Learn more about the works included in “This Road Is the Heart Opening.”
Click on the title of an artwork for a full description.
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.
oil and wax/oil emulsion on canvas | MOCRA collection
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.
Rosen has a deep affinity for the art of the Renaissance, and has painted a number of grand homages to favorite artists. He often makes extensive studies exploring different aspects of a subject before executing a final version of a work. In this instance, the source work appears to be a 15th-century Italian painting of the Annunciation by Domenico Veneziano.
Rosen has compressed the composition horizontally, eliding the distance between the angel Gabriel on the left and the Virgin Mary on the right. The artist has eliminated some elements, left others only suggested, and made the significant change of rendering Mary in the nude. While perhaps jarring, this choice heightens the sense of vulnerability in this moment from the Gospel of Luke, when Gabriel announces God’s desire that Mary conceive Jesus through the working of the Holy Spirit and awaits Mary’s freely given fiat, or consent.
acrylic on canvas | MOCRA collection • a gift of the estate of Margaret Dagen
Lorna (or Launa) Purvis painted this untitled canvas at the Aboriginal settlement of Utopia in Central Australia in 1992. The painting depicts in plan view a ceremony enacted by Aboriginal women, whose presence is indicated by the four U-shaped figures on the horizontal and vertical axes. The oval-shaped figures beside them represent a coolamon (wooden bowl) used by women to carry the food they collect in the desert, symbolized here by yellow dots. The artist also shows the food, probably a desert fruit, growing at the end of the four green vines that intersect at the focal point of the symmetrical composition.
This painting was part of a collective project at Utopia on the theme of bush flowers. Its palette is drawn from the desert environment. The dynamic use of line and texture created by dots evokes a sense of abundance in the desert for the Aboriginal custodians of this narrative. In 1990, prior to the Bush Flowers project, Purvis participated in a groundbreaking experiment that introduced Utopia artists to woodblock printing. This resulted in seventy-two prints collectively entitled “The Utopia Suite” that similarly constitute remarkable imaginative expressions of the artists’ attachment to their traditional lands.
silverpoint, gold leaf, and acrylic on wood | MOCRA collection
Susan Schwalb is one of the foremost figures in the revival of the ancient technique of silverpoint drawing in America. This delicate medium involves drawing with a fine silver rod on a tinted ground, or surface. Based in New York, Schwalb has exhibited nationally and internationally.
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.
(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 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.
acrylic on canvas scroll, wooden dowels | MOCRA collection
Poet, writer, painter, and calligrapher Kazuaki Tanahashi was born in Japan and resides in the Bay Area. Sharing affinities with the Abstract Expressionists, at least in the gestural qualities of his work, Tanahashi nevertheless works from a tradition rooted in several Asian cultures. Of his process, he says, “In brushwork of the East Asian tradition, no one can make exactly the same stroke twice, as the bristle of a brush is made of many soft and long strands of hair and has a life of its own. Each stroke is unique.”
This painting was made with a single brush stroke, a technique Tanahashi is known for. At its simplest, it is an expressive rendering of the Japanese ideograph for the numeral “1.” Yet it is a record not only of intention but also of the energy expended to make the mark, of a gesture which imparts meaning. The white paint vividly rends the black void of the canvas, suggesting the powerful forces unleashed by the creative act. The red mark in the lower right corner is the artist’s hanko, or seal.
Cibachrome print | 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. . . . From the 1980s through the end of the twentieth century I would make pilgrimage to El Santuario de Chimayo [in Chimayo, New Mexico]. 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.
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. Bey states, “the most important thing about the work I’ve made over the years is that it engages issues and subjects in the real social world in a way that foregrounds those things and heightens our engagement with them . . . ”
“Combing Hair” highlights a defining element of Black life in America, one rooted in the past. In traditional African cultures, hairstyles could communicate geographic origin, ethnic identity, religion, marital status, wealth, and community standing. As the most elevated part of the body, hair was imbued with spiritual significance, serving as the conduit between the soul and the divine. Social bonds were strengthened by the lengthy process of creating elaborate styles. Braiding hair was an art form taught by the most senior female members of the family, and hairdressers were among the most trustworthy members of society.
The slave trade brutally disrupted these traditions, but Black folk found ways to adapt. Into the present day, social currents and the advent of new haircare products continue to influence the way Black Americans relate to their hair. Complying with accepted standards of beauty can entail psychic and emotional stress, as well as enduring the physical pain caused by lye-relaxers, hot combs, weaves and wigs. Perhaps this explains why the girl in Bey’s photo looks away distractedly, anticipating the end to this process. Her eyes are glossy, maybe with tears, suggesting she is “tender headed” (a term for someone who has a sensitive, easily irritated scalp).
Bey’s composition suggests the complex relationship between the girl and the young woman styling her hair. Whatever it may be, they have a close and intimate bond. Even in her discomfort, the child leans back in the woman’s lap, sheltered under her arms. The woman seems unbothered by the child’s disposition and instead smiles directly and confidently at the camera. Bey’s glimpse of an intimate and unguarded moment prompts reflection on beauty on several levels: the beauty of relationship, the beauty of embracing who you are in your natural state, and the sometimes painful work entailed in achieving certain standards of beauty.
large-format Polaroids | MOCRA collection
Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons is a leading artist of the Afro-Cuban diaspora. Her work in a variety of media is found in important public and private collections, and she had a major, critically acclaimed installation in the 2013 Venice Biennale. Recurring themes in her work include maintaining ties with the people and land of Cuba, the special character and role of women’s discourse in society, and the nature of family communication.
This evocative Holy Family image shows Campos-Pons and her husband flanking their young son. The startling eyes which keep unblinking vigil on their backs suggests the natural protective instincts of parents. But the artist also relates that her father once told her that she has “eyes in her back,” which for her speaks to our bodily capacity for sensory and spiritual perception, a deep, simple, quiet alertness.
C-prints | MOCRA collection • a gift of the artist
Photographer David Quinn poetically captures the beauty of his family’s ancestral birthplace in northwest Ireland in this photographic triptych. The Burren, meaning “Great Rock,” is one of the largest karst landscapes in Europe and is rich in historical and archaeological sites. (Karst is an area of land made up of limestone, a soft rock that dissolves in water. Over time, rainfall erodes the limestone to create caves, underground streams and sinkholes.)
Quinn’s close-up detail of the stark, weathered beauty invites the viewer to imagine the spiritual sublimity of a vast terrain.
oil, ink, mulberry paper, and damar on canvas | MOCRA collection • a gift of Helen Du Bois in honor of Peter Du Bois
Bernard Maisner is regarded internationally as one of the greatest contemporary masters of calligraphy and manuscript illumination. An accomplished painter as well, Maisner brings together materials and design in unexpected ways. He engages texts from diverse, sometimes surprising sources, and arrives at a vibrant compositional and scribal expression rooted in the past but conveyed with a fresh contemporary visual vocabulary. He has said that, for him, the spiritual dimension is an appreciation of that which we cannot know, accessed by studying the mystery of life without a desire for explanation.
In the early 1990s Maisner began to work on a large scale, blending oil painting with the techniques of manuscript illumination. The late art historian Dore Ashton noted that two motifs recur often in these larger works: an hourglass shape, and variations on spiral forms. Ashton associated these with multiple references—the spiral with scrolls and banners, the hourglass with the passage of time and infinity, but also the biological process of cell division. Another feature of these larger works is the application of numerous small paper squares reminiscent of mosaic tiles.
bronze | MOCRA collection • a gift of Mary A. Bruemmer
The Madonna Della Strada (Our Lady of the Way), is the patron saint of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). Historically, the title refers to a painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary that was housed in the first Jesuit church in Rome, Santa Maria della Strada, and is now enshrined at the Church of the Gesù, the Jesuit mother church, built on the same spot. Saint Louis University President Emeritus Lawrence Biondi, S.J., commissioned St. Louis-based sculptor Vicki Reid to create a sculptural interpretation of the Madonna della Strada. This work is the maquette (small-scale working model), for the full-size sculpture, presently located on the SLU campus in front of Spring Hall, at the intersection of Laclede Avenue and Spring Avenue. Reid gave the maquette as a gift to Mary Bruemmer, who bequeathed the work to MOCRA.
Bruemmer is a beloved figure at SLU. Enrolling as one of a handful of female students in 1938, she became the first female editor of SLU’s student newspaper and yearbook. She returned to SLU in 1956 as the director of the University’s first official residence hall for women, Marguerite Hall and continued in various leadership roles until her retirement in 1990—and then served as a full-time volunteer for the Women’s Commission for the next 26 years. She died on Dec. 23, 2021, at the age of 101. We are honored to display this work as a tribute to Bruemmer, who supported the work of MOCRA. Her gentle but powerful spirit is fondly missed.
This abstracted figural work with its slightly inclined head and flowing mantle calls to mind familiar Marian images such as Our Lady of Guadalupe. The upper recessed area evokes Mary’s embrace of the infant Jesus. The contrast of textured and highly polished surfaces may suggest Mary’s role as an intercessor: as a mother who accompanies Christians, Mary takes into her embrace all the roughness of life, offering comfort and joining believers in bringing their cares to God.
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 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 . . . (Al-Quran 27:62)
archival digital 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, AZ. 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 evoke 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 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.
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, 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.
oil and mixed media on canvas | MOCRA collection • a gift of UMB Banks and the Crosby Kemper Foundation
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 (“Baptism,” “Descent from the Cross,” and “Resurrection”) and two side panels (“Madonna and Child” and “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, heightens 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, 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.
latex on wood | Courtesy 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.
“The Promise” references the legend of St. Christopher, who had the birth name Reprobus and was of gigantic stature. After a period of spiritual searching he began living a life of service by assisting people across a dangerous river. One day a little boy asked Reprobus to carry him across the river. Reprobus was soon struggling, as if he were carrying the weight of the world, but eventually they reached the other side. The child told Reprobus that indeed he had been bearing all the world, but also the One who created the world. The child then revealed himself as Christ, and vanished. From that point on, Reprobus was known as Christopher, Greek for “Christ–bearer.” He became the patron saint particularly of travelers, but also of athletes, and his image was especially popular in the Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque periods.
In “The Promise,” made just two years before Kellard’s untimely death from AIDS-related causes, Kellard portrays himself in the role of St. Christopher. The enigmatic text, “I will never leave you,” seems to assert love, hope, compassion, and loyalty. The image expresses endurance and perseverance in the midst of suffering. Yet it remains ambiguous as to which figure is speaking the words, or perhaps they are addressing each other. “The Promise” was included in the 1992–1993 international traveling exhibition “From Media to Metaphor: Art about AIDS,” and in the 1994 exhibition “Art’s Lament: Creativity in the Face of Death,” organized by the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.
cyanotype on cloth | MOCRA collection
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 recently completed a project with The AMP: AIDS Memorial Pathway in Seattle, WA.
The Way of the Cross is a venerable Christian practice of meditating on various events leading to the death of Jesus, allowing believers to enter into a spectrum of spiritual and emotional experience. Law draws on this structure to engage viewers in the experiences of those affected by AIDS. In the traditional reckoning, the fourteenth and final Station is “Jesus Laid in the Tomb.” “Remnants” evokes the Shroud of Turin, a cloth reputed to be the burial cloth of Jesus. Law created this work to honor a close friend who had recently been diagnosed HIV-positive. The artist used his own body to imprint a ghostly silhouette, expressing his sorrow, pain, and sense of loss at his friend’s suffering. Law says that his ritualistic attempt to heal his friend by making this work resulted, to his surprise, in his own inner spiritual healing.
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.
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.
digital photograph | MOCRA collection • a gift 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.
“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 on wood; bronze with patina | Courtesy of the artist
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. This installation in honor of Juan González, was assembled for “Consecrations.” Kahn reflects:
Although we admired each other’s work for years, I did not meet Juan until 1986, when I taught painting and he taught drawing to the same students at the School of Visual Arts.
For the first four years of our friendship, we met once a week for lunch to discuss our students’ work and talk about art. As we got to know each other better, we slowly began to speak of more private matters—my children, his children, my wife and his partner.
Both of us came from strong religious backgrounds, which shaped us in similar ways. Over the last three years, as Juan got sicker, his belief in God did not falter; his love of life and of his family and his deep spiritual convictions stayed with him.
I learned so much from Juan—as an artist and as a man. I saw him last on Christmas Eve. He was lying below a crucifix with a candle burning before him and beautiful music playing. That vision will always be in my mind.
Every human being is a universe that can never be duplicated or replaced. For me, Juan was a world, my comrade in art and in the life of the artist. We spent many hours laughing over the vagaries of the art world, and even more hours in awe of great painting, the unique hand of the artist, and the indomitable, triumphant spirit, capable of prevailing in an imperfect world and of facing down death, as Juan did, with wisdom and amazing grace.
unfired terra cotta | MOCRA collection • a gift of Mrs. Grace Ferm
New York artist Nancy Fried was a close friend of artist Juan González, who, as his health declined due to AIDS, began to lose his vision—clearly a difficult transition for a visual artist. In response, Fried created this terra cotta porcelain relief, acknowledging the deterioration of González’ eyesight and expressing her compassionate and supportive presence in his life. Fried has also made terra cotta sculptures dealing with her own experience of breast cancer and mastectomy.
Fried includes a milagro (Spanish for “miracle”) of the eyes suspended from the crossbeam. Part of religious practices in many Latin American countries, milagros are small charms shaped in the form of the part of the body in need of healing. They are fastened to a sacred devotional object in the hope of a cure. Once these eyes might have represented a prayer for the restoration of the artist’s vision, or perhaps for spiritual vision to see the path through such loss. Now, years after González’ death, the eyes may evoke the abiding presence of a deceased loved one.
acrylic gesso, watercolor, and graphite on collaged paper on rag paper, framed with
oil on wood, acrylic gesso, found material, and brass
MOCRA collection • a gift of Anne Minich, commemorating the birth of Annie Husted and the death of Juan González
Philadelphia-based artist Anne Minich shares Juan González’ interest in an almost ritualistic arrangement of objects on her canvases and in her sculptures. Often her work resembles small shrines and intimate altarpieces.
In this piece, Minich employs several motifs that were hallmarks of González’ oeuvre: swaths of cloth, repeated figures, super-realistic flora and fauna, and a dreamlike sense of spaciousness. Of particular interest is the drawing of a moth, which González had given to Minich, who later incorporated it into this work. For Cubans the moth is a symbol of death. Here the moth in flight is suggestive of the cycle of life and death—an appropriate image, for a month after González’ death, Minich’s granddaughter Annie was born.
In the lower right of the artwork appears in pencil an excerpt from “Amistad” (“Friendship”), a poem by Mexican poet Octavio Paz (1914–1998). The full poem reads
Es la hora esperada
sobre la mesa cae
la cabellera de la lámpara
La noche vuelve inmensa la ventana
No hay nadie
la presencia sin nombre me rodea.
It is the awaited hour
Over the table falls
The lamp’s spread hair
Night turns the window to immensity
There is no one here
Presence without name surrounds me.
(translated by Charles Tomlinson)
Carrara marble, wood | MOCRA collection • a gift of of Dr. Albert Gnägi
Southern Illinois sculptor Steven Heilmer works in a variety of media, but he is best known for his sculptures in Carrara marble. His most important work, “Gratia Plena,” resides in the Chapel of Saint Ignatius at Seattle University.
“Nativity Stone,” carved from a single piece of Italian Carrara marble, highlights the contrast between areas of natural stone and stone which shows a human touch. This work might be quite at home in a Zen garden. Yet Heilmer’s work is rich in Christian meaning. The polished marble suggests a pool of milk just ready to spill over, symbolic of the bountiful love of Mary for her child Jesus, while the wooden wedge foreshadows his Passion and the pain she will also endure.
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?
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 not taught their language, culture or 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, DC).
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.
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 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 to protect the seeds. As photographed and printed by Jin Ming, these sunflowers take on associations of figures garbed in religious dress, of funeral processions, or of refugees fleeing under an apocalyptic sky.
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.
wire mesh and wire | courtesy of the artist and William Shearburn Gallery, St. Louis
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, divinity, 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.