i don’t know where i read about the image of a sacred ladder, or ladder to heaven. for me, it symbolizes that bridge between heaven and earth, a desire and yearning for the sublime, for nirvana, for whatever we strive … Continue reading →
began working in oil this week. I took a class many years ago and never liked it- particularly the clean up. this week Pink Soap and conditioner left my brushes clean and supple. free of that worry I felt like experimenting- so I returned to 2 pieces and to a theme I love. madonna misericordia is the “lady of mercy.” in medieval art she’s often pictured with her arms wide, cloak open and harboring all who come to her for help.
i’m drawn to the symbolism, themes and images in medieval and early renaissance art-
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.
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.
I worked in my sketchbook when I first went into my studio, played around with materials then drew the crosses above. This is the kind of line I love, done with a fat graphite pencil for marking lumber. And these crosses are morphing into trees-
I’ve been dancing around the idea of painting on white ground but something keeps bringing me back to working on top of old pieces. The originals below were quite large, done in an Experimental Drawing class with Robert Siegelman at the Museum School several years ago. I ripped up the originals into pieces roughly 20×30.” I liked them though never felt they were strong enough to stand on their own but always felt I wanted to use them as the base for new work. For a long time I thought I’d enhance the images in each piece, create new work based on images already there, but today I drew several of the cross images in white oil stick on three of them. The third image is still in progress and incorporates some of the background but doesn’t refer to it. I’ll work on the other 2 this week. I can see ways I’d like to incorporate shapes, colors etc. from the work beneath into a new piece.
oil stick on acrylic, 24×20″
oil stick on acrylic, 24×20″
oil on acrylic, 24×20″
This is the kind of image exploration that fascinates and pulls at me. I feel like I have to do this to get through to the next stage of working on plain canvas.
Today’s milestone– I finally felt comfortable handling oil paint because I understood how to use medium to get the paint to the consistency I wanted. I learned some basics looking at Youtube videos on oil painting. I see how oil glazes impart a luminous quality.