Back in the 90s, I was a student (aka apprentice) of Odd Nerdrum and also modeled for this painting.
I knew he saw me, but I was also embarrassed to admit it. I was embarrassed by the knives and that aspect of me.
If people asked me what the knives represented, I would innocently say “I don’t know”.
So here it is, all laid out.
This painting is of a saint and a beast.
The face is that of a saint, and I have that side of my personality.
The arms and knives are those of the beast.
What is the saint-beast dynamic? And what is the beast? It can be seen in several ways.
The first is one I don’t like to admit to so much. I have a tendency to people-please and set aside my own needs, and that comes with suppressed anger, feeling like a victim, reactivity and so on. The face is the people-pleasing, and the knife is the suppressed anger. (This also reflects a family and cultural pattern.)
More generally, any identity comes with a shadow side, and if I identify as good and “spiritual”, what in me doesn’t fit goes into darkness. It’s more hidden. Not acknowledged. And I have spent a lot of time exploring and owning – or owning up to – those sides of me, even from before this painting was made.
The beast also mirrors a ruthless side of me. If something is important to me (awakening but sometimes other things), I can be ruthless going after it.
And that’s related to another way to look at the knives. Swords and knives can represent cutting through the bullshit. Going for the truth and reality, even if it’s uncomfortable (see Manjushri). (This is best applied to oneself.)
I think this dynamic in me is also why I resonate with characters like Hellboy (especially as depicted in the del Toro films). He is born a beast (demon) but has a pure heart.
Why the twins? I am not sure. If this image was in a dream of mine, I would wonder if it represents a division or kind of a split. The saint on one side and the knives and beast on the other. Something that’s not (yet) brought into or recognized as part of a whole. That was more true of me then although it’s still part of me. I am still working on it.
And the primal clothing and setting? It’s typical for Nerdrum (and one of the reasons I resonate with and love his art). And the theme is primal too, whatever the theme is. That too is typical for Nerdrum.
Most of the subjects have a mythic or archetypal feel to them, and we can have a sense of it, but the exact meaning is hard to pin down. My sense is that by trying to pin it down, we miss the point and the power of the paintings. They are meant to work on us at a more primal level.
Here are some comments about the painting from Alejita, my partner.
The painting: They are two. Two parts of you. Although the clothes and the hair are of a mystic, the look of him (especially in the man behind) is bestial. And with the knife, he is opening the left side of your body, your heart. One of them covers the heart of the other. One, the one behind is more beastly than the one in the front. However, most beastly is the one who opens the heart. The force with which he is taking the knife is abysmal. And the horizon is at neck height, splitting your body from your head.
And what she wrote after reading this post:
I feel that the two of you are both a beast, both have a knife, both are ready to kill the “things” are not any more “useful”. I don’t see the two characters as a separation, rather they are the complete image of you. It looks like the two coexist with the beast, there is no separation. The double image is more the feminine and masculine together, living with the beast that is not a third party. It is completeness, union.
I resonate with that way of looking at it. The one on “stage right” is more masculine (this is the original) and the one stage-left is more feminine (he copied this based on the first). And both have the saint and beast together. It’s all one – feminine and masculine, saint and beast.