Though we don’t generally think about it, thirteenth-century religious art actually reflects medieval European perceptions of events that occurred in the ancient Middle East. In the Divine Beauty project I filter sacred iconography through the secular lens of today’s societal perceptions by placing found commercial fashion imagery (from magazines and other sources) in the context of painted religious narratives, producing a clash of ideas that throw both sources into question.
Like many Western New Yorkers, I was raised Catholic. I attended a Catholic elementary school, went to church every day. While the indoctrination didn’t last beyond childhood, it did instill a lifelong affinity for the visual traditions of sacred art. But, as the recent economic meltdown has made apparent, conspicuous global consumption has replaced western religion today as the favored path to personal fulfillment. Fashion models serve as the new icons for the church of materialism, gazing intensely from billboards and magazines. Like traditional depictions of saints and religious figures, they often evoke rapture, anguish, and implied narratives. I’m intrigued by the fake heroic ethos, smarmy lighting, and barely hidden sexual agendas (that tug at both male and female desires) of these ads as they promote devotion to cologne, jeans, and underwear. My work retains many conventions of traditional religious art, balancing historical painting against tossed-off illustration. Homoerotic subtexts parallel those in many historical religious works. I also reference pop culture, mass production (as in the “quick and dirty” stenciling in many of the backgrounds), and our current “crusade” for oil in the middle-east. The frames (made from commercial carpenter moldings, or gold spray-painted thrift shop frames) mimic 11th to 17th century styles.