'Hedgehogs' Dilemma' / Oil, acrylic and spray paint on canvas / 158 x 158 cm / 2020

The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer tells a story about a colony of porcupines, or giant hedgehogs. On cold winter's days they huddled together for warmth, to escape being frozen. But, plagued by one another's sharp pricks, they pulled apart again. Every time the desire for warmth brought them together, the same calamity befell them. So they remained caught between two misfortunes, trying to avoid freezing to death on the one side and trying to avoid becoming impaled on each other's spiny quills on the other, until they discovered that if they stood at a certain distance from one another, in the English philosopher Michael Oakeshott's take on the story, they could both delight in their own individuality and enjoy each other's company.  In other words, they could remain the spiky creatures they were without freezing to death, as long as they found a way to live together that respected in practice these fundamental facts of their existence.  Unknown to themselves, Oakeshott concluded, the hedgehogs had invented civil society.

I came across this story through Tim and the metaphor of the 'Hedgehogs' dilemma' provoked the imagery in the painting.  The first thing I painted in this work was the word  'meta' - you can't see it now, but I often do that as a starting point; as a first layer 'behind' everything that is subsequently painted. After hearing about the dilemma I wanted to use the hedgehogs. After painting those came the lattice of spikes.

The Hedgehogs' dilemma made me think about where the artist fits in, or does not fit in, when we rethink civil society.  The floating figure with the glow around him is loosely based on the popular American TV artist Bob Ross. Ross was one of the first exponents of the 'paint along' program - there were a couple of people before him, but he was the most popular. In 'The Joy of Painting', which ran for more than a decade from the early 1980s to the mid 1990s, he spent over 500 episodes painting essentially the same painting. I like to refer to him as a painter with a very strict methodology... He is included to symbolise 'the artist'. He hovers around, armed with his palette knife, trying to find his place amongst the hedgehogs.


Dom Heffer - Artist