Roxana Halls (1974 – present) is a British painter known for surreal narrative scenes which often include images of women challenging normative social standards. Halls has stated that she is mainly self-taught after studying a foundation course in art at Plymouth College of Art and Design, opting to inform her practice through observation of old masters. Halls has exhibited nationally and internationally and her work is included in many collections. In 2020 her painting Horse McDonald, b.1958. Singer-songwriter (2019) was purchased by The Scottish National Portrait Gallery and is displayed there in Edinburgh.
Halls has been the recipient of several awards, including the Villiers David Prize, The Discerning Eye Founder's Purchase Prize and The Derwent Special Prize and she recently contributed to the Portraits for NHS Heroes project (National Galleries of Scotland, 2022).
The oil painting shown below, Laughing While Digging (2022) includes a typical motif in Halls' works, that being co-conspiring women involved in an ominous act. In this case the woman bearing shovels are clearly there to bury something (the pointed shovel indicates the intention to break the hard ground and dig into the earth below rather than merely shift about the top soil). Tangentially, then, the woman here could be said to echo the conspiring Morgan le Fay and Lady Bertilak who test Gawain and challenge his gendered status. Perhaps they are there to bury the contested masculinity and chivalric pretentions that the poem questions once and for all. However, these themes (feminist critique of patriarchal power) could be applied to many of Halls’ images and the textual influence of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is better evidenced in the eerily overgrown arboreal space that Halls' woman find themselves in. That space brings to mind the Green Chapel ‘matted with weeds and moss’ (Armitage, 2007:100) and the wild places that Gawain must traverse to arrive there. The grove and its overbearing canopy is an unsettling environment, the moss covered trunks and branches hint at other registers of life and time. 'Stirred by a sense that the English countryside isn’t just a place of beauty but is profoundly haunted’ Abberley refers to haunting and to ‘spectres’ observing that the eerie landscape directly challenges the picturesque or the ‘national trust gift shop view’ of England referring to that as a political ‘rewrite’ which supresses, horror, violence and the shifts in time represented in untamed wild land (Abberley, 2018). Many woodland creatures bear witness to the woman in Halls' painting, granting the background some agency to look back at the viewer, recalling the various animal references in the poem. Here the animals appear to be oddly drawn to the women's activity and the sense of anticipation, of an event is heightened by their gaze.
Abberley, W. (2018) Into the Eerie, A Somethin' Else production for Radio 3 accessed at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0002zmr (accessed on 8/03/2019).
Armitage, S. (2007) Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Faber and Faber.
Halls, R. (2022) Roxana Halls. [online] Roxanahalls.com. Available at: https://roxanahalls.com/home.html [Accessed 29 May 2022].
National Galleries of Scotland (2022) Horse McDonald, b.1958. Singer-songwriter. [online] Available at: <https://www.nationalgalleries.org/art-and-artists/232272/horse-mcdonald-b1958-singer-songwriter> [Accessed 29 May 2022].