Learn about the works on display this semester at MOCRA.
Click on the title of an artwork for a full description.
archival pigment print | courtesy of the artist
In July 2003, Tom Kiefer began working part-time as a janitor and groundskeeper at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility near Ajo, Arizona. When given permission to collect food confiscated from migrants and asylum seekers and donate it to a local food pantry, he was deeply moved at finding personal belongings in the trash bins along with the food. These items, necessary for hygiene, comfort and survival, were deemed “non-essential” or “potentially lethal” and seized and discarded by Border Control officials. Kiefer began to quietly rescue what items he could, and he resigned from his job in August 2014 to focus on photographing and documenting them. The ongoing project, El Sueño Americano / The American Dream, commemorates the untold stories these objects embody, preserving traces of human journeys cut short.
Belt Labyrinth is one of Kiefer’s “mass assemblies,” which evokes both the great numbers of people arriving from diverse points of origin and the failure of convoluted immigration policies and systems. He frequently speaks of the “sacred” quality of these items and of the people they belonged to. From clothing to personal hygiene products to tools to cologne bottles, Kiefer’s photographs unravel preconceived notions and boundaries between “sacred” and “profane.” He notes,
This work is about humanity, and the inhumanity of how we treat others, those who are the most vulnerable ... This work is about the preciousness and the importance of everybody, how we’re interconnected—we need each other.
South Side Chapels
acrylic on panel under tempered glass | MOCRA collection • a gift of the artist
The late Bay Area artist Donald Grant worked in ceramic, mixed media and painting. He often incorporated references to the human figure in his art, and explored the interconnection among people, mortality, and the possibility that spirituality offers for transcending the pain of being human.
Vessel alludes to themes of epiphany, destruction, vulnerability, receptivity and transformation. This vessel floats in space like an idealized Platonic object whose calm waters are disrupted where something new and unexpected has been poured in. The suddenness of change is magnified by the shattered glass affixed to the painting — one of the most stable and permanent, yet fragile, of materials explodes in a lively play of light on its facets. We might read this as a metaphor for impermanent human bodies that are temporary containers for a universal and eternal spirit.
gold leaf, mica powder, and acrylic on canvas | MOCRA collection • a gift of the artist
New York-based Susan Schwalb is one of the foremost figures in the revival of the ancient technique of silverpoint drawing in America. A silverpoint drawing is made by dragging a silver rod or wire across a prepared surface. (Other metals can be used as well, referred to generally as metalpoint). In contrast to the traditional use of silverpoint for figurative imagery, Schwalb’s work is resolutely abstract, and her handling of the technique is highly innovative.
The Tree of Life series evolved from a prior series titled Let there be lights in the firmament. Both series represent a significant departure in medium for Schwalb, as they feature acrylic and gold or silver leaf on paper without silverpoint drawing, along with lines and shapes scratched on the surface of the painting.
Schwalb says that the Tree of Life paintings envision our universe, elevated to a metaphysical or spiritual plane. An abstracted tree form emerges from a glimmering golden surface with an explosive impact. With these works Schwalb had in mind “the peculiar brilliance of the light of Jerusalem as it is reflected in the golden stones of the city.”
digital C-print, AP | MOCRA collection • a gift of Terrence E. Dempsey, S.J.
DoDo Jin Ming is among the generation of Chinese artists who experienced the tumultuous years of the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s, and the Tiananmen Square uprising in 1989. A 1988 exhibition of Joseph Beuy’s drawings caused her to abandon a musical career for a life in the visual arts. The artist, who now resides in New York City, refers to her photographic work as “dream images that make up the landscape of my soul, my second vision.”
Jin Ming’s work is situated in the tradition of the sublime in art. The sublime has been understood as something beyond normal experience and perhaps beyond human understanding. The sublime can inspire awe, terror and an acute sense of our own creaturehood in the face of forces beyond our power to control.
Jin Ming’s tumultuous Free Element seascapes link her in power to the oceans and avalanches painted by J. M. W. Turner, but in technique they descend from pioneering 19th-century French photographer Gustave Le Gray. Like Le Gray, she blurs the distinction between sky and sea by combining several negatives to create a single print. Art historian James Yood states that Jin Ming presents “the ocean as ominous and revelatory, a spiritual theater of awe and power that by implication renders humans insignificant and trivial.”
unique gelatin silver paper negative | MOCRA collection
The Sunburned series has its roots in a camping trip, during which McCaw accidentally overexposed his film while trying to record an all-night exposure of the stars. He was fascinated by the results: a solarized image (dark areas appeared light and light areas appeared dark) and a hole burnt in the negative by the light of the sun. Since then McCaw has been intentionally manipulating these phenomena to create haunting images of the natural world that evoke feelings of the sublime. He explains that,
By putting the paper in my film holder, in place of film, I create a one-of-a-kind paper negative. . . . The gelatin in the paper gets cooked and leaves wonderful colors of orange and red, with ash that ranges from a glossy black to an iridescent metallic surface ... the sun has become an active participant in part of the printmaking.
McCaw uses large-format cameras and vintage papers, and makes careful calculations about the position of his cameras and length of exposure to record the arc of the sun traveling across the sky.
acrylic on canvas | MOCRA collection
Salma Arastu was born in the northern Indian state of Rajasthan, home to sites sacred to both Hindus and Muslims. A major turning point in her life came when Arastu married her husband, a Muslim, and converted to Islam from the Hindu tradition in which she was raised. Eventually, the couple settled in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Arastu continues to create work in a variety of media, including painting, drawing, printmaking and sculpture.
In this work, Arastu brings the beauty and elegance of Arabic calligraphy into dialogue with modern Western art movements like Abstract Expressionism and Color Field painting. Her text is a passage from the Quran, one that she believes reflects a positive, universal message:
... Who listens to the (soul) distressed when it calls on Him, and who relieves its suffering ... (Al-Quran 27:62)
(incorporating works created 1977–1992)
mixed media (including wax, acrylic, oil, ZEC, and magna) on canvas | Courtesy of the artist
The work of Los Angeles artist Craig Antrim reflects his interest in the power of symbols, Jungian psychology, and the importance of mystery. For MOCRA’s inaugural exhibition in 1993, Founding Director Terrence Dempsey, S.J., invited Antrim to create an installation for one of the side chapels. The resulting Icon Wall includes sixty-four canvases painted by Antrim over 15 years, most featuring crosses. The cross has both Christian meaning and a more universal significance for Antrim, as it refers to the meeting of spirit (the vertical line) and matter (the horizontal line) and the tension created at that intersection.
Antrim’s varied use of color and surface texture makes a concentrated visual statement in the confines of the side chapel. His installation recalls an iconostasis, a screen covered with icons that separates the sanctuary from the nave in Orthodox Christian churches. Standing in the midst of Antrim’s many panels may give the sensation of being poised before portals opening to dialogue with dimensions beyond the chapel walls, or perhaps with the interior depths of the artist.
lithograph, ed. 38/140 | collection of Terrence E. Dempsey, S.J.
oil on canvas | collection of Saint Louis University Museum of Art, acc. 1965-0089, Charles H. Yalem Fund
lithograph on BFK Rives wove paper, ed. 50/99 | collection of Terrence E. Dempsey, S.J.
Over the course of his long career, Zao Wou-Ki bridged Eastern and Western artistic traditions and cultural identities. He also moved freely through different media, including oil on canvas, ink on paper, lithography, engraving, and watercolor. Born in Beijing in 1920, he studied Western and traditional Chinese art at the Hangzhou School of Fine Arts. In 1948, he emigrated to Paris, where he met artists such as Alberto Giacometti and Joan Miró. In the late 1950s, he visited New York, where he met many of the Abstract Expressionist painters.
Distinctive Chinese, French, and American influences are evident in these ethereal and evocative works dating between 1960 and 1970. We might focus on the energy of the bold strokes and gestures, then another look might lead us to see water and mountains. Further consideration reveals suggestions of calligraphic brushstrokes and enigmatic pictographs. Equally significant are the open expanses of pale color — empty space is a critical element of traditional Chinese art, reflecting a Taoist understanding of the void as the origin of everything. “The void,” Chinese ink-painting specialist Tiffany Wai-Ying Beres observes, “not only reinforces the subject but also gives the viewer’s mind space to breathe and wander.”
Art critic François Jacob writes, “Zao Wou-Ki’s paintings are ageless in their questioning of the universe. They present for us the birth of light, the origins of water, and beyond these turbulent upheavals of matter, a distant sense of the life energy coming into being in their midst.”
traditional gesso, watercolor pigments, and
oil pastel on masonite panel | MOCRA collection
Vicente Telles is an innovative practitioner of the Santero tradition, which refers to a distinctive New Mexican school of Catholic religious imagery that first flourished from the mid-eighteenth to late-nineteenth centuries and thrives again today. For contemporary viewers, the art of the classic santeros (“saint-makers”) seems to anticipate modern abstraction with their characteristic flattening of space, simplification of form, use of patterned motifs, and distinct handling of line.
Telles consistently addresses the question, What can and should santero art be now? He began painting traditional retablos (panel paintings) using handmade pigments and gesso, but his style has evolved to include experimentation with different mediums such as textiles, hand-pulled papers, and found and repurposed materials, as well as reinterpretations of traditional Catholic and cultural iconography to address contemporary social concerns.
The aesthetic qualities of the retablo lend a consistency to Telles’ whole range of work. For instance, this witty self-portrait reflects a more naturalistic style. Yet, just as traditional santos (saints) display attributes (objects, clothing, etc.) that identify the saint, Telles includes clues to his identity even though his face is covered by a bean sack. He notes,
This piece is layered with elements of memory and sustenance, and speaks to the racist connotations of being a “Beaner” or “Mexican Greaser” in America. Interwoven with those elements is the nopal cactus, which represents the sacrifice of the Catholic faith. The shirt ties everything together because Truth and Power reside in all the tribulations of life. Being “other” is also recognizing the elements which make us and mold us as a being as practitioners of faith and believing..
gelatin silver photograph | MOCRA collection
Hailed as one of today’s most important photographers, Dawoud Bey was born and raised in New York City and currently resides in Chicago. Represented in major museums in the United States and abroad, he first gained national attention with a 1979 exhibition at the Studio Museum of Harlem of candid photographs of the diverse people who call Harlem their home.
This three-panel portrait comes from a body of work Bey produced in the mid-1990s using a large-format Polaroid camera. The majority of his models for these works are teenagers, especially African American teens. Bey says, “My interest in young people has to do with the fact that they are arbiters of style in the community; their appearance speaks strongly to how a community of people defines themselves at a particular historical moment.” In focusing on individuals who as a group historically have been excluded from portraiture (but frequently portrayed negatively in the media), Bey wanted his subjects “... to be possessed of the power to look, to assert oneself, to meet the gaze of the viewer. Having had so much taken from them, I want my subjects to reclaim their right to look, to see, and to be seen.”
collage on paper | courtesy of the artist
Born in Tokyo, Junko Chodos grew up in a highly cultured and well-educated family amid the turbulence of World War II. Chodos’ studies in Eastern and Western religion, art, and philosophy and her interest in technology, biology, and the natural environment lend her work a unique global perspective.
In this work, Chodos uses dense collage to hold myriad elements together in an uneasy stasis, both visually and thematically. A garan is a complex of buildings in a Buddhist temple compound, while a cathedral serves as the primary church of a Christian diocese (the Latin word cathedra denotes the chair of the bishop). Knowledge and wisdom, faith and inquiry, sacred and secular, earthy and rarified — both temple and cathedral embrace these varied, and at times contradictory, realities.
acrylic on canvas, oak | MOCRA collection • a gift of Georgia G. James and Richard T. James, Jr.
Chicago-based artist Daniel Ramirez is highly regarded for elegant minimalist works. His work is found in public and private collections throughout America. In 2017 his work was the subject of a major retrospective at the Chazen Museum of Art at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Ramirez cites as his primary influences Romanesque and Gothic architecture, the writings of Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, and the music of French composer Olivier Messiaen.
This work utilizes a shape favored by the artist, the trapezoid. Gracefully arcing lines recall the arches and vaulting of Gothic churches in subtle tonal gradations of greys, blues, purples and light beiges. An almost undetectable shift of perspective throughout the work draws us in and suspends us in space. The work appears to hover in front of the wall, forming an environment of harmony and grace conducive to quiet contemplation.
oil, magna, wood, cloth, paper, cardboard, and gold leaf on wood panel | MOCRA collection
Since the 1980s, Jim Morphesis has been one of the most influential members of the expressionist art movement in Los Angeles. His paintings express a deep, universal concern with the dehumanization of society throughout history. He often produces numerous works on a particular theme, such as Christ’s Passion (influenced by his Greek Orthodox upbringing), nude torsos (inspired by Rembrandt, Velázquez, and Soutine) and universal symbols of mortality, including skulls and roses. His paintings are characterized by sensuous, textured surfaces.
Skulls have long appeared in art as a form of memento mori, or a reminder of our mortality. According to the Gospels, Jesus was executed on Golgotha (“Skull Place”). While traditional representations of the Crucifixion often include bones scattered on the ground, the skull is the sole image in this work.
The dramatic and gestural handling of paint on a ground of splintered wood causes the image to break down the closer the viewer approaches, echoing the decomposition process. Morphesis notes, “It is important for me that a work be very physical and not just look physical. I employ used pieces of wood because they come with their own history and their own character.” The subtle use of greens and blues suggests a possibility of transformation and renewed existence.
from The Life of Christ Altarpiece
oil and mixed media on canvas | MOCRA collection • a gift of the Enid and Crosby Kemper Foundation, UMB Bank of St. Louis, and UMB Financial Corporation
Frederick J. Brown drew on many sources for his paintings, including his African American and Choctaw ancestry, his religious upbringing, and the folklore of the South. He referenced religious, historical and urban themes in his work, but was especially noted for his numerous portraits of jazz and blues artists. His work shows the influence of the German Expressionists and the American Abstract Expressionists, especially that of his mentor and friend, Willem de Kooning.
In 1992, Brown offered to execute a large, multi-paneled altarpiece based on the life of Christ for the soon-to-open MOCRA. The resulting Life of Christ Altarpiece was completed in 1995 and is comprised of a central triptych (The Baptism, The Descent from the Cross, and The Resurrection) and two side panels (The Madonna and Child and The Descent into Hell)
Madonna and Child is the hallmark piece of this set. The strong, iconic Mary emerges out of a long tradition of portraying Mary as Theotokos (“God-bearer”) and Sedes Sapientiae (“Seat of Wisdom”). She embraces the child Jesus, the most naturalistic of the figures in the altarpiece. The child has a melancholic expression that indicates, even at this early age, an understanding of all that is to come.
According to tradition, just prior to his resurrection, the spirit of Christ entered into the realm of the dead and released the spirits of the important figures of the Old Testament so they could participate in the Resurrection. Christ’s spirit then rejoined his body for his own Resurrection. For Brown, the idea of a “descent into hell” had modern and even personal resonances, a deeply felt understanding of what it is to look into the abyss and to be overwhelmed by the various struggles of life. His return to the style of Abstract Expressionism that he used in the 1970s and the removal of all figural elements heighten the sense of vast, even limitless despair. Yet, there is also a sense of triumph over those difficulties, expressed through the spirits that are ascending. It is the culmination of a significant, modern treatment of the life of Christ.
oil pastel on paper | MOCRA collection
Doug DePice is an artist and art educator who has been exhibiting professionally since 1976. The work shows visual and thematic influences from his teacher, Leon Golub, whose large-scale paintings depict and deconstruct the human propensity toward violence and the tendency for civilized society to employ intermediary figures (police, mercenaries, soldiers) to “do the dirty work.” DePice’s bleached colors and distressed textures recall Golub’s scraped canvases, and like Golub’s large canvases, the life-size scale of DePice’s drawing lends it an immediacy that threatens to engulf the viewer.
DePice describes this drawing as the outgrowth of three to five years of work concerning the struggle for human rights and social justice. His primary source is a photograph of an ice cream vendor being used as a human shield by a member of the National Police during a skirmish in San Salvador in February 1980. DePice consciously invests the work with a Christian reading wherein the captive peasant represents Jesus and the officers become modern-day Roman soldiers.
The sense of “being there” perhaps challenges viewers to ponder whether they identify with prisoner, bystander—or police. What, the artist seems to ask, will our response be to social injustice?
pigment and wax on panel | MOCRA collection • a gift of Zita Rosenthal
Michael David is best known for his use of the encaustic technique, which incorporates pigment with heated beeswax. He notes,
My work has its roots in three great schools of art to emerge out of New York City: Abstract Expressionism, the great jazz of the 1950s, and early 1970s punk rock. For me, the commonality between these three art forms consists of a direct, intense physicality borne of improvisation; a desperate search for content created out of materiality, gesture and process ... I believe painting is a secular spiritual practice and at its highest levels speaks to our better nature. The more the artist is transformed by their process, the more one 'lets go' of control, the more open the experience and the greater the record of that transformation. This experience actualizes the state of being part of something larger than ourselves, something we feel and know but don’t fully understand — something greater than oneself.
The surface of Missing in Action is covered with irregular chunks of red encaustic wax. Described by one commentator as a “red badge of courage,” this work may be perceived by some viewers as being covered with red flowers. But, horrifyingly, the wax can also appear to be human flesh. This work bears witness to the unspeakable suffering of Jewish communities during periods of persecution, especially the Holocaust. Yet in its grand scale, it also testifies to a spirit of perseverance, resilience, and even hope in the face of such evil.
oil and wax/oil emulsion on paper | MOCRA collection • a gift of Eva Gelfman
oil and wax/oil emulsion on canvas | MOCRA collection
ink on paper | private collection, St. Louis
oil and wax/oil emulsion on canvas | MOCRA collection
serigraph, “6th State” | MOCRA collection
ink on paper | MOCRA collection • a gift of Eva Gelfman
In a career spanning more than six decades, James Rosen demonstrated a keen understanding of art history, mastery of form, and an ability to imbue canvases with mystery. Rosen’s interests were wide-ranging, with subjects including portraits, landscapes, and architecture, and media including painting, watercolor, ink, and prints.
Three of the works on display employ Rosen’s distinctive oil and wax/oil emulsion painting technique. He explained,
Most of my paintings require 50 or 60 “veils” or layers. I begin usually with ... the brightest colors, and then they are advanced toward a quality of light which is established by one veil going over another. In between, certain colors are lifted, that is pulled out from beneath and lifted on top of that layer. Then another layer or veil goes down until all colors, all strokes, all paint, reaches one quality of light, and when it reaches that, I consider the painting complete.
Rosen had a deep affinity for the art of the Renaissance and painted homages to his favorite artists. In the early 1980s, Rosen painted three great Madonnas as homages to images by Italian painters Giotto, Coppo and Guido da Siena. In contrast to this modest study (used to work out certain aspects of a painting), Rosen’s full-scale paintings are eight feet tall.
The 15th-century painting Pietà d’Avignon depicts Mary and Jesus after the Crucifixion, with St. John (supporting Christ’s head), Mary Magdalene (bearing a jar of unguent), and the source painting’s donor (kneeling on the left). Rosen’s layered veils of wax and oil mute the colors and details of the source painting to focus contemplation on the mystery and reality of suffering, grief, and love.
During a sojourn in Ferrara, Italy, Rosen found an overlooked monastery chapel. He was captivated by its altarpiece with paintings of eight saints, including San Vincenzo (St. Vincent), surrounding a larger image of the Madonna and Child. Rosen sketched and later painted homages on these works by an unknown artist.
Rosen’s love of light and shadow, harmony and balance, and form led him to explore and create work based on the historic architecture of Ferrara. Included here is a serigraph of the Certosa, a former Cistercian monastery built in the 15th century.
Rosen produced prodigious numbers of drawings, many of them studies and sketches, others fully realized. These two ink studies are likely based on a 15th-century painting of The Annunciation by Jan Van Eyck.
No tricks, no cleverness, no enhancers.
Drawing is the measure
Drawing measures the eye
Drawing clears the mind
Drawing breaks the lock of projections formed by what one has known
and established by what one has done
Rosen was an avid correspondent, and his missives often featured drawings, collage, and exquisite penmanship, as demonstrated in this note sent to collector Lloyd Rodnick.
mixed media | MOCRA collection • a gift of the artist
Multidisciplinary St. Louis artist Jeffrey Miller is equally accomplished in visual art, performance, and design. Miller notes, “Most any artist will tell you that they use what is available to them at any given time to meet the demands of the creative urge,” and in this case Miller assembled various found objects and imbued them with evocative meanings. An eagle, part of a weather vane that used to be perched atop Miller’s childhood home, takes the place of the traditional Christian representation of the Holy Spirit as a dove. A chalk line, used in carpentry to define true lines, suspends a pallino, the target ball in the game of bocce.
The interaction of horizontal and vertical planes, the chalk line passing through the seat of the chair and balancing the orb, and the references to direction and guidance, all suggest the role of bridging the divine and human traditionally attributed to the Holy Spirit. As Miller observes, “This work is about guidance, trust, patience. It’s about trying to understand the infinite, not so much on my terms, but at least in a language that makes sense to me.”
latex on wood | MOCRA collection • a gift of the estate of Adrian Kellard
Adrian Kellard was a skilled draftsman and artist (he studied art at SUNY Purchase and SUNY Empire State) who worked in an approachable style using common materials — he came from blue-collar roots and sought to create art that would be accessible to people of all social standings. In fact, he remarked that if all the museums and galleries of the world disappeared, people would continue to make art because it is part of being human.
Kellard’s art reflects his experiences as an Irish-Italian, Catholic, gay man who knew himself to be loved by God. He believed that the faith experience is enriched through the engagement of all the senses, an immersion realized in his small Manhattan apartment, where many of his artworks served as chairs, towel racks, screens, coat racks, and other practical uses. He would often give his carved works as presents to friends and family.
Here we present portions of an ensemble collectively titled O Holy Night. The Virgin Mary played a major role in Kellard’s faith life, and he often portrayed her as a compassionate and ever-faithful mother to her son Jesus and to the artist as well. In the large central panel (which served as the headboard of a bed) Kellard references three well-known representations of Mary. On the left is the popular devotion to Mary of the Miraculous Metal; in the center, the Eleusa icon, or Virgin of Tenderness; and at right, Mary at the foot of the Cross.
The two flanking panels have been excerpted from a bench that accompanied the headboard. The blond-haired man on the left may be based on the face of St. John the Evangelist from the painting The Tribute Money by 15th-century Florentine artist Masaccio.
Palladium print | MOCRA collection • a gift of the artist
Baltimore-based artist, photographer, and educator Regina DeLuise utilizes an 8 × 10, large format view camera and works with the Platinum/Palladium printing process. Her photography explores the visual complexities of contemporary experience through interiors, still life, portraiture and landscape photography.
DeLuise was a close friend of Adrian Kellard and says of this photo:
At this moment in Adrian’s life, he’s clearly still healthy, but has the diagnosis of full-blown AIDS ... he was always working in his home studio all the time, in a New York City five-story walkup. He was engaging with friends and other artists, writers, and galleries on a regular basis. He spent a lot of time attending to his health and dealing with doctors, but his work was the heart of it all.
The large work to Kellard’s left is The Promise, which draws on traditional images of St. Christopher carrying the Christ child.
- Triptych: Eleventh, Twelfth, and Thirteenth Stations of the Cross for Latin America – La Pasión
- Cruz to Bishop Oscar Romero, Martyr of El Salvador
North Side Chapels
acrylic and paper on canvas | MOCRA collection
Trinidadian-American artist Gary Logan explores our unique relationship with the Earth and its elements, drawing visual and conceptual inspiration from both Taoism and the Romantic tradition in painting. Through landscape imagery and the language of the sublime, he navigates the complex terrain of identity and human nature. His work speaks to universal concerns such as oppression, freedom, race, sexuality, healing, and renewal, as well as his concerns for the health of our planet.
Dark Matter blends science, history, and self-identity to explore concepts of de-colonization and “Blackness.” Logan connects the hypothesis that “dark matter” accounts for about 85% of all matter in the universe, with his discovery that exactly 85% of his DNA is derived from African ancestors. The painting’s matte background, representing the negativity of a past devastated by slavery and oppression, contrasts with glossy masses that symbolize a vibrant Black identity resulting from the conjoining of oppression and rebirth. Logan says the painting is “also inspired by the Taoist concepts of balance, movement, flow, duality, and metamorphosis as a result of embracing the painful as well as the vibrant aspects of my racial heritage.”
Logan also links this painting to the experience of walking through a volcanic lava field in Northern Iceland, a natural manifestation of creativity and rebirth from destruction.
blood and gauze on Plexiglas with UV resin | MOCRA collection • a gift of Bob Bohlen and Lillian Montalto
New York-based artist Jordan Eagles began using animal blood as a painting medium in response to a philosophical debate with a friend about life after death, and the body–spirit connection. His use of blood evokes reflection on the corporeal and spiritual, on the scientific and the mystical, on mortality and regeneration. Eagles uses a variety of techniques in the creation of his art, and even the very processes by which he prepares his medium show a ritualistic sensibility. In some works, he layers the blood at different densities, and heats, burns and ages it. His innovative technique challenges nature by preventing the blood from decomposing. Eagles notes,
The moon and planets, the cosmos and the passing of time inspire the PHASE series. The use of blood-soaked gauze in my works is a reference to ancient wrappings rituals and medical bandages for the preservation of the body and for healing wounds.
Eagles’ work is featured in ONE BLOOD, a solo exhibition at the Springfield (Missouri) Art Museum on display September 23, 2023, to February 18, 2024.
woodcut | courtesy of the estate of Frank LaPena
Frank LaPena was an internationally known painter, printmaker, and poet. Born in San Francisco and descended from the indigenous Nomtipom-Wintu people of Northern California, he was cut off from his cultural heritage at a young age. After the death of their father, LaPena and his sister were taken from their mother and placed in an Indian boarding school. There, in order to facilitate their assimilation into the dominant culture, they were stripped of their language, culture, and history. As a young man, LaPena began searching for his roots and he became interested in the song, dance, and ceremonial traditions of his tribe. He worked with the elders of several Northern California tribes and was a revered leader in the revival and preservation of Native arts.
LaPena’s art has been exhibited since 1960 in numerous solo and group exhibitions across the United States, Europe, Central and South America, Cuba, Australia and New Zealand. He served as a consultant to museums including the de Young Museum (San Francisco), the Oakland Museum of California, and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian (Washington, D.C.).
Best known for his vibrant paintings relating to Wintu and Maidu ceremonies and rituals, LaPena said, “Songs and ceremonies are what keep the world going,” a conviction reflected in his artwork. This work may refer to a supernatural bird called Wukwuk, whose feathers were particularly desired by shamans.
hand-ground rock and earth, ink on canvas | MOCRA collection • a gift of Margaret Dagen
Pablita Velarde, also known by her Pueblo name, Tse Tsan (Tewa for “Golden Dawn”), was born at Santa Clara Pueblo, located along the Rio Grande near Española, New Mexico. As one of few formally trained female indigenous artists at the time, Velarde pushed against cultural expectations, eventually becoming one of the most successful Native American artists of her generation. Velarde utilizes flat fields of color and narrative storytelling, a style that reflects Pueblo murals, pottery and hide paintings. Her work also draws inspiration from Navajo sandpainting, a sacred practice that involves creating specific images with colored sands for healing rituals. She is known for her “earth paintings” which she created by grinding pigments from rocks and minerals, using a traditional metate (stone tool used for processing grains and seeds) to create her paints.
This painting depicts a kosa, or ritual clown. A typical kosa has their body painted in horizontal black and white stripes and wears a loincloth and moccasins, along with bands on their arms and legs and a cap adorned with corn husks. Kosas serve important social functions, both sacred and profane. They personify supernatural spirits, giving them powerful associations with fertility, sun, and rain. Kosas also reinforce societal behavior norms: during communal ceremonies they act in ways that might be considered unacceptable or even obscene, parodying the audience or directly ridiculing them. The performance may be humorous, but kosas are ultimately respected as protectors of cultural customs.
We thank Ben Chavarria, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer & Director of Rights Protection Office, Santa Clara Pueblo, for assistance in interpreting this work.
etched and hammered copper relief on board | MOCRA collection
Christopher Schulte is a self-trained artist who began creating and expressing at the age of 35 with St. Louis, as his home base. Since 1999, he has exhibited in solo and group shows at venues in St. Louis, Kansas City, Missouri, and Taos, New Mexico. His art is found in private and public collections around the United States and internationally.
This scintillating work in copper is a visual interpretation of a mantra favored by Schulte:
from the unreal to real
from darkness to light
from death to immortality
OM, Shanti, Shanti, Shanti, OM
The artist says of his work:
The mosaics and organic images that take shape in my work blend all of the fragmentary elements of my world and existence into a celebration of being, glorious happening of pattern, rhythm, color, form and balance, replete with the internal complexities that sustain and color my daily existence ... It is a soul-searching process that affirms and honors the pleasurable journey of living and evolving. It is my way of rejoicing in stretching beyond the borders and boundaries I was always told to maintain.
linen with embellishments and embroidery | MOCRA collection
The multifaceted Gryphon Blackswan worked in many roles, including activist, community organizer, drag diva, clothing artist, English teacher in Tokyo, hairdresser, manager at Xerox, taxi driver, and nanny. Blackswan (his chosen name) combined his pride in his African-American heritage with an interest in Asian aesthetics to create eloquent apparel. He believed that clothing can be a carrier of powerful emotional energy and a sense of identity, and in his fashion designs, he aimed to capture the spirit of the person for whom the clothing was being made. He wanted wearers to establish an intimate connection, a relationship, with his garments. He created this chasuble (a vestment worn by a Catholic priest when celebrating Mass) for the 1994 MOCRA exhibition Consecrations: The Spiritual in Art in the Time of AIDS.
Each element of the chasuble reflects a dimension of Blackswan’s process and aims. The materials were largely drawn from leftover, discarded, or donated fabrics, reflecting his commitment to minimizing his participation in the negative environmental and human rights impacts of the garment industry. The white linen making up the body of the chasuble is a material traditionally used for burial shrouds, an acknowledgment of the many people who have died from AIDS-related causes (including Blackswan himself). The gold, black, and purple silks on the front create intricate patterns inspired by Seminole patchwork.
Blackswan often reserved his most intricate designs for the backside of his garments, encouraging the viewer to actively engage with the garment to experience it fully. The chasuble’s backside includes a calla lily (associated with purity), a rock (suggesting faithfulness, stability, and refuge) and the water (associated with baptism and rebirth.)
from Living Proof: Courage in the Face of AIDS
silver gelatin print | MOCRA collection
Fashion and portrait photographer Carolyn Jones was approached in 1991 with the idea of creating a series of portraits of people “living — really living — with what AIDS was all about.” The ensuing Living Proof project involved seventy-three subjects. Each image is accompanied by words from the subject.
At fourteen, I met my biological father, who introduced me to drugs. Years later, I watched him die of AIDS, plagued not only by the disease, but by the humiliation and shame so often associated with it. I strive for a death free from shame. I wish people would look at my nine years of sobriety and not concentrate on the mistakes I made in the past. I have a beautiful four-year-old daughter who has beat the odds and remains HIV negative. People ask me, “How can you kiss her?” They actually believe you can transmit HIV through a kiss. They don’t see the tragedy of this child losing her mommy. So many people have the attitude that I should go off and die somewhere alone. I’m tired of defending myself. I don’t need to be proud that I have AIDS, but I won’t be ashamed that I do. I don’t want to feel that I have to tell people I’ve got cancer or some other acceptable disease.
My AIDS diagnosis got me in gear to change my life. While shoveling out from under the pile of garbage I had dumped on myself, I discovered the light within us all. Sisters and Brothers, we are love, and love heals.
My mother and I didn’t always get along. We had a relationship that was not grounded in the truth. About two years ago we confronted some very tough, very personal issues and stripped away all of the lies. It was liberating to speak openly with her. We’ve spent the last few years building a relationship based on trust and encouragement. For the first time in my life, I know she loves me.
Friends in Deed is dedicated to providing emotional, spiritual, and psychological support to all those confronting a life-threatening illness.
linen fiber; ed. 3/36 | MOCRA collection • a gift of Susan Schwalb
Based in Southern California, Laurie Gross is nationally recognized for a body of work that includes sculpture, ritual objects, and commissioned designs for worship spaces. She is inspired by Biblical and midrashic texts and Jewish tradition (both communal and familial) in creating work that embodies universal themes, rich in metaphors.
The Hebrew word Rachamim (רַחֲמִים) is typically translated into English as “mercy” or “compassion.” However, as the title of this work suggests, the word derives from Racham (רַחַם), meaning “womb.” Compassion, then, is like the love without bounds of a mother for her child, the deepest knowing and connection of one being with another. Gross’ sculpture visualizes this relationship with the suggestion of a child nestled against its mother, enfolded in winglike forms. The stripes and fringe on the fabric evoke a tallit, or Jewish prayer shawl.
acrylic on canvas over wood | MOCRA collection • purchase made possible through
the generosity of Debbie Laites and
Ben Z. Post
New York artist Tobi Kahn is a painter and sculptor whose works have been included in numerous solo and group exhibitions, and are found in major museum, corporate, and private collections. He has also designed meditative and memorial spaces. Kahn writes, “In my paintings and sculpture, I am trying to distill the complex beauty of the world into its elemental forms, while evoking at the same time the mystery beneath such simplicity.” Kahn is interested in the interaction between memory and place. His titles are invented words—ambiguous but evocative, inviting us to make associations, just as the painted images jog recognition.
This work is part of Kahn’s Sky and Water series, a recurrent theme in his work since the 1980s. The forms in his paintings register as landscapes, although with ambiguous, shifting relationships. Art historian Donald Kuspit writes that sky and water “are elemental opposites, and Kahn’s horizon line marks their opposition, separating them—but also linking them, even reconciling or at least balancing them, however shifting the balance . . . ” The expansive vista invites the viewer into a space of spiritual and philosophical contemplation.
sumi ink and gold on hatome paper | MOCRA collection
Oregon-based artist Robert Kostka said that underlying all of his images is the Japanese principle of ma (間), which he describes (in a reference to dancer-choreographer Martha Graham) as being “in the inner movements and the spaces between the movements.”
The Solar Barge series is one of several major series by Kostka. He references the ancient Egyptian belief that upon death, the soul of the pharaoh was carried in the solar barge to rejoin the sun god Ra. The works evoke the cycle of life, death, and rebirth, as well as a sense of journey. The rhythm of light and dark values forms a yin-yang relationship of complementary but interrelated substances, with brilliant dabs of gold burning amidst shadowy ink forms.