«A Report Submitted to the Lamar Dodd School of Art of The University of Georgia in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree MASTER OF ...»
RECONCILIATION: PAINTING THE SEEN AND UNSEEN
B.F.A., Savannah College of Art and Design, 2007
A Report Submitted to the Lamar Dodd School of Art
of The University of Georgia in Partial Fulfillment
Requirements for the Degree
MASTER OF FINE ARTS
Reconciliation: Painting the Seen and Unseen by Caitlin Bielata
Margaret Morrison, Major Professor ________________________
Table of Contents:
I. Introduction…………………………………………………4 II. Materials and Process………………………………….6 III. Early Work……………………………………………………7 IV. Transitional Work………………………………………...9 V. Thesis Paintings……………………………………………14 A. Saints B. Patterns C. Nature and Imagery VI. Conclusion………………………………………………….24 Images……………………………………………..27 VIII. Bibliography………………………………………………..31 Introduction Much of my work is about reconciliation, about the attempt to squeeze disparate ideas and worldviews into a cohesive picture, to reconcile the competing voices. In my paintings I am exploring spirituality as an individual construction in a world that can seem hostile to such endeavors. This interest stems from personal experience, and branches out into what I have observed in the wider world, specifically the ongoing attempt to reconcile the disparate worldviews that occur within myself, my family, my community and the world. In my paintings I attempt to give visual representation to the internal struggle that we must each go through to find an authentic, or even merely functional, way of looking at and dealing with the world. I would like these paintings to provide a meditative experience for the viewer, a moment to question what the world is and the possibility that it may not be at all what we thought.
Religion has been an undercurrent in my work for most of my graduate research, sometimes subtly, at other times more overtly. I use the language of religion, in particular Christianity, as a means to look at the issues I am thinking about. This is mainly for personal reasons, because it is what I know and also because it provides a touchstone, symbols that are fairly universally understood to point to the realm of the spiritual. In my thesis work, I am combining these religious motifs with images that recall scientific and medical illustration – imagery that calls to mind the physical world that can be observed and studied. I am interested in how these two realms of thought coexist in the contemporary world.
Many scholars have written about the effect of applying the values of the Enlightenment to traditional religion in an effort to combine the two into a cohesive system. I recognize these efforts in my own thought patterns and deeply sympathize with the longing to make everything fit. My paintings meditate on these ideas and whether they can work.
Each of these paintings is the result of methodical, repetitive detail as well as intuitive, improvisational decision making. A drawing that took hours may be buried in layers of wax and paint and later be revealed, fragmented into cutout patterns and shapes. Representation and abstraction coexist in nebulous spaces; elements coalesce into strange, dreamlike landscapes. My working process – collaging, building up layers, cutting, scraping, carving, filling spaces back in – represents the process that goes on in each of our minds as we attempt to build an internal framework for dealing with the world; a reconciliation of the seen and unseen.
For several years I have been working with encaustic wax. I was originally drawn to it for its mixed media possibilities and its ability to combine fragments of drawings into a larger image more seamlessly than collage would. The wax also creates a unique atmospheric quality in the paintings. It is mostly translucent, but becomes cloudier and murkier as the layers get thicker. Light also plays a large role in encaustic, penetrating through the semi-translucent layers in a way that it cannot with paint.
Considering the spiritual references in my work, light is an important element.
As the themes of my work have evolved, the wax has taken on new meanings and references.
Its solid, sculptural quality lends itself to the creation of paintings that are as much objects as images;
referencing shrines and reliquaries. The encaustic wax itself comes directly from natural materials:
beeswax and damar resin from trees. It is probably one of the least processed painting materials available, which relates to my interest in nature and to the human body. The wax is an incredibly tactile material, soft enough to scratch and carve into and while it hardens quite a bit, it retains the appearance of softness and pliability. In my more recent works I have played up this reference by layering the wax over red and orange colored papers to give it flesh-like undertones as well as incising lines in colors that evoke veins and blood vessels. The analogy of wax to skin in one that has been explored by several contemporary painters and sculptors, but my work combines references to the body and to the decorative in a way that I think constitutes a unique exploration.
From the beginning, nostalgia, loss, and longing have been important themes for my work though they have taken a variety of different forms. In my early drawings and paintings these ideas took the form of images related to homesickness and yearning for a sense of place. Growing up, I lived blocks from the houses where my mother, grandparents, and great-grandparents all lived at different times. I went to the same elementary school that my mother and grandfather attended and to the same church where my parents and grandparents were married. Shortly before I started college my family moved from the Midwest to Florida; from a nearly century old house to a brand new subdivision. I have always had strong attachments to places and my extreme nostalgia for the place I grew up was a theme that ran through most of my drawings and paintings for many years.
My earliest graduate works reflect my feelings about these ideas using objects and imagery personal to me as well as relating to universal ideas of home and sense of place. Often these pieces combine several distinct elements. The first element is a drawing of a disaster scene, houses on fire or in the wake of a tornado, often collapsed or completely upside-down. These images are flat, photographic, and often appear aged or antique. They are combined with drawings of small objects top of the photographic image.
Usually small tokens from nature, leaves, dried flowers, stones, seed pods, they do not appear to relate to the disaster image but have the quality of a souvenir or talisman; an object of remembrance. As I will discuss in the next section, I have always been interested in relics. The Latin word reliquus means behind”.1 Like lots of children I habitually collected things from nature. I grew up next to Lake Erie and collected hundreds of shells and rocks to which I instantly developed strange attachments. Once picked up, to leave them behind would seem like abandoning them. The Dead (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2009), 8.
objects in the drawings refer to this near-anthropomorphizing of random objects and relate to the idea of a relic – a scrap or shard of everyday material which is separated out and signified as something more than it appears. The natural material of the objects – leaf, stem, wood, shell – for me is a stand in for the degradable material of the human body.
As time went on these images began to also incorporate architectural details that recall churches or shrines: detailed arches surround tumbling houses, intricate wallpaper patterns dissipate into the smoke from a house fire. These details relate to our tendency to build a shrine to the past but also began to take on further meaning as I started to think more about what I was nostalgic for beyond a physical place.
Shortly into graduate school I began to grow dissatisfied with these motifs of houses and everyday objects. I had been working with them for quite a while and I wanted to look at ideas that have more to do with universal experiences than just pertaining specifically to my life. While the ideas that I began working with in these works certainly grew out of my own experience, I have tried to imbue them with a feeling that speaks to the human experience as well.
Religion and spirituality are themes that I am deeply interested in and which in many ways relate to the ideas that I had been previously working with. Moving from a community where Catholic beliefs and traditions were important to many of the people I knew, to a much more varied and secular time. I began to think about the ways that traditions and beliefs of my ancestors, developed centuries ago, relate to the contemporary world and to my own life.
In many ways, my first experiences of art were comingled with religion: throughout grade school I drew hundreds of pictures of the nativity, the Stations of the Cross, and other biblical scenes. Each of my classrooms from kindergarten to high school contained a statue of Mary, a crucifix, and often reproductions of religious paintings and there were many religious art objects in my and my homes. While from an early age I was certainly aware of secular art, for me religious art was part of everyday life, not artifacts relegated to museums. With the amount of space religion has taken up in my life and especially in my childhood, it seems natural that these images and ideas would work their way into my paintings.
the feeling of expansiveness, of higher power that leads to one to religious belief. It is this feeling that I began attempting to convey in paintings like Shrine. Freud, a contemporary of Rolland, questioned the origin of this feeling of inspiration and expansiveness, claiming that it is a remnant of the psychology of infancy, before the independent ego is formed.2 In my pieces I attempt to convey this feeling but with a hint of nostalgia - perhaps not unlike the nostalgia Freud may have detected for the security of infancy, before the discovery of limitations and mortality. I think many of us probably feel nostalgia for the simplicity of the religious beliefs of children, before the complications of more mature questions.
As I began to further explore these ideas, I drew a lot of inspiration from photographs that I had taken of small town churches and shrines in Southern France where I spent a semester while working on degree. These churches were richly decorated in a very accumulative, almost folk-art style. Everything was decorated: the faux marble walls, ceilings painted with stars, gilded sconces, elaborately dressed statuary. They seemed like the ancestors of my childhood parish church, whose multi-wallpapered interior I used to study while daydreaming during Mass. This aesthetic began to
figure into my drawings and paintings, contributing to the collage sensibility in my paintings:
combinations of different patterns and materials like gold leaf, decorative papers and dried flowers.
Encaustic paintings already have a very solid, object-like presence which I enhanced by adding three dimensional sculptural elements. In particular I experimented with stones cast in wax which began to encrust the surface and sides of the panels (fig. 2). These stones have several references for me. They found in Catholic neighborhoods throughout the Midwest. They also resemble centuries-old structures called Bories; huts built of stacked, rough-hewn limestone slabs that I saw while traveling in Southern can find very simple folk art and patterns but there is usually the tendency to embellish the hell out of obsessive-compulsive marks. It gives the object more value, more worth, more resonance, and more magic somehow... I feel the same thing Revisited”, The Journal of Religion, 78.4 (1998): 502. JSTOR Arts and Sciences III. Web. 6 April, 2014.
12”, 24”, art”. 3 As I mentioned earlier, I have always been very interested in relics. Every Catholic church contains a relic and I remember as a child being shown the reliquary compartment in the alter of my parish church that contained the relic, though I have forgotten now what it was. Many people have questioned the true origins of relics, pointing out the fact that there are enough splinters of the true cross to make dozens of them, but what is important to me about relics is the link Catholicism sees of their body. In the 2012 painting Xavier (fig. 3) I consider the interconnection between the body, spirituality, and nature. Drawings of fallen leaves, dead flowers, and dried fungi form a large figure that makes up most of the painting. Earth tones covered in wax suggest corporeality and bright red paper patterned with gold evokes both blood and peeling wallpaper in antique shrines. The silhouette of the figure is taken from a statue at the tomb of St. Francis Xavier, believed to be the first saint whose body was posthumously divided and distributed as relics. Renderings of gnarled tree branches form the figures outstretched arms. The pose vaguely recalls the crucifix as well as the Siluetas of Ana Mendieta, female figures created of a variety of materials including mud, plants, fire, and blood (fig. 4). I have long spirituality, the body and mortality through the traditions of Catholicism and Santeria.
Conversation with Philip Taaffe”, Philiptaaffe.info, last modified 2002, Accessed 6 April, 2014, http://philiptaaffe.info/statements-interviews-2/philip-taaffe-and-fred-tomaselli/.
Fig. 4) Ana Mendieta, Untitled (Silueta series, Mexico) earthwork and tempera paint, 1976.