ANATOMY OF A PAINTING, Notes to the collector
Completed sunday, June 2, 2019
Dear Paul and Nelson,
Here you go! Please remember, though this painting is based quite specifically on a number of very personal thoughts, it’s not what I think about it that is relevant . I want the viewer to see what bubbles up from his own particular psyche, and then tell me about it. I like hearing viewers who start their observations; “I remember when___________””, “This reminds me of____________” “Once I Dreamed___________” These starting words let me know, that what’s coming is an authentic and personal observation. This makes me happy; I hate pseudo intellectual “art speak” and I love hearing ideas about my images that I didn’t think of myself.
Please forgive typos and “stream of consciousness”—if I edit too much I loose the flow. Disclaimer: being from a family of lapsed Catholics, I feel somehow justified criticizing same.
I think the meaning of paintings are sort of like an onion: there are many layers, and they start superficially from the surface to the interior, and continue growing, ever closer to the “core.” The layers of meaning in a painting are the same. The layers are as numerous as the number of people who look at an image and what the viewer perceives there is dictated by their own particular life experience.
The superficial “layer” might be a relatively common place location, object or figure particular to the life of an individual artist. Then, think more, look more, and the same commonplace images become sort of super-charged with meaning. Even if the viewer is unfamiliar with the time and culture of a painting, she can relate in a visceral, emotional way to the underlying meaning. Think Frida Kahlo—her images used highly specific details of her specific life, but you didn’t have to have been impaled on a trolley car railing to relate to her pain. The images were very personal, but the pain is universal.
My painting has had a few different titles during it’s production. First was Bathed in the Blood. I remember when I was a little kid in Sunday school, I, like most little kids, tended to take things literally. So when the teacher first introduced the catholic notion of “transubstantiation” (strangest word in the English language, note how it has no body, just a string of prefixes followed by a few suffixes!), the teacher in her description of the word used the phrase “bathed in the blood of Christ.” I thought she meant that on the day I was to be confirmed, in order to show my courage and good faith, I would take a bath in actual blood. I was one of those kids that faint at the sight of blood, so this future “trial” of my faith filled me with terror and nightmares for some time.
I’ve experienced many other surreal “misconceptions” about life during my childhood and they tend to turn up in my paintings. In Alt-Jesus, the model standing in for little girl me, taking a “blood bath” is Teresa Fultz. In real life she is the person who periodically cleans my space and organizes me and has become a friend as well.
Another title was Luz de Jesus (Light of Jesus), and it is also a relic of an early Sunday school class lesson. Our teacher pointed out that in religious paintings “light means holy.” She showed us dozens of Christian paintings where a halo or “ring of light” around a figures head signified the holiness of this person or that person. So I took that to mean when light fell on anything (like me for instance) it was like the “kiss of God” and I found that very comforting. Ever since I have been inspired by this notion about light and I have felt a kind of spiritual awe for its beauty and the way it falls across form. To this end, I’ve chosen the traditions of oil painting and chiaroscuro as my medium. The luminosity and saturation of color possible with oil glazes mean it’s comes closest to replicating my childhood’s magical and romantic fantasies about the nature/“rapture” of light.
Regarding chiaroscuro, it is the idea that paradoxically, the best way to represent the luminosity of light is to surround it with darkness. In Alt-Jesus the literal Luz de Jesus is the glowing star on the chest of the male model. The model’s name is Michael Sabet. He is a great young painter (check him out) and alum of my atelier cmsa. He is half Nicaraguan and half Persian. As I sat for hours working on this painting, I realized that choosing him to be Jesus was also a result of my early Sunday school. One of the things I remembered not liking was all those pics of Jesus as a young blond with cold blue eyes that I saw literally everywhere. (Have since learned this is the most printed image of all time.) To me he looked scary in that picture, like a Nazi with long hair.
My student Michael makes a much better and more benevolent Jesus, I think, than the one in the pictures. He has the face of an angel and though he doesn’t look like any specific ethnicity, his skin looks like his people hale from warm places. In Sunday school they told me the story of Mary Magdalen (“fallen woman”) and Jesus. The idea was that Jesus wasn’t some snotty academic aristocrat, but rather a man of the people who did not judge and served all people, even impoverished “sex workers with a heart of gold” like Mary.
In Sunday school they played a game called “what would Jesus look like if he was alive today?” You were supposed to pick some sort of person who you thought Jesus would look like today. I’ve played that game in my own head often. I think Michael Sabet, a self professed gender fluid “rave rat” with a “heart of gold,” makes the perfect Jesus to me. I’ve enjoyed using a model that I think will make an impact as an artist in the future himself.
The title I settled on, Alt-Jesus, is meant to poke fun at one of the dumbest political ideas of all times—under the Republican POTUS, Donald Trump, “alternate facts.” I love to inject a current political/cultural event reference in my work to inform future viewers of the political POV of this moment. I included other details to memorialize the natural world of the moment too. For example, in Alt-Jesus, while we were in the 2019 “super bloom,” I happened to be painting the feet of Jesus, so I decided to depict California poppies at his feet to refer to the super bloom this year.
I’m often sandwiching together several photo references in the same image. In Alt-Jesus, the wall is from The Jesus Wall production studio here at the Brewery, and behind Jesus’s feet and legs is the city view from Brewery roof facing west at sunset, the railroad yard on the left downtown on the right.
In Alt-Jesus, as I often do, I put in a detail that I thought was quite humorous, though I may be the only person that notices it. See the head of Mary that Jesus stands on top of? To amuse myself, I switched out the female face to make a male transgender Mary.
Anybody who has ever sat in a darkened auditorium, looking at images in art history class as I did, will note certain iconic “characters” pop up, recurring in every culture’s art through every phase of human existence. The way they kept showing up in art across time and culture makes me want to add my version to the same subjects/topics from my own particular POV—this time, culture, place and my own particular experience within it. It makes me feel great to be another link in a long chain that connects me back thru time to some of my painter heroes.
I often had to really struggle to stay awake and alert in darkened rooms of lecturing historians, so I often ended up in this semi-awake state and I think these iconic characters sunk into my dreams and subliminal mind from being in that dreamlike state for hours. The result is if you ask me the exact title and the year a work was done I will not know, but I can describe the painting’s appearance relatively easily and these archetypes are what pop into my conscious mind to paint. The people, places, and events of wherever I find myself at the moment become my own version’s and backgrounds for these iconic men and women. So far
I’ve done Eve, Virgin Mary, Siddhartha, God, Light, Jesus , Ophelia, Odalisque, angels, flying people, birds, Olympia, brides/virgins, sisters, mothers, children, fathers, Manets, Cinderella (I was named after her), barmaid at the Folies-Bergere, crone, women as the object of desire, women as real individual people, and Mother Nature, to name a few.
I started my art school education at an art school in Chihuahua, Mexico. I think I imprinted on the aesthetic of the first flesh and blood painters I ever knew, and the place I happened to be when I first learned about oil painting (at the Universidad of Bellas Arte) and fell in love with the saturated palette of Mexico.
I could go on but you get the idea! Fondest regards, cynda