This painting is another example of how I can make something new of an old canvas. Previously known as "Awakening" and painted while at Pratt in 2007, it was damaged from moving and storage. It was inspired by photographs of the Bernini sculpture "The Ecstasy of St. Teresa."
I was interested in the idea of sexual symbolism to get at the spiritual experience. Bernini based this work on the writings of St. Teresa who described the vision of an angel as an experience of religious ecstasy and wrote, "I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron's point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying."
I re-stretched the canvas knowing I wanted to re-explore the themes that attracted me to the Bernini sculpture in the first place, but now I have the added experience of seeing the work in person. I had made the pilgrimage to the Cornaro Chapel in Rome when I was there in 2010. Seeing the Bernini work in all its Baroque grandeur and how it was meant to be seen literally as a theatrical event complete with a sculpted audience, was something I could now bring into the conversation.
Interpreting the ecstasy in this context has been thoroughly explored (Google it). I thoroughly enjoy the histories and stories about Bernini, Rome, the Baroque, mythologies and Christian mysticism. So I think its all there in my thoughts while I work, but I cannot say that I focus on any one of them. I do find myself very interested in things like the heaviness of St. Teresa's fabric (earthly) in contrast to the gauzy etherial fabric of the angel (heavenly). I am also interested in the light, the sharp lines of the fabricated sculptural light that serve to trap the images in juxtaposition with the circular motion of energy and the eventual release of that energy.
I feel that it is also important to talk about the sculptures of the men seated high on either side fo the stage in their theater boxes, some looking down, others in conversation with each other. It's a curious scene, especially knowing that theater boxes were not even a thing back in Bernini's time. I immediately thought of Artemisia's painting "Susanna and the Elders." Standing in front of the scene and looking up, I immediately felt like I was part of the audience, watching, interpreting, discussing and analyzing the scene. I was standing there, feeling overwhelmed with emotions, when the lights went out. Then I saw someone put another coin in a slot, and the lights popped back on. It was absurd and at the same time, totally appropriate.
If you have read this far, thank you! I am including images of the process that starts with covering the old painting with newsprint, intentionally thinking about the circular movement. The palette was determined by the colors of paint in my arsenal. In this case, I have an abundance of reds and pinks, and my new favorite, Indian Yellow by Williamsburg. I start painting the feeling of heaviness of the fabric with the reds and pinks, while using the yellow as penetrating lines of light as well as a release of an overwhelming wave of emotion. The last thing that I really wanted to resolve was the way the Bernini sculpture floats. Now you cannot really see this accomplishment in my painting while looking at the photograph of it, but I promise, if you ever get to see it face to face, you will see it float! I am pretty excited about that.
Finally, I did debate titling this painting "The Ecstasy of St. Teresa," but came to the conclusion that it was the most honest title. So there you have it.