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Painting interpretation is not an exact science. Artists have a variety of different objectives when they express themselves and are not necessarily tied to logic or even meaning. Furthermore, people will react to their own experiences and emotions and derive meanings accordingly which is unique and individual to themselves. When exercising interpretation, it is useful to divide it in two separate tasks: identification of core elements and meaning. If an artist draws a perfect box there is no doubt it's a box. The meaning of the box in the context of the painting could be an infinitude of things. (See Box for a fun exercise on distinguishing the two)
Painting, as with any expression in art, requires skills and techniques which artists have and use to different degrees. Techniques are used to help the artist convey what he wants to express. While every artist's style may be radically different from each other, they will draw from a pool of common techniques to execute their work. These techniques include (but are not limited to): perspective (lines of sight), toning (dark/light), proportions, coloring, texture, etc.
The Big Picture
This painting was done by Desmond, so everything that is portrayed is known to him. There are some elements in this painting that have a remarkable resemblance with events in the Island (see breakdown below) that would have occurred far after he painted it. This is further evidence of his psychic abilities. Psychic abilities include: Psychometry (past), Extra-sensory perception (present) and premonition (future). Considering he has this ability, one has to weigh in the possibility that he can not only see events in the future but from the past as well. This is key to understanding the elements he portrays as they may not be from the same time frame.
Pragmatically, this painting was executed by Jack Bender. He would have included elements which are known to him. This will limit the scope of elements in the future and in the past as not everything in Lost is defined upfront.
Nature of the images
The painting seems to represent two worlds overseen by two "gods". On one side is a dark god associated with the moon and a long arm (representing his reach) that causes sickness and death. The house represents people who live or associate with him.
The other side is a light god associated by the sun, prosperity and life. The number 108 is clearly associated with this side. There are large numbers of people and fish living on this side.
Between them is a house representing people who are not one thing or the other. The number 42 is associated with this in-between region for unknown reasons.
The boat, the arrow and the larger proportion of images are given to the light side indicating that it's possible to escape the sickness and death associated with the dark side and make your way back to the light.
The painting in essence reflects that there are two forces at work on the Island. One good and one bad. One force is associated with sickness and death. The other with life and light.
Breaking Down the Elements
Man with eye scratched out
The man is a prominent figure in the whole painting and occupies a significant part of the mural. This could indicate that he is a very important figure. Mikhail Bakunin is missing his right eye. This figure has the left eye scratched out and should be someone else. Since there are possibly two people without an eye, there is a higher probability that the loss was not natural. The fact that it was scratched out indicates that the man lost the eye during the presence of the author on the Island and he has seen him on both conditions. The man appears to have a collar similar to a priest's collar indicating he is a religious figure. The man's face is black (though he appears to be a white man wearing a black mask as his ears and neck are white) while the woman's face is white which ties to the black and white theme.
- Note that the man has one white eye and one black eye, similar to how Locke's eyes appeared in Claire's dream. The black/white symbolism reflects the duality and potential present in each person, and in the Losties in particular. In the case of Locke, Claire's dream revealed him to be on the border of becoming either 'bad' or 'good'. Locke has shown on many occasions to be capable of either behavior, from building a crib for Claire to knocking out Sayid.. The mural's depiction of the white eye being scratched out doesn't reflect the loss of an eye, but of Locke eventually choosing to side with the 'bad' guys. Bad/Good and Black/White being relative in many cases, Locke's choice of sides might be no more meaningful than choosing to play either 'white' or 'black' in a game of chess or backgammon. This indicates that the characters in Lost may be players in a grand game.
- Like Mr. Eko and his brother Yemi, the man is a black priest.
- The character Lester Lowe in the novella Cycle of the Werewolf may be related. First and foremost, it is written by Stephen King. Secondly, it involvles a paraplegic boy of 10 who fends off an attack by the Monster (werewolf) by destroying its left eye with a bag of fireworks. The boy then goes trick or treating, and discovers the only person in town missing their left eye is Lester Lowe, who just happens to be a Baptist Minister. This character ends up being the werewolf. There's nothing definitive here, but the number of Lost related coincidences (religious figure that doubles as a monster, a monster who loses a left eye, a paraplegic protagonist, and Stephen King's involvement) make it difficult to ignore. Terry O'Quinn played Sheriff Joe Haller in the film version, Silver Bullet.
- He could be an amalgam of many different characters. He has black and white skin, a missing eye, and a priest's outfit. The arms behind him that do not clearly belong to anyone in the mural may substantiate this. His arm turning into a monster may mean that he is the Monster, which is made up of or controlled by many people.
- If the man is a priest who is missing an eye, he could have some connection to the Arrow Station, where in season 2 a box was discovered containing a Bible and a glass eye.
- The "black" or "dark" man, is not literal, in that sense, but a negative image, as in photography. A negative image is a tonal inversion of a positive image, in which light areas appear dark and vice versa. Duality.
Wings or Hands
If they are wings, they appear to belong to the man. Besides flying, the wings could imply some type of divinity, worship, force or angel (meaning the man depicted is dead). There are five digits in each member indicating it could be hands. If they are hands, they belong to someone else that is behind the man. The hands spreading out wide could symbolize that it is supporting the man and the woman.
- If they are hands, then it is also possible that they represent a controlling figure behind both the male and female figures, similar to a puppeteer pulling their strings. The hands may be 'His'.
- Each 'hand' may belong to a different owner, as one is dark while the other is light. This coincides with the theme of Black vs. White and the various levels of gamesmanship shown in Lost.
Figure with jaws and eye and the word SICK
The fact that it has only one eye indicates it is not natural. Either it was man-made or is a freak creature unknown to man. Or it is simply a side view. The menacing jaws are a sign that this creature is hostile which indicates it could be the Monster. The prominent eye could be the mechanism that allows it to read peoples images.
It's hardly visible in the finished state, but the word "SICK" lies behind the grid. (It's clearly visible on a photo available as an Easter egg on the Bonus Features DVD of Lost Season 2 though.) If this creature is in fact the Monster, this would imply a link to the sickness.
Man's arm blends with the figure
The man's arm is apparently directly attaching to the monster figure. This could indicate that the man controls the Monster. Given that the man is a religious figure, this indicates a possible purpose for controlling the Monster. Possible identities: Ben, Yemi or Mikhail Bakunin
The man's arm could also indicate that the figure has a long reach with brings with it sickness and death.
- Could this also be a reference to Marvin Candle? His arm blends into the Monster as if he's controlling it, but maybe it's a representation of the Monster consuming the man's arm.
- Since the black is only on his face it could represent a mask or a hidden identity.Possibly Jacob.
- This could also be a reference to Montaund as we know that he lost his arm because of the Monster.
The woman is a prominent figure in the whole painting and occupies a significant part of the mural. This could indicate that she is a very important figure. She is standing behind the man as we can see her neck just above the man's right shoulder and her head is in the same proportion as the man. This could indicate that she supports the man and is below him in rank. Her face is white while the man's face is black which ties to the black and white theme. Possible identities: Juliet, Danielle Rousseau, Penelope Widmore. The woman represents the Man in Black's 'crazy' mother.
Arrow next to "OUT"
The fact that Desmond painted this could simply mean that in his premonition he absorbed the message Ben had with Michael. It could also mean there is an underlying truth about 325 being the exit to the Island that he captured from another source.
Or he was simply desperate to get up and out of the Hatch when he painted it.
The notorious numbers of Lost. Curiously, 108 is repeated twice (see also: Two Faces). Given that the whole painting carefully distributed the elements, this does not appear as a mistake and could be intentional (a "mistake" from the character Desmond, not from the real author Jack Bender). The double appearance of 108 could be referring to the fact that the "button" was not pressed twice (once that brought down Flight 815 and again when Desmond had to turn the key, initiating the flashes). The lack of the other numbers elevates the importance of 42. On Jacob's List in the cave, 42 is listed next to Kwon (either Sun or Jin). In addition, the mysterious reccuring numbers (4,8,15,16,23,42), when summed together add to 108.
Three separate houses
A house is man-made so possibly three different constructed sites, villages or stations. The houses are significantly separated in the painting possibly indicating they are not part of a single site. The houses are of different sizes but maintain the same geometric qualities (2 windows, 1 door). This indicates that the houses are similar in nature (possibly then the stations) but spread spatially in the painting. The perspective given by this spatial distribution (emphasized by the fact the rooftops point the same direction) defines a plane (indicated by the red triangle) and very roughly indicates a map. The other elements of the painting would respect this spatial positioning.
- Each house represents a 'camp', 'tribe' or 'faction' of island inhabitants. One represents the Losties, a second represents the DHARMA Initiative, and the third represents the Others.
- The houses represent the three locations of Jacob's cabin. Two of the houses have circular shapes near them, representing the sand-like substance near the cabin.
Fish, sharks or whales. The distribution of the fish elements in the painting are striking as they are not concentrated on a single area (depicting an ocean, for example). There are two basic patterns that align with an already established plane by the houses. Besides the meaning of the fish per se they enhance the depth perception in the painting. This is a common technique used by artists to give depth and perspective highlighting specific lines of sight. This makes the painting more interesting and concentrates focus of the viewer.
The two lines of sight he created could allude to past and present events. The line going to the left as past and the line going to the right as future.
The particular outline of the fish are also reminiscent of the symbol of the early Christian Church.
Vessel with sail
A full rigged ship or a sailboat. Possibly the Elizabeth. If the spatial distribution of the elements are realistic, the location would be near the Monster and in Dark Territory. The Black Rock is also located in Dark Territory. The Black Rock is further emphasized by the distinctive square sails.
This element stands out in two ways. First, it was drawn with a 3D perspective which was scarcely used in the rest of the painting. Second, it is located far right of the painting that would allude to it's importance in the future (see Fish above).
People up-side down
A possible sign for death or sickness. Death is supported by the fact that they are close to the monster figure and we have seen the Monster kill. Sickness is supported by the word "SICK" painted early on and then erased. There are far less people up-side down then there are right-side up indicating that the event of "turning them up-side down" is not frequent. This is supported by the fact that Mr. Eko was seized by the Monster and hung upside-down before it slammed him into the trees. In the Tarot, the trump "The Hanged Man" shows an upside-down man suspended by one leg with the other leg bent at the knee and forming an upside-down 4. Its symbolism has to do with sacrificing in order to be reborn with secret spiritual knowledge, and it correspond to the element of water (these themes also seem to parallel Charlie, a Catholic like Eko, who was intimately connected with him through the baptism ordeal, the building of the church, the heroin on the plane, the fact that Charlie was with Eko when Eko first confronts the Monster, and that both of them have now died, making the cross moments before they perished; Charlie was also hanged by Ethan and water is a recurrent symbol in his flashbacks, life, and death). There are also correspondences of the card to Odin, All-Father of Norse mythology, who hung himself from the Yggdrasil, the World Tree, in order to be initiated into the esoteric knowledge of the Runes. At another point in his history, Odin sacrifices one of his eyes for more knowledge and power as well. This card also has connections to The Numbers, since it is the 12th trump of the Tarot (12 is 4 plus 8), as well as the 23rd path on the Tree of Life (with ten Sephiroth corresponding to the numbered Tarot Cards and 22 paths that connect them corresponding to the Tarot's 22 Major Arcana or Trump cards there is a total of 32 paths). This card's path corresponds to the connection between the 5th Sephira, Geburah (Judgment, Sternness; corresponds to the planet Mars) which represents discrimination, elimination of impurities, righteousness, and destruction, and the 8th Sephira, Hod (Splendor; corresponds to the planet Mercury) which represents rationality, logic, reason, and math among other things. It is also found in the "negative" column of the three Pillars of the Tree of Life (they are Mildness, Mercy, and Severity), the Pillar of Severity.
The highlighted figure
The stick figure connected to the sun by a single red line indicates that this is middle-section survivor Sun-Hwa Kwon.
Many people and highlighted figure
This indicates a colony of people. The figures appear to be distributed on a rectangular block and there is a red stain flowing from the block. Presented this way, red is a traditional color for violence possibly indicating the people in the block suffered some sort of violence (either from inside or outside). It is not clear if the highlighted figure is related to this element or to the "waves" element. If related to this element, it indicates the highlighted figure is distinguished from the colony, possibly a leader or great foe. A leader would be facing away from the stone and a foe would be facing towards it (a stick representation does not allow any conclusion). The block is rectangular in shape indicating it is man made. It's color suggest stone and evokes "primitive" in nature.
This could be a reference to Ben's role as betrayer of the DHARMA Initiative, and the primitive stone could be The Temple he told Richard to take the Others to (which along with the Ruins and the Four-Toed statue seem to indicate the presence of an ancient civilization on the Island, supporting the theory that the left side of the painting depicts the past). The color of the background might also suggest the beach, with the highlighted person either Jack who, parallel to Ben and DHARMA, "walks among us, but is not one of us" and has seemingly caused most of his "tribe" to die with his decision in "Through the Looking Glass, Part 1" and repeating past, or Locke, who has a special connection to the Island, also seems to have partly betrayed his tribe, and is trying to eliminate ways off the Island (which could be represented by the highlighted figure somehow controlling the waves). The stick people in the top left-hand corner of the mural could also represent the mass grave discovered in "The Man Behind the Curtain".
The fact that it is placed far to the left of the painting could signify this colony is from a distant past (see Fish above).
Waves and highlighted figure
See Also: Meteorology
The waves are prominent and dominate a significant part of the painting. Possibly a major storm surge, tidal wave or tsunami. It is not clear if the highlighted figure belongs to this element or to the "many people" element. If belonging to this element, it would indicate that the highlighted figure is controlling the wave. Since the crests of the wave indicate that it is moving away from the "many people" element, the highlighted figure would not be using the wave against them.
The fact that it is placed to the left of the painting could signify that a tsunami has wiped the Island in the past (see Fish above) which mirrors Arzt's hypothesis that the Black Rock was swept to the Dark Territory by a tsunami.
If we assume that the figure is facing the crowd of people in the upper-left corner, he appears to be reaching out to them as he is carried away by the wave. He is the only stick-figure that interacts with the waves. He's seems to be standing on top of them - the leg on the right extends over the waves, while the waves overlap and obscure pieces of the group of figures on the left.
Also, the figure appears to be walking or standing on the surface of the water, not unlike Jesus Christ as described in the Bible.
See Also: Faces
Sun, but possibly a source or outburst of energy.
Going beyond the basic symbolism, this could be construed as an event occurring some time in the past and generating a tsunami (given that the flames are overlapping the waves element). The 108 inside the sun is further reinforcement that this was an electromagnetic event (or occurred at the same time) as we know what happens at the end of 108 minutes in present time.
Moon and starry night
The moon is in opposition to the sun. Possibly indicating two forces in opposition. This is also a recurrence to the black and white theme. It's position in the painting is placed naturally on the top and the stars complete the night sky depiction. This further shows that the "Sun" is really the misplaced element and is probably something else.
- The number 108 embedded in the sun might indicate that the Island and its inhabitants have 108 days of 'light' before the darkness in the background encroaches.
Circle with dot
The placement of the symbol suggests that it could be the breast of the woman in the painting, however this is not the usual interpretation. The simplicity of this element does not allow complex interpretations. Possibly the button of The Swan. If that is the case, then the house close to it would be the Swan station. It could also be the symbol for God passed on through European letters, from as early as St. Augustine to as late as Nietzsche in 'Thus Spake Zarathrustra', which is that God is one whose center is everywhere but whose circumference is nowhere. An interesting sociological reformulation can be found in 1930s intellectual thought: the image of the circle of temporality and the 'still center' (Stephen Spender) of a unified and immutable self. This can be seen in T. S. Elliot's 'Murder in the Cathedral' (1938) and is explicitly dealt with in W.H. Auden's 'The Orators' (1932). The circle with dot is also an old tracking sign meaning "I have gone Home." Also, the circle with the dot inside is the astrological symbol for the Sun, and many of the eyes in the painting are also a circle with a dot in the middle, suggesting a connection; in astrology, the Sun represents our conscious self and is one of the most important planets (the Sun sign is what sign the sun was in when we were born and is what most "laypeople" refer to as "their sign"). Apollo was the Greek god of the Sun and so there is a definite connection to the Apollo Candy Bars, DHARMA, and the Island's mysteries. Another possible explanation for this part of the mural is a Turkish home protection pendant (commonly known as the "Evil Eye"). This is strikingly similar to the Oceanic Airlines corporate logo. A still image of one of these pendants can clearly be seen in the Room 23 video. For more information about these, see this Wikipedia article.
Dark red is a contrasting color to this painting and the author has used it scarcely. It is possible the author intentionally wanted to highlight a specific symbol.
- The symbol appears the be the number 8
Dark red is a contrasting color to this painting and the author has used it scarcely. It is possible the author intentionally wanted to highlight a specific symbol. The fact that the line follows the sun's flame contour indicates it is somehow related to it.
It is also worth noting that the line extends from the sun into the head of one of the people in the upper left corner.
When the mural is tilted to it's side counter-clockwise, the Numbers 108 shift to faces. The faces are very similar since the same structural element was used (the number 108) and are close together. This could indicate that the faces are of the same person or entity and underwent a transformation. This transformation is emphasized by the shabby appearance of one of the faces contrasting with the power of the sun-like figure. The sun-like figure is in front and above the shabby figure indicating that the sun is the end result of the transformation. From shabby to sun-like indicates a positive transformation.
The two faces we saw above hints that some of the elements could be meant to be interpreted sideways (particularly the closest elements). For example, instead of an arrow, a pyramid with a telescope or transmitter going "OUT".
Perhaps the Temple is a pyramid.
A Different Perspective
The painting was made primarily with a 2D perspective. This is highly characterized by the stick figures and fish elements among others. Although primarily done with a 2D perspective, some elements bring a 3D perspective to the painting. 3D elements bring higher complexity and sophistication and would be rendered by an artist on elements that have greater importance or significance. On a primarily 2D landscape, 3D elements create contrast, the most basic technique for highlighting.
Due to this mixed nature of the painting, it can not be ruled out that while some elements are to be understood as 2D placed some others should be understood as 3D placed. This is particularly important for the arrow element. Orientation on a 2D grid would mean something different if placed on a 3D grid. This is emphasized by the fact that the base of the arrow is inside the triangle plane.There are Three Houses in the Mural. The number 3 has significance in Buddhism (and potentially may have other significance within Lost). Three occurs in Buddhism in the following places: .
- Three Jewels: Buddha, DHARMA, and Sangha.
- Three sections to the Noble Eightfold Path (Sila, Samadhi, and Panna).
- Three sections of Sila in morality (right speech, right actions, right livelihood)
- Three sections of Samadhi: (right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration)
- Three types of Bodhi: Shravakabuddha, Pratyekabuddha, and Samyaksambodhi.
- Three doctrinal schools in Buddha: Vibhajjavada, Sarvastivada, and Puggalavada
- You can achieve Buddhahood in "as little as three years"
A more literal interpretation of the mural elements
The many persons and the highlighted figure
- The highlighted stick figure that is connected with the sun by a single red line is middle-section survivor Sun.
- The waves represent the ocean surrounding the Island. Since Sun is known to be pregnant and her representative stick figure has its lower abdomen immersed in water, the color blue here also represents life.
- The stick figures surrounding the highlighted figure are the other castaways. The stick figures in the red and brown portion of this area are the castaways who have been killed. This red area represents blood and death.
- The stick figure partially immersed in water but surrounded by red is tail-section survivor Ana Lucia.
- The stick figure who is with the Others but with a white background is Locke. The white background represents his communion with the Island.
Three separate houses
- The little house under the waves with the blue roof perfectly represents an underwater facility, either the Looking Glass or the Hydra Station. Identifying the caucasian woman with Bonnie suggests the Looking Glass, but the association of the color blue with life more strongly suggests the Hydra Station.
- The little house with the white roof has a black circular arc seperating it from the rest of the mural. This implies that this is Jacob's cabin with its surrounding line of gray ash or dirt. The white color suggesting a communion with the Island is consistent with Locke being the only other person besides Ben to see or communicate with Jacob. The orange and black lines on the edge of the mural by this cabin give an impression that this little house is on a hill or mountain as is Jacob's cabin. The little white smudge on the far left of the mural behind Jacob's cabin is the magic box.
- The little house with the red roof is Ben's residence in the barracks. The red roof indicates an association with death consistent with Ben's role in the purge. The red barrier between this house and the rest of the mural suggests the sonar fence; the small black line that nearly crosses the red area on the far right of the mural suggests the means of crossing the sonar fence discovered in "Par Avion".
- The three separate houses are one house with three locations - Jacob's cabin.
- The large fish poised between the waves and the red area representing blood and death is the DHARMA shark.
- The vessel with a sail and the upside-down people are a premonition of the destruction of Michael's raft at the hands of the Others ("Exodus, Part 2"). Michael's raft had a prominent sail as does the vessel in the mural. The red background to the mural's raft suggests the destruction of Michael's raft by fire. The up-side down figures indicate Jin, Michael and Sawyer diving into the ocean to escape the flames.
- The caucasian woman positioned above the little house with a blue roof is Bonnie and is consistent with the man with the eye crossed out representing Mikhail.
- The large arrow pointing nearly "north" represents the compass bearing 325 given to Michael for leaving the Island ("Live Together, Die Alone, Part 1").
- The number 108 in the image of the sun represents the discharge. The number 108 in the white area surrounded by "counting" marks represents the repetitive pushing the button in the Swan station.
- Since the Monster is repelled by the sonar fence, the brown area with an eye seperated from the barracks by the sonic barrier symbolizes the portion of the Island watched over by the Monster. This and the presence of the word "sick" in this area strongly indicates the Dark Territory. The cross-hatched lines in this area may therefore be a suggestion of the Monster's underground tunnels, first seen in the Dark Territory in "Exodus, Part 2".
What it means
- "A long time ago there lived on the Island a colony of four-toed people. For generations they thrived on the Island undisturbed by any outside influence. At some point, an underwater earthquake in the Pacific generated a tsunami that swept across the Island and devastated all traces of this ancient civilization (except for the statue of their leader). The seismic shock of the earthquake also triggered a magnetic anomaly that was hidden beneath the Island.
- In present day, the button must be pushed at all times in the Swan station. Apparently there is a way out of the Island by heading 325. Not long from now, I have seen Yemi activate the Monster and kill. But in a later vision it was really the works of a man without an eye. He is working closely with Juliet. And ordering both is the real man behind things known as "Him".
- In the future, the Black Rock will be of vital importance to the Island."
- Claire's former boyfriend Thomas has some connection to the Mural, since his paintings are so similar.
- Desmond drew what he saw in his flashes.
- Desmond never had flashes until he turned the fail-safe key ("Live Together, Die Alone, Part 2")
- Radzinsky drew the mural after he explored the entire island, he has a photographic memory
There is no proof behind this theory though, and it is based completly on assumption and imagination.