Sundry Beasts roam these paintings: the minotaur; feared and loathed, rapacious devourer of human flesh, but equally a victim of the circumstances which conspired to create him (wasn't every monster once a child?); lions and serpents which populate re-imaginings of Eve; and a listless centaur cowers in the presence of Athena, bedecked in a pelt of Medusa heads.
Helen Flockhart, Colchis Bull, 2020, Oil on panel, 18 x 24 cm
These beasts provide a metaphor for the bestial aspects of human nature and also the vulnerability and pathos therein: the whole messy mix which constitutes humanity. The way we view the tropes expounded within stories - from Greek myth, from Genesis, from legend - whether perpetuated or subverted, tells us much about ourselves in the here and now.
HELEN FLOCKHART, Asterion, 2020, Oil on linen, 105 x 160 cm
I woke up one evening in early November with something warm between my feet
under the bedcovers. I couldn’t recall placing a hot water bottle in the bed, and the
cat was sleeping next to my head; a white powder puff on a midnight pillow. I
reluctantly pulled back the covers and saw something small and black curled up on
its side on the turquoise sheet.
Then I remembered: while sleeping away the day, I had given birth to a small
The oversized zebra-print t-shirt I was wearing was damp, the sheets were clammy.
The knot I had been carrying in my stomach for the last few weeks had come undone
and been replaced by a bubbling hunger. I drew up my legs, knelt on the bed and lay
my chest flat on my thighs, I was folded and domed like a swan; all the better to see
He was the size of a baby, but all in proportion, and was covered with tiny, iridescent
feathers. On his head were two golden nubs, the beginnings of horns. He blinked his
long cow lashes, and slowly stood up, the sheets puckering like milk skin under his
tiny, furred feet.
I sat back on my heels, and he looked at me with his obsidian eyes. I sensed the cat
move and turned to find her sitting and looking at him. I fetched him a raw egg to
eat, and he lapped it up from a dish. When I returned from the kitchen with a second
egg, the cat was sleeping in the place where the minotaur had been standing, but he
I felt relieved.
- BETH CARTER, Farewell Carousel I, 2019 Plaster, wood, acrylic, fabric 68 x 65 x 65 cm, Edition of 1
I was glad that he’d left at first, but then felt compelled to find him. I went out to
search for him, walking the early evening streets in whichever direction felt right. I
came to a railway bridge, and in its fluorescent yellow light I saw the minotaur, now
grown larger, as high as my hipbone, hunched forward and walking stiffly towards
I ran after him and watched him slip into the thick sheen of the pond. He resurfaced
on the other side and squatted down on the bank.
The trees that surrounded the pond bled into a submerged ring-fence of reeds,
blocking my way. I went around it, burrowing through the bushes and trees. I felt
hot, could feel the sweat running down my back. It was as if the vegetation was
emitting heat. I peeled off my pale mint-green coat, unzipped and dropped my
cranberry skirt, pulled my evergreen sweatshirt over my head. I tumbled, naked and
bright, through the twigs and thorns and branches, which swiped and scratched at
my skin in flashes of coolness and pain.
Helen Flockhart, Ambush, 2020, Oil on panel, 26 x 40 cm
I stood beside the minotaur. In the stark moonlight I could see that the feathers and
fur had fallen away and been replaced by thick whorls of black and bronze wool. His
tiny horns glinted as he stared into the water. He tentatively reached out his arms
and wrapped them around my bare leg. It felt as though an electric current was
running through my body from the place where he was touching me.
I followed his gaze to a pearly swan that was gliding towards us haloed by mist. The
minotaur looked back behind us; something was moving in the bushes. I turned and
saw a lion with straw and moss thatched into its mane step out to greet me with its
The minotaur released my leg and turned its face away from my meeting with the
HELEN FLOCKHARTLABYRINTH, 2020Oil on linen90 x 70 cm
Afraid to look them in the eye, I lowered my gaze to my own body instead and saw
that the marks left by the woodland had scribed an abundance of oscillating lines
across my chest, my arms, my stomach, my legs. The lichen, dirt, sap, and blood had
formed landscapes, mountainscapes, seascapes, horizons, ripples, cloud formations.
The perspectives and layers of all things.
I used this as a key to see what was really before me.
The swan was a mirage hiding my estranged husband. His appearance flickered from
swan, to crouching man with wide blue eyes, back to swan.
The lion, I could see now, was my cruel sister in disguise – the moss and straw
braided into her red hair, her skin flocked with pine needles.
BETH CARTERMINOTAUR (HOLDING HORN), 2019Bronze49 x 38 x 53 cm
Edition of 10
I concentrated and made myself anew. I appeared to them as the animal they most
feared – a peach-coloured ram – and their cloaks fell away.
Now I wore the swan’s wings wrapped around my body.
Now the lion’s rotting mane was woven into my hair.
My husband and sister slinked back into the water and the bushes.
The minotaur had vanished. But I could now track his scent.
I floated along the dark, silent streets, following the sour-iron odour of the minotaur,
which I could taste on my tongue more than smell. As I glided through the air, I saw
snakes glittering in the trees like strings of lights. As I passed them by, I collected
their fiery bites, which filled my mind with poetry.
BETH CARTER, The Fool, 2017, Bronze, Jesmonite base, 47 x 17 x 14 cm, Edition of 15
I arrived at the doors of an art gallery, where the minotaur’s pacing silhouette could
be seen through the tall front windows. I drifted in through the open door and
planted my bare feet on vibrating wooden floorboards.
The minotaur was almost as tall as me, with sharp brassy horns, and he whimpered
at me in distress and anticipation, indicating a set of shears on a small, black table. I
removed his wool to reveal a skin of tawny, cracked leather, scalding to the touch.
Blisters bubbled on my hands, before melting away like candy floss in the pools of my
Once the wool was piled around him on the ground, he snorted and flew stomping
through one of the doors and down the corridor beyond. I shed my wings and mane
and took up armfuls of the wool, which bedded into my skin to form a trouser suit.
I picked up an exhibition guide and pulled open its concertina folds on the floor.
Every page face had a fold-out flap, and each of these in turn had another two or
three flaps with little doors that could open like the ones in an advent calendar; the
writing became smaller and smaller with every further reveal. I abandoned the guide,
but it continued to blossom open on the floor with a slinking whisper.
HELEN FLOCKHARTRECKONING, 2020Oil on panel56 x 40 cm
Through the door the minotaur had taken, a dizzying selection of corridors and
rooms opened up before me; some were unlit, others had no ceiling and revealed the
night sky, staircases led up or down in perpetuity. There were no paintings on the
walls, instead there were windows, archways, portals.
Standing before one huge, gilded frame, I watched figures dressed in shimmering
sky-blue gowns dance in a room where the red wallpaper was peeling away to show a
snowy mountain forest; snowflakes studded the dancers’ golden red hair.
Stepping briefly through an ajar set of iron gates, I helped four creamy stags button
up their pyjama shirts while they sang me a bittersweet ditty in gratitude.
A porthole magnified the very matter of the universe.
Helen Flockhart, Come into the Garden, 2019, Oil on linen, 50 x 80 cm
Sculpted figures on plinths marked the junctions within the sprawling gallery. They
remained frozen and anonymous until I approached with a bow to complete
moulding their faces into all the people I had been subconsciously dreaming of.
There: I had seen the minotaur, now even taller than the doorframe he was passing
through at the end of the corridor to my right. Through the door was a small studio
that contained floor to wall bookshelves, a large window letting in enlivening
sunshine, a radio playing on a table in the corner, a low fire in the large black
fireplace. The floor was covered with open books, and what looked like autumn
leaves; the leather was flaking from the squatting minotaur and landing like
handprints on the pages.
Beth Carter, Crouching Minotaur - Giant, 2017, Bronze resin with gilded lead book, 90 x 85 x 80 cm, Edition of 8
The minotaur was perfectly still, reading from a book.
I approached him, fearing his hot iron heat, but the closer I got the more I felt a radiant chill coming off him. I reached out my hand and touched his head, and was surprised to find him as cool as bronze.
He handed me the book he was reading, and the letters scurried from the pages like ants, leaving a pregnant emptiness.
The minotaur placed a rosy ruff around my neck, and the sun coming in through the window suddenly started setting.
He picked up another book and continued reading in the red light as if I had already gone.
I left the gallery with the empty book he had gifted me. I transformed into a centaur
on the threshold and galloped home in a great rush, the snakes cheering me on with hisses to the moon.
Once home, I sat on the bed next to the sleeping cat. The ruff dissolved with the scent
of rose water in the light from the dawning sun.
I opened the book, picked up a pen, and, for the first time in a year, began to write.
Helen Flockhart, Woman on a Boat, 2020, oil on panel, 24 x 32 cm
HELEN FLOCKHART, Eve, 2019, Oil on board, 23 x 30.5 cm
Following her attainment of a first-class undergraduate degree in painting at the Glasgow School of Art in 1984, Helen Flockhart took up postgraduate study with the British Council at the State Higher School of Fine Art in Poznan, Poland. Boasting an impressive resume of solo exhibitions, spanning both Scotland and England, as well as group shows in New York, Ontario, Rotterdam, London and Truro, Flockhart was recently awarded the Concept Fine Art Award (2016), the Royal Scottish Academy’s Maude Gemmel Hutchinson Prize (2012), and the Lyon and Turnbull Award presented by the Royal Glasgow Institute (2012).
Faun, 2020, Bronze, 70 x 30 x 35 cm, Edition of 10
Sculptor Beth Carter was awarded her undergraduate degree in Fine Arts from Sunderland University in 1995, before embarking on a series of travels in pursuit of the ethnologic of figure making. The universality of mythic narratives, and the symbols, characters and exploits that are thrown up by it, are prominent features of a body of work that is as stunning visually as it is conceptually and technically. Carter’s bronzes realise the heroes and villains of the Hellenic and European pantheon in heavy, brooding bronze, re-situating the classical protagonist in the complex, existential contemporary.
B E A S T S