Images and Meaning

I began drawing breasted crosses in the early 2000’s. As a girl growing up Catholic in the early 60’s, I was excited by the feminist movement but still wanted to be active in the church rituals I loved, but because of dogma and patriarchy, could not participate. My mother was a convert to Catholicism (out of necessity) but my father’s family was staunchly Catholic. With 2 daughters in the convent, I guess they were devout, but the word “devotion” has a warm and loving quality, and while I loved and was loved by my aunts, uncles and grandparents, they adhered to a strict and unyielding faith that cast my favorite aunt out of the family when she left the convent.

I never had “faith” (I had too many questions-too much doubt) but I loved the sensorial rituals- the processions, smell of incense, embroidered robes, soaring stained glass windows, art and architecture. Over time church dogma drove me away but in my heart the sacred was forever connected to heightened sense experiences.

My almost impulsive and obsessive drawing and painting of these mashed up images of key male and female Catholic imagery is partially clear but needs investigation. On one level, breasted and bleeding crosses, madonnas mixed up with images from the natural world (insects, flowers), huge udders hanging within arches being blessed from above, are meant to provoke as well as acknowledge and celebrate the role of female power in the sacred.

Because I’ve been drawing/painting these for so long without verbally articulating their meaning, being asked to explain them is like being waked from a deep sleep and asked to explain a math problem. It’s deeply challenging. I resist because it’s unfamiliar, but I know that I’ve deliberately avoided “explaining” my work for 2 reasons: it’s embarrassing and I fear an explanation comes between the viewer and their experience of the art. Once the work is in the world I have no control over people’s reactions and opinions, so in that arena not explaining makes sense to me. But in the context of this program, in the context of developing a critical stance to my work, as well as seeing where my work lies in an art history context, I see the importance of explanations. I also see the importance of research and mining component images to see where they come from–why they were created in the first place? What is their history? Why am I drawn to them? Why do they matter so much to me?

4 thoughts on “Images and Meaning

  1. Ah, i am still unsure of the need for explanations – as much as the need to instill and distill dialogue…one persons icons are another’s blasphemes…. but to see them and share them – and to look at our creations with other’s eyes can reveal wonderments. To discover ourselves and the stories we seek and the stories that were given us by our cultures — there is the excavation – the mining!

    the need for deep inquiry is part of us, as human animals – the need to express that as creative ones, however, i feel is essential.

    thank you very much for your commitment to your studies and your work.


    • It’s so nice of you to comment- yes, I’m also torn re “explaining” but it’s part of the MFA program, and though I resisted it a bit, the practice pushes me to go deeper. The trick is to stop thinking when I’m actually asking work!


  2. The work you are doing is so exciting! I find myself especially drawn to Cross Fetish. The soft, tactile, doll-like quality of the cross is so interesting and unexpected.


    • Becky- thank you! It’s been tumultuous since the residency trying to understand what I’m doing and move forward – esp when I thought I did know! 🙂 your comment prompted me to think of creating these is other materials-


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