The Studio of Eric Valosin

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Bruegel Speaks of Cloistered Revelations

Bruegel taught me a great deal on his visit to the studio.  He taught me how I probably should have been using oils all along (though I still have much to learn).  He taught me that even if you reference Bosch in a painting (as I did in my Archetype I) you're not truly a disciple until you fill the canvas with more figures than Monet had brushstrokes.  More importantly though, as Julie and I discovered, he taught me the potential for making pieces inherently self critical and filmic through the mastery and juxtaposition of various painting styles.  For once, my styles and techniques (and limitations) did not detract from the piece, but rather caused parts of this 16th century masterpiece to have an oddly contemporary flair.  I'll have to ruminate on how this variance of technique can be honed, perhaps to the end of some sort of social critique (old ideas, after all, sometimes have to seem new, and vice versa, for them to seem socially viable...).

Most interestingly, I think, was the fact that several of the people who visited my studio during the process noticed not the contemporary brushwork, not the color or depth, but the fact that I had unconsciously cropped the canvas I was working on to get the proportions correct!  By drawing horizontal lines at the top and bottom to make the canvas a few inches shorter, I had created some sort of compounded illusion of cropping.  As James Sienna put it in my studio visit, "It's so interesting - you cropped the image, but then you cropped the canvas too!"  I'll have to work over the implications of this...  Might be one of those incidental oddities that becomes central in some unexpected way, that my professor Iain Kerr loves so much.

Speaking of Iain, today he took us to the Cloisters and revealed to us that we have completely lost the point of early Christian art, and that "Christian art can only be experienced with your eyes closed."  In proving this, as we approached a relief on the wall of Mary looking down and holding a dying Jesus in her lap, perspective tilted and skewed and figures oddly distended, we at first either pass it by feeling like a disconnected voyeur to this removed scene, or dismiss it with some naturalistic excuse as to why it was impractical to make it any other way.  But how was this piece meant to be viewed really?  Any good early Christian would have been viewing this as they approached it in prayer.  It was meant to be a worship tool, not art, after all.  And so, we walked up, knelt down underneath it and closed our eyes in prayer.  Upon finishing, we opened our eyes and looked up to an astonishing discovery.  From this vantage point, the foreshortening come into alignment and the perspective corrects itself.  Suddenly you are inside the scene, and a perfectly proportioned Mary is no longer looking down in sorrow, but look directly at you, interceding on your behalf, holding a Jesus who is no longer slanted uncomfortably forward but lying flat looking directly up to heaven!

The point of this revelation being, the artwork really only makes sense when you view it from the worldview in which it functions.  You must become part of the performance, and enter it's world.  "if your work can be viewed in passing without forcing someone to stop and enter its world, you might as well hang up your hat," asserts Iain.

What does this mean for a contemporary Christian artist?  The work at the cloisters featured an intense dedication to process - to beginnings, transformations, and endings.  Every decision made during the process had to bolster the message of Christ, from the mixing of the pigment (redemption of nature in use to create objects of worship) to the layout of the gardens (cosmological models of Eden).  What really is the crux of my message?  I can't bolster an idea without really knowing what it is.  Until then, my medium will run away with unintended messages, and form will run rampantly away from function.

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