Painting Paradise

My PhD research at the ‘Prince’s Foundation: School of Traditional Arts’ in London


Few themes in the arts speak to the imagination as does the theme of Paradise. From depictions of lush gardens and colourful flowers to more abstract notions like sacred geometries, artists throughout the ages have embraced the Paradisiacal theme and its allusions to utopian and heavenly realities.[i],[ii]

However, the earthly reality is that material works on Paradise are often heavenly nor wholesome. Especially since the Industrial Revolution, when synthetic pigments entered the palettes, many works are crafted utilising toxic materials and unsustainable methods. Paradisiacal paintings thus produced can seriously harm the environment, nature, and human health.[iii] Thus, the execution of works on Paradise does not live up to its thematic ideal.

In my PhD research, I attempt to resolve this incongruity. Through a process of exploration and application of particularly the traditional Persian and Mughal art practices and materials, I seek to understand how contemporary artists might learn from these pre-modern masters to work in ways that are wholesome to themselves and to our planet. My heavenly vision sees my research transform the contemporary art sector to utilise paradisiacal methods for all themes, while helping overcome the real sustainability challenges of our time.[iv]


[i] See for example historical books of images (see for example, The Bedford Book of Hours, MS 18850, The British Library, ca. 1410-1430 and Aga-Oglu, M. & Hall, H. B. ‘The Landscape Miniatures of an Anthology Manuscript of the Year 1398 A.D.’ Ars Islam. 3, 1936, 76–98). Artists from more recent history are likewise drawn to this timeless theme, for example: Pierre Bonnard in his explorations of paradise from 1916 to 1920, ‘Earthly Paradise’; Marc Chagall in his 1961 surrealistic masterpiece ‘Adam and Eve expelled from Paradise’; Monica Maja Richardson’s 2021 ‘Green Paradise’ <www.saatchiart.com/art/Painting-GREEN-PARADISE/399252/8811701/view>

[ii] Heinberg, R. Memories and Visions of Paradise: exploring the universal myth of a lost golden age. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., 1989, pages XXV, 3-4, 74-75.

[iii] On the potential harms to the environment caused by artists’ materials see, for example: Jansen, M. & Letschert, H. P. ‘Inorganic yellow-red pigments without toxic metals’, Nature vol. 404, 980–982 (2000), p. 1; T. M. Garcia, et al. ‘Microplastics in subsurface waters of the western equatorial Atlantic (Brazil)’, Marine Pollution Bulletin, vol. 150, (2020), p. 1, 4; For contribution to loss of biodiversity and health hazards see, for example: L. Leyssens, Vinck, B., Van Der Straeten, C., Wuyts, F. & Maes, L. ‘Cobalt toxicity in humans: A review of the potential sources and systemic health effects’, Toxicology, vol. 387, 43–56 (2017), p. 2,4,9; H. S. Kim, Kim, Y. J. & Seo, Y. R. ‘An Overview of Carcinogenic Heavy Metal: Molecular Toxicity Mechanism and Prevention’, Journal of Cancer Prevention vol. 20, 232–240 (2015) p.232, 238.

[iv] See for example Ghisellini, Cialani and Ulgiati’s notion of the circularity of the economy in their proposal for urgent transition required to meet the challenges of the environmental crisis (see Ghisellini, P., Cialani, C. & Ulgiati, S. ‘A Review on Circular Economy: The expected transition to a balanced interplay of environmental and economic systems’. Journal of Cleaner Production, vol. 114, 11–32 (2016)) and the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development | Department of Economic and Social Affairs. <sdgs.un.org/2030agenda> accessed 17 May 2022).