So, not so very long ago when I was an art student, I had a painting professor named Scott Anderson who was rather influential to my way of thinking and working. And, one of the things I picked up from him was a notion that one should “live with” a piece for a while. Let it hang around, see it daily. Not in active work, mind you, not developing, just around. And then, once you’ve lived with it a while, you can decide it’s done, or better make changes after you’ve determined what bothers you.
The notion of living with a piece is one that iconographer Janet Jaime could possibly have done well to have followed, based on the reception of a crucifix she created recently for St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Warr Acres, Oklahoma. The piece, pictured right there has apparently been viewed by some as having a really ginormous wang poking out of his loin cloth. Once it’s pointed out, it can’t be unseen even if you didn’t originally read the abdominal muscles that way. King among men indeed, sir.
Now, all this apparently happened this weekend while I was off having misadventures with bicycles and cavorting with interesting blondes, so the controversy is already over as Jaime has said she’ll modify it. But, I do get this awesome pull quote frm the local newspaper:
“She is very serious about her religion and wouldn’t in the slightest possibility ever imagine wanting to sneak a pee-pee on to Jesus.”
Gilmore, who helped Janet Jaime move the 10-foot tall crucifix out of her studio at her home near The Paseo Arts District before it was taken to the church, said it is difficult to tell while painting how contrast may appear from far away.
“She was maybe a foot away from it all the time she was painting it, and the only way you can see this is when it’s up and you’re 20 or 30 feet away, and then you get this gestalt of, ‘oh, look,’” Gilmore said.
The Holy Pee-Pee is something I could get behind. And, again people, live with your work and experience it from more than at your easel. Don’t just create, experience as a viewer will. It’s important. Sometimes more-so than others, apparently.
The Pitiless Christ
So, it’s Easter Sunday, or, as it’s known on the internet, Zombie Jesus Day. And, I figured it’s as good a day as any to talk a little bit about my own relationship with religion, since it’s imagery and allusions crop up a lot in my own work.
To be short, I am not a religious man. The practice of organized Christiantiy bothers me more than almost anything else on earth. Why? Because I am, despite my misanthropy, a humanitarian, and modern Christianity is anything but a humanitarian phenomenon despite being “based” in the words and ideas of one of the greatest humanitarians in all history.
I airquote “based” in that sentence (and apparently in this one), because most days it seems Christianity as an institution goes out of its way to ignore the text and support, encourage, and perpetrate hate, fear, and suffering, and if it’s a good day if they’re doing it for as lofty a goal as political power. Most days they seem to do it just as a means of self-justification, which is hardly the point.
I’m not going to go into textual examples, though yes I have quite read a lot of the bible (in a translation redone from the original texts where possible, and not from translations of translations), because those of you who are Believers won’t be changed by such trivial matters as textual citations anyway or we wouldn’t be in this spot. But, Christianity, the second half of the bible (because that’s what testament implies, a new contract, one sent to replace the old Jewish one of Moses fame, you aren’t supposed to reconcile the two testaments folks), is a source of great sadness for me, because it promises so much and is ruined before you even get done with it by such small and awful minded people as Paul and John the Revelator. And it ain’t gotten better.
So, I suppose the next question is, given my my frustration and sadness and unhappiness with Christianity, why does it show up so often in my work? And, that’s a bit fuzzier, even for me. I suspect it comes back around to my humanitarianism, and how so much really awful stuff is done to people in the name of a man who by all accounts loved everyone and everything short of the odd olive tree. So, to me, Christian imagery represents betrayed and squandered promise, duplicity, corruption, sorrow, sadness.
And, in American culture, it’s a useful shorthand. Your average American isn’t likely to get references to other or older religions (like three pomegranate seeds representing winter, and they even teach that in middle school still), but man, you stick someone on a cross and they hear you.
Alpha et Omega
That stuff they get. And that makes it useful.
So, anyway, a few of my meandering thoughts there. I hope you all enjoy The Pitiless Christ, I shot it back with the stuff for The Gods Watch Over Us and just finally decided to file it under Things Seen until I get a better collection of diptychs done for it to feel more in home in. Alpha et Omega over here is also a special occasion, that’s a pretty old student intaglio piece not seen much anymore, so, kind of a rare glimpse into the past there.
Happy Zombie Jesus Easter Day everybody.
Note: If you are interested in better understanding humanitarianism and other related ideas, a surprisingly good place to start is The Salmon of Doubt, by Douglas Adams. While of course renowned for his comic writing, Adams was a very intellectual man and very much a humanitarian, and his thoughts about religion and people are well put and very worthwhile reads.