Being a long-time North Coast resident, local artist Jimmy Willing has often heard the conspiracy theory about Coca Cola creating the red and white Santa we see today for their own commercial purposes. After a bit of digging, Jimmy discovered the story was indeed true, and was intrigued that a corporation had the power to irrevocably change Christmas folk lore.
Looking for inspiration for his annual Christmas decoration in the window of the Lismore Regional Gallery, Jimmy decided to depict the legend of St Nicholas before Coca Cola got their hands on him.
America changed Santa forever they made him red and white to suit their marketing campaign, but I wanted a more gothic Santa, Jimmy said. When I began looking I found a polyglot of traditions and legends surrounding St Nicholas, so I picked one that resonated with me. In my artwork he is a Bishop who gave to the poor and looked out for children. In reality, he probably would have looked Turkish, as he was from Myra, but the Santa we know today takes his face from the god Thor, which I kept. Its really a patchwork of the different myths and legends throughout the ages.
Beside Santa in the painting is Krampus, a devil that St Nicholas supposedly controlled and forced to do good. Legend has it that if you were good you would get a present from Santa, but if you were bad you would get a lump of coal from Krampus. Worse still, Krampus would sometimes whip them with his willow stick.
He was like Santas bad cop, and I dont think Krampus was good for business, so he got removed from the legend, said Jimmy. I wanted to put him back in the picture.
Jimmys special Christmas window decoration goes on show at the Lismore Regional Gallery from this Friday, November 24, to coincide with the opening of the gallerys new exhibition, Epic.
It will remain on show until January 12 next year.
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