The Cross as Tree of Life

The Tree of Life is a vivid symbol in almost every culture. Trees are revered as life-giving, and signify renewal and regeneration. They are beneficent as well as wise. The crosses I’ve been painting and drawing are sprouting leaves, like Daphne the nymph who, in her desire to escape the amorous attentions of Apollo, asked to be turned into a tree. The rose cross was inspired by the Rosy Cross which is a symbol of the esoteric sect of Rosicrucians though I know little about them. I was more inspired by the phrase “rose cross” which made me think of adding flowers to the vegetation springing from these crosses. Some have female forms others do not. This is a rich and layered exploration of christian symbols, archetypes, and feminist art.

Madonna del Parto

There are several paintings I return to over and over, the glorious Madonna del Parto by Piero della Francesca is one of them and probably my favorite. It is at once simple and complex, modest and bold, reverent and earthy. The teenaged Mary steps forward as two angels hold back heavy brocade curtains, the tips of the fingers of her right hand inserted in a slit in her dress. That gesture, at the center of the picture, references the act of incarnation that Catholics believe is “immaculate” or sexless.

Madonna del Parto, Piero Della Francesca

Madonna del Parto, Piero Della Francesca

Piero painted this for the church of Santa Maria di Momentana (formerly Santa Maria in Silvis), in the hilltown of Monterchi. It was difficult to explain this sexless incarnation to peasants who toiled next to life and death all day and knew exactly how all manner of beasts and babies were conceived. Many painters from Fra Lippo Lippi tried, but perhaps this earthy, gravid young madonna, with her suggestive gesture, was comforting. Perhaps it gave the nuns something to smile about.

Some images influenced by the Madonna del Parto.

Sketchbook Ideas

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″.

Shrine Madonnas

A friend sent me a review of Elina Gertsman’s book, Worlds Within: 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.

 

Glimmers at the End of the Tunnel

Caught myself thinking in the studio and realized thoughts have been running beneath the surface of my mind as I tried to paint the last few days–even though I’d specifically discussed being aware of this with Deb (Todd Wheeler), my advisor. But today I caught myself and finally stopped the thinking and began working. Have been circling canvases, paper, paints, ink etc. all week, worrying about content, medium etc. but today…

Exploring the theme of the cross. Such a rich subject! A symbol connected to so many religions and belief systems.The first 2 in the gallery below were quick gouache sketches. Ah the freedom of ink and watercolor on paper(!!). Then, I turned my attention to re-working 2 pieces. The agnus dei cross is several years old. I worked into it with acrylic, charcoal and oil pastel and it’s still in progress, but I’m most pleased with the last piece. It was originally a clunky acrylic but I painted the lines of the four quadrants with a deep blue–the demarcated areas have a naples yellow glaze. I thinned the oils enough to give me the fluidity I’ve wanted with this medium. I’ve yearned to use oils–to get access to the luscious colors and textures.

Maybe I can really do this.

Meaning

My particular struggle at the moment is why am I making these images? The gallery shows a series I created yesterday. I still have to get off the paper and on to canvas…