Last night I just painted and stopped anguishing about content, technique, frustration with oils- blah blah blah- and so a breakthrough of sorts- still the image of the cross but in oil with some charcoal and acrylic- both are still in process but relaxing into the medium (oil) allows space for subtle changes in representation. When I do that, I can feel how the medium wants to interpret content. When I use more familiar mediums like collage, gouache or watercolor, I rarely think about how to work or what to draw/paint, but with oils there’s still a lot of second guessing beforehand and judgement after.
unfinished painting, 19.5×24″, oil and acrylic, paper mounted on board
unfinished painting, 24×36″, oil and acrylic on masonite
These paintings are coming from sketches that are evolving the more I draw. Representations of celestial blessings–the half circles with lines at the top of the page–are morphing into other images, in this case, udders.
sketchbook, 17×20″, graphite on paper
sketchbook, 11×14″, udders and crosses
My reading about cross symbolism is showing up in these sketches–melding with images I’ve been creating for a long time. Sketches are incorporating other, very ancient meanings of the cross unrelated to Christianity that venerated it as an emblem of Christ’s suffering and redemptive death. I’ll discuss those meanings in more detail later, but a quick list of some other meanings includes: the cross as tree of life, as the axis or center of powerful earthly forces, the union of the four elements, the center of the universe, a representation of the human body. I believe my desire–-at least for now–is to reclaim the cross as a symbol of fecundity, as a point of intersection between heaven and earth, as a tree of life. I was never interested in it as a symbol of suffering and redemption and even as a child, avoided it. I was intensely interested in stories and narratives about forgiveness and compassion, in symbols related to Mary, like the rose, or in statuary, sculpture and stained glass.
How does one get ideas? Apparently watching histrionic black and white Vivien Leigh movies from the 30’s works for me (though last night it was 2 episodes of Fear the Walking Dead.) Vivien Leigh and zombies were conductive to making pencil and watercolor sketches. Individual pieces are small, no bigger than 3×5″.
Gouache seems to be the intermediary medium for me at the moment. The one I’m using to experiment with these shapes and forms. I’m still layering on top of older collage pieces. It’s interesting to me that even though I’ve been a collagist for years, the concept of layering in paint has been difficult to apprehend. But I’m getting there.
A friend sent me a review of Elina Gertsman’s book, WorldsWithin: Opening the Medieval Shrine Madonna, published by University of Pennsylvania Press this year. One look and I was smitten.
“In this truly multidisciplinary study of one of the most perplexing and beguiling of medieval visual traditions, the so-called Vierges ouvrantes, Elina Gertsman…. it brings together attention to the material and phenomenological specificity of objects and the theological, political, and epistemological dimensions within which they were created, viewed, and handled, or mishandled. One of the book’s most important contributions is its focus on the way the Vierges ouvrantes articulate a relationship between outside and inside, not just on an iconographic level but also and more importantly in terms of bodily process and passage. …Gertsman’s prose [is] finely balanced with the seriousness of her concern with the fundamental questions of how visual experience not only informs but actively shapes the way human beings experience physical, social, and psychic bodies.” —Alexa Sand, Utah State University
The idea of the sacred and profane body, inner and outer, and fragmentation are certainly themes in my work based on sacred images. My intention is to research and understand the history of that impulse, articulate it and create images with paint that evoke that.
Using mediums has helped me ease into oil painting. I worked with oils a long time ago with a teacher who wouldn’t let us use thinners, mediums etc. and we learned to clean our brushes with soap and water. I used palette knives and came to like them, but I enjoy the fluidity of paints thinned with medium. The concern: I’ll just repeat what I do in watercolor, gouache and ink. A better understanding of the medium would open up other ways to make images. I also feel I still rely too much on “staying within the lines” when I make an underdrawing. Often the initial drawing becomes part of the picture.
The two cross madonnas below are works in progress.
In #1 I mounted a handkerchief on stretched canvas then painted into it using gouache and acrylic.I have a pile of handkerchiefs my mother has sent me over the years. I used to sew clothes by hand and on a machine, and make quilts. I’m always drawn to the tactility of fabric, the history and sentiments/emotions attached to old fabric. Louise Bourgeois’s small fabric pieces have always inspired me and I’ve kept my mother’s gift handkerchiefs with the hope of using them. Not sure this is the way but there’s something about the piece I like.
#2 started with the image from the sketchbook, and I drew a rough sketch of it on top of an acrylic painting on paper. Then I worked into it with oils, adding some imagery but also allowing previous images to inform choices. I like the hint of a woman’s leg and breast though (of course) not sure where this will go.
Below: pages from my sketchbook noodling and doodling about crosses, madonnas, insects, vegetation and maybe Carmen Miranda. The cross in the lower left of sketchbook 1 reminds me of a dancing, singing Miranda. Maybe another direction.. ? 🙂