Acrylic on canvas, 30" x 40"
The Country suitor
“The Country Suitor” is inspired by the short story, “Greenleaf,” by Flannery O’Connor. It’s the story of a Mrs. May, who complains about her hard work and is convinced she’s the only one who’s suffered. Her shortsightedness of her “problems” has twisted and warped her outlook, making herself into this elevated, self-pitying idol, completely blind to the grace that is being offered to her. That is, until the end of the story when the loose, stray bull, the Christ-figure, who at one point stands under her window at night, “like some patient god come down to woo her,” who Mrs. May has nothing but the utmost disdain for and eventually makes it her goal to have shot instead of roaming free on her farm, in true O’Connor style, gores Mrs. May, impaling her to the hood of her car. I’d always loved the beauty of the metaphor of the bull, the “uncouth country suitor,” who overjoyed, bursting with excitement upon seeing her, runs towards her, pierces her heart, and grabs her in an unbreakable grip. But what made me want to paint this image was the idea that Love is nothing like my preconceptions, but is ungentle, messy, scary, and like a seed that must die before life can come from it, it involves brokenness. This moment of Love for Mrs. May is a mix of intimacy and pain; revelation and death.
In a few minutes something emerged from the tree line, a black heavy shadow that tossed its head several times and then bounded forward. After a second she saw it was the bull. He was crossing the pasture toward her at a slow gallop, a gay almost rocking gait as if he were overjoyed to find her again. She looked beyond him to see if Mr. Greenleaf was coming out of the woods too but he was not. “Here he is, Mr. Greenleaf!” she called and looked on the other side of the pasture to see if he could be coming out there but he was not in sight. She looked back and saw that the bull, his head lowered, was racing toward her. She remained perfectly still, not in fright, but in a freezing unbelief. She stared at the violent black streak bounding toward her as if she had no sense of distance, as if she could not decide at once what his intention was, and the bull had buried his head in her lap, like a wild tormented lover, before her expression changed. One of his horns sank until it pierced her heart and the other curved around her side and held her in an unbreakable grip. She continued to stare straight ahead but the entire scene in front of her had changed—the tree line was a dark wound in a world that was nothing but sky—and she had the look of a person whose sight has been suddenly restored but who finds the light unbearable. Mr. Greenleaf was running toward her from the side with his gun raised and she saw him coming though she was not looking in his direction. She saw him approaching on the outside of some invisible circle, the tree line gaping behind him and nothing under his feet. He shot the bull four times through the eye. She did not hear the shots but she felt the quake in the huge body as it sank, pulling her forward on its head, so that she seemed, when Mr. Greenleaf reached her, to be bent over whispering some last discovery into the animal’s ear.
-Excerpt from Greenleaf by Flannery O'Connor