Learn more about the works included in “Surface to Source: Selections from the MOCRA Collection.”
Click on the title of an artwork for a full description.
St. Louis artist Sue Eisler’s works have been shown at the Saint Louis Art Museum, the St. Louis Design Center, and the William Shearburn Gallery (St. Louis). Eisler’s use of familiar, “found” materials while developing eccentric relief surfaces results in work that engages viewers. Beginning from structured environments of her own design, Eisler generates layers of explorative play and patterning. This balance of intention and spontaneity may reflect belief in a creator-being who playfully, yet with order and structure, designed the cosmos we traverse daily.
The triangular form of the present work addresses Eisler’s interest in a trinity of “mind, body, and spirit,” each an essential element in her creative process. The triangle’s symbolic associations range from harmony, godhead, and fertility (including both female and male aspects), to grouped principles such as “wisdom, strength, and beauty.” Repetition of images, words, and gestures has long been a spiritual language, bringing practitioners to a place of focus and peace. The work’s diagonal lines lead the eye among the repeated triangles within the work, visually involving the viewer while conveying a calming message of peace.
South Side Chapels
screenprint, ed. 67/200 | MOCRA collection
Romare Bearden is considered one of the most creative and original visual artists of the twentieth century, as well as a powerful social critic and advocate for young African-American artists. He worked in many media, including collage and photomontage, and his projects included designing sets for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. His work is collected in many of America’s most prestigious museums.
Bearden drew on personal memories, African-American cultural history, and literature to situate the African-American experience within the context of universal themes. In this screenprint, Bearden lays colorful blocks of ink over a grayscale photo reproduction of the “Virgin of Vladimir,” a famous twelfth-century Byzantine icon that is considered one of Russia’s national treasures. Bearden’s reworking prompts us to think about the way that sacred figures are depicted in the art seen in museums and houses of worship. How does our perception shift when these images challenge the constraints of culture, era, geography, or faith tradition?
large-format Polaroids | 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.”
oil on canvas | courtesy of the artist
Born in Hawaii, Milo Duke was raised in Japan, Hawaii, and various other places in the United States. Largely self-taught as an artist, he studied at the Academy of Realist Art in Seattle, and has been exhibiting across the country for the past thirty years.
The Catholic saint known as John of God (1495–1550) spent years as a mercenary soldier in the Spanish army. A conversion experience led him to leave military service and open a religious bookstore in Granada, Spain. One day, profoundly affected by a sermon, John began behaving wildly in public. This led to his confinement in an insane asylum, which ended when John came to realize the infinite compassion of God. He devoted the rest of his life to serving the city’s most poor, destitute, and discarded members. His life of total giving and constant prayer inspired others to support his work. In time his followers became the Order of Hospitallers, which today operates more than 300 hospitals, services, and centers worldwide.
This diptych depicts two stages of John’s spiritual trial in the asylum: first, anxiety over the state of his immortal soul; second, the healing revelation that God is compassionate, and people can internalize and express this compassion in the world. Like artists of medieval and Renaissance periods, Duke includes various symbols that, when decoded, tell us about the state of John’s mind and soul. For example, he is surrounded by objects that suggest the material world is transitory and unimportant when considered against the immortal soul. Skulls are frequently used in art to represent human mortality. In both panels John sits in front of a blackboard filled with geometric proofs and various sayings of the humanist scholar Erasmus of Rotterdam, suggesting that logic and reason alone cannot save us in times of spiritual crisis.
The artist notes that the model for St. John is a friend and fellow artist with whom Duke has collaborated on several book projects; this is particularly appropriate since John of God is the patron saint of booksellers.
MOCRA collection • a gift of Justin Sweeney
Jon Cournoyer is a St. Louis-based artist whose keen sense of composition and witty juxtaposition is apparent in his collages and photomontages. Cournoyer applies those techniques in this work to memorialize a time and place of personal significance, as he reflects:
Observing the onset of the HIV/AIDS crisis in San Francisco during the early 1980s was the impetus for a decade-long series of photographs exploring fear, pain, grief, anger, and ultimately hope. This photographic series was created using multiple negatives of photographs I shot at El Santuario de Chimayo, a church in Chimayo, NM. The process I used was to slice, manipulate, and reassemble multiple negatives before developing a final image.
From the 1980s through the end of the 20th century I would make pilgrimage to El Santuario de Chimayo. Founded in 1816, this church is one of the places where I found solace. I felt magic there. I felt the healing properties that exist within the soil. I took several friends there and smeared the sacred dirt on the foreheads in hopes that the healing properties of the soil and the blood of Christ would bring about a new life for them. . . . Regardless of what causes unsettling times, the power of creativity is unleashed and is the antithesis of despair.
Magic, faith, spirituality, and unity can be discovered when we strip ourselves of our differences. Then, we can collectively move forward with a better understanding and compassion for humanity.
latex on wood with metal coat hooks | 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), but he chose to work in everyday materials and in a folk-like style—he came from blue collar roots and sought to create art that would be accessible to people of all social standings. Throughout his art, Kellard explored his experience as an Irish-Italian, Catholic, gay man loved by God.
For Kellard, there was no separation between art and everyday life. He incorporated religious imagery into everyday objects (often functional) in a way that is playful without being irreverent. Frequently Kellard drew upon his knowledge of Catholic saints and of famous artistic depictions of those saints. This work quotes a painting by El Greco of St. Martin and the Beggar. The fourth-century saint was a soldier in Constantine’s army. While stationed in Amiens, France, Martin encountered a beggar suffering from the cold one winter day. In an act of compassion, the saint sliced through his own cloak and gave one half to the beggar. That night, Martin dreamed of Jesus wearing the half-cloak he had given away.
This art work doubles as a functioning coat rack which once hung in Kellard’s apartment; the hooks are enclosed in carved hearts.
latex on wood with wire mesh | MOCRA collection • a gift of the estate of Adrian Kellard
In art, “Man of Sorrows” refers to a devotional image focusing on the suffering of Christ, who typically is displayed from the waist up and bearing the wounds of his Passion. The title derives from Isaiah 53:3: “He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”
Kellard, however, finds inspiration in a thirteenth-century Crucifixion by Italian artist Coppo di Marcovaldo. Kellard renders the powerful face of the Coppo work in a bold graphic style and isolates it behind a wire screen and bars. The spare black, white, and silver colors that dominate this work contrast with Kellard’s typical bold colors; his work grew more monochromatic toward the end of his life. Still, a bright yellow hint of Jesus’ halo shines from behind the bars, and significantly, a small carved red cross is found in the lower left of the work. Those who are imprisoned might identify with Kellard’s Man of Sorrows—whether they are literally confined in a cell, or living in prisons without walls, the kinds created by society, or circumstance, or our own choices.
palladium print | MOCRA collection • a gift of the artist
Photographer Regina DeLuise was a close friend of Adrian Kellard. She 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.
oil and wax/oil emulsion on canvas | MOCRA collection • a gift of Eva Gelfman Weiss
oil and wax/oil emulsion on canvas | MOCRA collection • a gift of Eva Gelfman Weiss
oil and wax/oil emulsion on canvas | courtesy of the artist
Spanning a six-decade career, James Rosen’s work demonstrates a keen understanding of art history, mastery of form, and an ability to imbue canvases with mystery. He is deeply read in art history and theory, literature, philosophy, and theology, all of which are synthesized in his work. Rosen frequently engages in a form of dialogue with past images, which Jewish scholar Josephine Milgrom likened to a “visual midrash” that reinterprets the artwork for the present generation.
During a sojourn in Ferrara, Italy, Rosen studied the paintings of a small and overlooked chapel in the Monastery of Sant’Antonio in Polesine, and in particular, an altarpiece with paintings by an unknown artist of eight saints surrounding a larger image of the Madonna and Child. Rosen used them as sources for a series of watercolor and gouache studies, and later, oil and wax/oil emulsion paintings. These three works come from that larger body of work. (Interestingly, the source paintings are considerably smaller than these “homages.”)
For Rosen, the practice of patience and the experience of mystery are of the utmost importance. In a culture in which instant gratification has become the norm, Rosen calls us to another reality—the discipline of quieting ourselves and simply waiting. If we can do this, the interior rewards are abundant. There are up to 60 layers of oil and wax/oil emulsion (he refers to these as “veils) on the surfaces of his canvases so that the image emerges slowly. If we spend time with the work, these images appear almost miraculously from the fabric of the canvas—yet we never see the image with complete clarity because of the opaque quality of the wax. Rosen has expressed the hope that his art illuminates and doesn’t illustrate. Stillness and reverence suffuse his work; the work invites a similar response from the observer.
(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. His work was featured in the international exhibition “The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890–1985.” 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 64 canvases painted by Antrim over a fifteen-year period, most of them 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 that is 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.
mixed media | MOCRA collection • a gift of the artist
Susan Schwalb says, “I have used Jewish sources in my work on and off for many years. In the late 1970s and early ’80s I made a group of box sculptures which combined silverpoint drawing with Jewish ritual objects.” These works recall the art of Joseph Cornell (1903–1973), who used boxes and simple materials to create surreal microcosmic worlds.
“Shrine of the Scroll” encases a distressed parchment mounted amidst feathers, candles, and quills rendered in delicate silverpoint. Schwalb likens the format of this work to a portable ark containing a Torah scroll, like one a rabbi might bring to a home during the weeklong Jewish mourning period called shiva. The box is draped with a tallit, or prayer shawl.* These evocative objects connect the work both to the Jewish tradition, and to personal recollections of the artist.
* The embroidered strip on the neck of the tallit is called the atarah (“crown”) and the text is the blessing recited when donning the tallit.
gold leaf, silverpoint, and acrylic on paper | MOCRA collection • a gift of the artist
This work comes from a series inspired by illuminations from the celebrated “Sarajevo Haggadah,” which dates from around 1350 and contains the traditional texts recited at the Passover Seder, accompanied by illustrations. Schwalb was drawn to the haggadah’s illuminations representing the creation of the world. In this work, images of the sun and the moon, of land and water, emerge from a luminous gold leaf void. Siverpoint tracery undulates across the surfaces, suggesting the creative energies active at the birth of the cosmos.
silverpoint, gold leaf and acrylic on wood | MOCRA collection
This work, from the series “Judean Desert–Sacred Land,” features Schwalb’s unrivaled command of the delicate technique of silverpoint. This beautiful triptych, traversed by countless silverpoint lines, is in part inspired by Schwalb’s travels in the Judean desert, where she drove in and out of sandstorms. Schwalb also attributes the genesis of this body of work to a period of research at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. While studying illuminated manuscripts, she realized that the spacing guides and text guidelines were made in silverpoint. Those grids, together with memories of the desert, became the basis for this work.
The intricate patterns of lines evoke a lush field of wheat, echoing biblical images of a land of abundance. The vertical forms in the middle of each panel may bring to mind the columns of fire and smoke that led the Israelites through the desert during the Exodus.
Susan Schwalb (b. 1944)
mixed media | MOCRA collection • a gift of the artist
Susan Schwalb notes that among her shrine-like box sculptures, those with religious themes are related to her own cultural past and identity. She says, “As a child I was fascinated by the shops on the Lower East Side of New York City: here I purchased most of the memorabilia used in the boxes.”
In this box memories are evoked by a corsage, a butterfly, and a prayer book. (The book is positioned upside down to signal Schwalb’s intention for “A Time Remembered” to be an artwork and not an object for religious devotion.) Schwalb says, “I have burned and smoked these texts in order to simulate ancient parchments to suggest memories of the Jewish experience.” The singed items may also suggest the suffering of the Holocaust, yet Schwalb reinforces a sense of hope with the peacock’s plume, symbolic of paradise.
Susan Schwalb (b. 1944)
silver, gold, copper, tin, aluminum, platinum, and black gesso on wood | MOCRA collection • a gift of the artist
Schwalb tells us that her “Harmonizations” series is inspired by the Jewish legend of the Lamed-Vav Tzaddikim,* or 36 righteous Jews. According to this tradition, in every generation there are 36 righteous Jews living in the world. These lamedvavniks have no acquaintance with each other, and do not themselves know that they are one of the 36. It is said that they only emerge when needed to save Israel, the Jewish people, or the world. For the sake of these 36 hidden saints, God preserves the world, even if the rest of humanity sinks into depravity. If the number ever goes below 36, tragedy will strike the Jewish people and the world. One implication of the story of these anonymous saints is that every Jew should act as if he or she might be one of them, leading a life of humility and holiness for the sake of others—the world depends on it.
While Schwalb was reading about this legend, a dear friend who survived the holocaust began to die. She reflected that if she had ever met a lamedvavnik, this man was one. This led to making works using 36 squares. One is left blank to symbolize a saint whose life is ending, and the moment in which a new saint might emerge to preserve the world.
* In Jewish tradition, each letter of the Hebrew alphabet is assigned a numerical value. The value of Lamed ל is 30, and the value of Vav ו is 6.
gold leaf, mica powder, and acrylic on canvas | MOCRA collection
The “Tree of Life” series evolved from a prior series called “Let there be lights in the firmament” (which in turn expanded on themes from the “Creation” series, such as the work seen in the adjacent side chapel). “Tree of Life” and “Let there be lights . . .” 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 image of a 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.”
acrylic on panel under tempered glass | MOCRA collection • a gift of the artist
The late Bay Area artist Don 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. This vessel floats in space like some sort of idealized Platonic object whose placid waters are disrupted where something new and unexpected has been poured in. The moment 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. In a similar way, our impermanent bodies are temporary containers for a universal and eternal spirit. Epiphany, destruction, vulnerability, receptivity, and transformation—all these are called to mind by this work.
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 itself appears to hover in front of the wall, forming an environment of harmony and grace conducive to quiet contemplation.
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 thirty-five with St. Louis, MO, as his home base. Since 1999 he has exhibited in solo and group shows at venues in St. Louis, Kansas City, MO, and Taos, NM. 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.
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. She is passionately committed to calling for respect and harmony among religions.
In this work, Arastu brings the beauty and elegance of Arabic calligraphy into dialogue with Western modern 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 . . .
wood, cast iron, limestone | MOCRA collection • a gift of the artist
Sculptor Peter Ambrose has works in private and corporate collections throughout the country, including New York, St. Louis, and San Diego. The main subject of Ambrose’s work is the human figure, interpreted through the lenses of Cubism and Constructivism. Lynn Gamwell writes that Ambrose presents “a metaphorical projection of a figurative presence into alien, unhuman materials.”
With its iron wedges driven into the wood, this work evokes classical portrayals of the martyrdom of St. Sebastian, a young Roman soldier shot through with arrows. The arrangement of the blocks also suggests a figure about to collapse from cleaving forces, calling to mind also the scourging of Jesus prior to his sentencing by Pilate, a biblical scene frequently depicted by artists across the centuries.
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. His work is found in major collections such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Jewish Museum in New York City, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. His recent endeavors include establishing the Fine Arts Workshop in Atlanta, and founding and directing two galleries in Brooklyn.
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.
“Crowning with Thorns” features surfaces covered with thick encaustic wax. The tangled lines on the horizontal beam references the crown of thorns placed on Jesus before his crucifixion, but their resemblance to barbed wire might also bring to mind concentration camps and detention centers. The inversion of the cross recalls the story of St. Peter, who according to tradition was crucified upside down. Taken together, these elements evoke human cruelty, yet also perseverance through faith in the face of suffering.
mixed media on board | MOCRA collection
Patrick Graham is regarded as one of Ireland’s most important contemporary artists. From his childhood he had a remarkable talent for academic drawing and painting. Exposure to German Expressionist art opened up new doors of possibility for him even as it triggered disillusionment with the limitations of the art he had been trained in, leading to a period of artistic and personal crisis. He eventually emerged from that darkness, and is credited by critics and art historians with changing the face of painting in Ireland.
Graham produces grave and complex paintings that are distinguished by his unabashed exploration of difficult, personal subject matter and dissection of its psychological, spiritual, and aesthetic implications. The works reference Irish culture and landscape, Roman Catholicism, Graham’s complicated upbringing and personal battle with chemical dependency and mental illness, and his love for his son, Robin.
With nail holes in the figure’s feet, the suggestion of a crown of thorns, and a halo, “Rising and Falling” alludes to the crucifixion, entombment, and resurrection of Jesus. The side-by-side placement of the two figures allows the artist to evoke and contrast different psychological and emotional states. An arm enters the painting from the right—perhaps the hand of God—suggesting the power of outside intervention and the possibility of renewal and transformation.
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 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, in this work the skull is the sole image.
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 process of decomposition. 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.
oil and gold leaf on wood panels, mouldings | MOCRA collection • a gift of The Robert D. Farber Foundation
Following a career in theater and performance art, New York artist Robert Farber turned to visual art-making in his mid-30s. After he learned in 1989 that he was HIV-positive, AIDS became his dominant subject. Farber’s most important work is the “Western Blot” series (1991–1994), large constructions that combine painting, drawing, texts, and architectural elements. In these pieces Farber moved beyond his individual experience to consider a global perspective linking the reality of AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s with a Europe ravaged by the bubonic plague centuries ago. Farber’s vision is painful, moving, compassionate, and courageous—and always thoughtful. “Farber’s work has less finality, and more hope in my view, representing not death at all, but the struggle of art to frame life while it can still be lived,” writes art historian Michael Camille.
Much has changed since Farber created the “Western Blot” series, especially the widespread availability of treatments to manage the disease, but social stigma and unequal access to care are still realities for many people living with HIV and AIDS. Farber’s work insists that we take notice.
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.”
Interestingly, 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.
“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
digital Duratrans and aluminum light box | MOCRA collection • a gift of the artist
Dean Kessmann teaches at the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He has exhibited widely in solo and group exhibitions and his work is found in major public collections. His work explores questions about perceived and actual reality, and the ways in which scientific and religious understanding interact. Fundamentally, he asks whether science is capable of giving undeniable confirmation of the truths that spiritual, faith-based understanding gives believers.
“Wafer and Wine/Blood Cells” can be seen as a meditation on the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation that holds that, in the sacrament of the Eucharist, bread and wine become truly (if not necessarily apparent to the senses) the body and blood of Jesus. Exploring the limits of scientific, measurable certainty, Kessmann presents highly magnified photos of communion wafers soaked in wine. The resemblance to blood corpuscles is remarkable (it is not hard to imagine stars and planets as well). This visual evidence is evocative, but in the end, it is a creation of the artist—leaving the final conclusion to the reason and faith of the viewer.
digital photograph | courtesy of the artist
Andy Julo is an interdisciplinary artist with a background in printmaking, camera-less photography, and installation-based media. His work draws connections between the human body, the shared past, and the cosmos by re-imagining ancient stories, traditional forms, and symbolic codes. Currently, Julo serves as the director/curator of the Verostko Center for the Arts on the campus of Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA.
Julo writes, “As an artist and as a person of faith, I am interested in sites where realms mingle—paradoxical experiences of presence and absence, light and shadow, night and day, belief and unbelief, and the sacred and profane.” The title of this work alludes to the Nicene Creed, a centuries-old statement of Christian belief. In particular, it is an affirmation of Jesus’ co-equal divinity with God the Father. The artist notes,
“Light from Light” imagines the entombment of Christ in anticipation of the resurrection. This is a space of ultimate darkness where the paradox of rebirth is at hand. . . . By employing a model who identifies as queer and was raised Jewish in a remote part of Oklahoma, I am drawing a parallel with the Suffering Servant described in the Book of Isaiah—a prefigurement of Christ who achieves exaltation through despisement and anguish. Contemporary tensions such as these recall the mysteries and complexities of faith in a God we cannot see or touch, but who is intimately bound within our being and becoming.
hydrocal with circuitry, copper | MOCRA collection • a gift of the artist
A native of Detroit, Tim Liddy earned his MFA from Washington University in St. Louis and currently teaches at Fontbonne University. Working in painting, drawing, and sculpture, Liddy builds a strong foundation for context, narrative, and social/cultural philosophy. He is an accomplished craftsman and elegant draftsman whose work focuses on process, appropriation, and a nuanced understanding of art history—often leavened with incisive word games and playful juxtapositions.
Combining art historical imagery with circuitry, Angel is a form of contemporary icon, a meditation on what happens when faith encounters technology. Can time-honored symbols and metaphors adapt (or be adapted to) contemporary concerns and sensibilities, or will they be consumed and eradicated as new technology emerges as the dominant “religion”?
acrylic on panel | MOCRA collection • a gift of the artist
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.
Arastu is passionately committed to calling for respect and harmony among religions. This work comes from a series called “Unity of Symbols and Sacred Texts.” Arastu says she began this series
in the hope of reflecting the interconnectedness of belief in our collective cultural memory of origination of stories and use of script in conveying spiritual teachings. . . . We live in a global world today, and we are connected, our destiny is shared; we can only find peace and success when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations.
This work incorporates symbols connected with Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, Sikhism, Bahai, and Buddhism. The central glyph interlinks the symbol for the sacred word Om and the Arabic word for Allah. Other symbols include the Christian cross, Judaism’s six-sided Star of David, and the lotus flower associated with Buddhism.
no. 12 of an edition of 12
Japanese paper and gold leaf on panel, Plexiglas | MOCRA collection
German artist Lore Bert has created more than 125 installations on nearly every continent, including a major work installed in the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana in St. Mark’s Square for the 2013 Venice Biennale. Bert integrates her sculptural works into different spatial environments in order to explore a variety of possible meanings and dialogues. Since the 1980s, she has created collages and reliefs, and has experimented with transparencies in sculptures and installations. Her works often utilize papers from Japan and other Eastern origins.
Bert creates a geometric negative space within densely wrapped and folded white paper, then highlights the shape with gold leaf. The shape is reminiscent of the fleur-de-lis, a symbol associated with French royalty, but also appearing in Medieval and Renaissance European art on the crown of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In Christian iconography, the lily symbolizes purity, here further enhanced by the radiant gold, and halo of white paper.
oil on wood panel | MOCRA collection • a gift of the artist
oil on steel plate | MOCRA collection • a gift of the artist
The painters of the Northern Renaissance, such as Robert Campin, Jan van Eyck, and their contemporaries, produced stunningly realistic still life images. But they included details in their works that, to the viewer keyed in to their symbolism, quietly communicated religious meaning. Contemporary photorealist works have the same potential for hidden symbolism, as demonstrated in these two works by Los Angeles artist Nick Boskovich.
“Emmaus: Rose of the Passion” draws on the scriptural story of the appearance of the resurrected Jesus to two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13–35). Those disciples recognized Jesus in the breaking and blessing of bread. Similarly, the broken bread here, along with the glass of red wine and white rose, call to mind the Last Supper and the suffering and death of Jesus, as well as to the Resurrection and what lies beyond.
“Annunciation” refers to the visit of the angel Gabriel to Mary in Nazareth, announcing that she had been chosen by God to bear the savior of the world (Luke 1:26–38). The calla lily has a long association in art with Mary’s virginity. The wrapped box suggests the anticipation of awaiting the birth of a child, while the enclosing string suggests the cross.
acrylic on wood | MOCRA collection • a gift of Margaret Dagen
Virgil Myers, a farmer from a small town in south-central Illinois, enjoyed carving wood and making art since he was a child. He created several versions of Noah’s Ark, as well as works based on other religious themes and country genres.
Myers’ Ark refers to the biblical story of Noah (found in chapters 6 through 9 of Genesis), who built a large boat that preserved two of every species on the planet while rain fell and flooded the earth over a period of forty days and forty nights. Myers gives a clue that the waters have receded and his Ark has come to rest on dry land—only one dove is present, its mate having flown off and not returned (Genesis 8:12). This work, with its astounding profusion of animals and insects, is a playful celebration of the riotous variety of life and the promise that never again will all of creation be threatened with divine destruction.
blood and gauze on Plexiglas with UV resin | MOCRA collection • a gift of Bob Bohlen and Lillian Montalto
The work of New York-based artist Jordan Eagles has been exhibited at major venues including the High Museum of Art and the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum, and is found in numerous private and public collections, including the Peabody Essex Museum, the Princeton University Art Museum, and the University of Michigan Museum of Art.
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.
Kodalith, silver leaf, and red paper, mounted in Plexiglas | MOCRA collection
An awareness of current political and social conditions is evident in the work of Guatemalan artist Luis González Palma, one of Latin America’s most significant contemporary photographers. Frequently his subjects are Guatemala’s indigenous Maya, who have endured centuries of violence and indignity but who fiercely preserve and promote their cultural heritage. González Palma’s often dramatically manipulated prints evoke both history and timeless mystery.
In 2005, González Palma executed a series of loincloths based on the Crucifixion paintings of famous artists such as Diego Velázquez, Peter Paul Rubens, El Greco, and Thomas Eakins. González Palma acquired and arranged fabric to emulate the painted loincloths, suspended them with string, and photographed them against a black background. The prints are layered with silver or gold leaf and red paper, resulting in strikingly detailed images that simultaneously evoke the sacred and the mortal. This work is based on the voluminous arrangement of loincloths found in many of the Crucifixion images by the great seventeenth-century Spanish painter Francisco Zurbarán, who combined intense realism and dramatic spirituality in his work.
mixed media on paper | MOCRA collection
Michael Byron is Kenneth E. Hudson Professor of Art at the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis. He has exhibited worldwide, including the 1989 Whitney Biennial.
In his “Cosmic Tears” series, Byron explores the relationship of the individual to the universal. The works are based on a text by the artist that meditates on the inevitable mix of emotions that accompanies the act of creation. The abstract works simultaneously suggest both microcosmic and macrocosmic perspectives, and evince a quiet, reflective quality. In some of the works there are forms that suggest continents or constellations; in others, the artist introduces trompe l’œil images of water droplets.
cast iron | MOCRA collection • a gift of the artist
Stephen Luecking is a Chicago-based artist equally gifted in the fields of painting and sculpture. He often explores scientific, philosophical, and theological concepts in his work. As this three-tiered spire ascends, the number of sides diminishes with each new level, from five to four to three sides. The artist notes that it was inspired by a medieval cosmograph (a description or representation of the main features of the universe) representing the levels of creation from the terrestrial realm of earth, through the celestial realm of stars and planets, to the empyreum, or heavenly abode of God.
digital C-print | MOCRA collection • a gift of a private donor
DoDo Jin Ming is one of the first generation of Chinese artists who experienced the tumultuous years of the Cultural Revolution and the Tiananmen Square uprising. A 1988 exhibition of Joseph Beuy’s drawings caused her to abandon a musical career for a life in art. 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 danger, and an acute sense of our own creaturehood in the face of forces beyond our power to control.
In the “Behind My Eyes” series, sunflowers (in this work photographed in North Dakota) assume a stark, brooding quality in alien landscapes. Jin Ming prints the images as negatives and tones them, causing stalks to glow and sunny skies to darken menacingly. The amorphous black forms are hoods which, seen under normal circumstances, are a light colored mesh material placed on the sunflowers for research experiments. As photographed and printed by Jin Ming, these sunflowers take on associations of figures garbed in religious dress, of grievers processing, or of refugees fleeing under an apocalyptic sky.
photography and paper mounted on aluminum plates | courtesy of the artist
Born in Hong Kong, Horatio Hung-Yan Law is a Portland-based installation and public artist who focuses on making creative projects with communities. The core of his art stems from his Asian-American identity and his experience as an immigrant. His projects, which often include a strong community process, explore the effects of our current culture of consumption and the invisible foundation of a community—identity, memory and history. He is currently working on a project with The AMP: AIDS Memorial Pathway in Seattle, WA.
“Burnt Offerings” is part of a series of mixed-media portraits of Syrian refugee children that meditates on the toll the children endured (both inside and out), as well as their hopes and dreams during their flight in search of safety with their parents. Images of the children, collected from online news sources, are printed on origami paper and folded into butterflies. The origami are then singed to create unique patterns and shapes that reflect the trauma these young refugees endured.
watercolor and vegetable dye on handmade paper | MOCRA collection
Born in Lahore, Pakistan, Shahzia Sikander emerged onto the international stage with the 1997 Whitney Biennial. In 2006 she was named a MacArthur Fellow. Valerie Fletcher writes that Sikander’s art “is about complexity, contradiction, and synthesis—about past and present, Asia and America, self and society, reality and perception.” Her work inventively adapts the techniques of Persian miniature painting in which she was trained, from the intimate scale of her early drawings and paintings to her more recent digitally animated manuscripts. Sikander blends influences from her Islamic upbringing with images from Hindu mythology and Persian tales, all infused with her own personal symbolism. In the process she comments on her status in her homeland and on the West’s preconceived notions about her origins. The cultural treatment of women is one of her overriding concerns.
Prominent in this work are the central images of a sandal and what seems to be a flowing piece of fabric, possibly a headscarf. Traditional Pakistani society is marked by clearly delineated gender roles, strong social mores, and a high degree of symbolism in garments and behavior. For example, sandals cover the feet, the body part of least honor. Should a man impose on a woman’s honor by touching her inappropriately, she might well respond by smacking him with her sandal: a shaming rebuke.
Sikander leaves room for interpretation in this work. Perhaps she is asking viewers to examine their assumptions about the the roles of women and men in society. One clue may be the blue image that appears in many of her works—it is her personal symbol of a female figure rooted in her own resources, independent and self-sustaining.
papercut | MOCRA collection
papercut | MOCRA collection
The tradition of Jewish papercutting dates back to at least the fourteenth century, and it became an important folk art among both Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews. The art form almost disappeared in the first half of the twentieth century, due both to emigration and to the Holocaust. During the last fifty years, however, papercut art as a means of Jewish expression has been revived. Israeli artist Archie Granot goes beyond the traditional bounds of classic motifs and styles with his asymmetrical works built up of multiple layers of interlaced cut paper designs, creating a three-dimensional relief in what is usually a two-dimensional medium. Yet his texts are consistently biblical, Talmudic or rabbinical, and his imagery often makes allusions to Jerusalem, the city where he lives.
The “‘Exodus” Papercut” references the biblical passage Exodus 13:21–22. Granot explains,
This text surrounds the two abstract “pillars” at the center of the work. One of them “goes before the camp” and sits on the cream paper while the other, cut into the cream paper, “goes after the camp.”
The ““Hallelujah’ Papercut” presents the biblical passage Psalm 148:1–4.
Hallelujah! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights. Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host. Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you stars of light. Praise him, heavens of heavens, and you waters that are above the heavens.