the hands as vehicles for the display of emotion.
Research in to the lives of Joan of Arc, Queen Victoria and here, Elizabeth1 has provided Diane Roberts with a useful structure. This has formed the basis for her development as an interpreter of women in history and society today. She continues to search into women’s’ history as she finds it personally strengthening and particularly relevant to her own experience, Her work hoe harks back to the visual heritage of the t matriarchal culture which is still to be found on the island of Crete.
She no longer needs a personage as the basis of investigation, but now proceeds on a personal level which has become more idiosyncratic.
MILTON KEYNES EXHIBITION GALLERY