Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Floorplans: Text as a Foundation

Just as I am interested in the added complexity that the combination of both words and images brings to an artwork, I also like to explore the multiplicities that are inherent in each of those symbolic systems on their own. Like most artists, I tend to revisit themes and subjects that I once used and thought I was done with. In 2007 this happened when I brought back the motif of the cathedral floorplan for an edition of etchings used as thank you gifts for individuals involved in the CIVA biennial conference—Transforming Spaces.

I originally worked on a series of cathedrals/crosses as a way to learn and experiment with the color viscosity etching process. In 2007, the new image—Plan—was the first such print to incorporate text. I had used text as a pictorial element in other etchings, but this was a new experiment with the floorplans. My technique and process for viscosity etching had evolved over the eight years I had been using it and this new work was markedly different from earlier pieces. The text is somewhat faint in Plan, but working on that image was enough to re-ignite my interest in this format.

The new series came from my recognition of the similarities among more conservative, even fundamentalist, branches of religions. The emphasis on the written word, on the law given by each religion’s god, is of prime importance. To simplify my task I decided to limit my investigation to only Judaism and Christianity, as they hold many scriptures is common. The new series not only used the cathedral layout, but included both English and Hebrew texts from the Pentateuch—Deuteronomy. The words work both as readable text elements and as textural design features within the larger compositions.

The central theme was the concept of the mezuzah. Jewish tradition requires all the faithful to adhere a portion of a parchment to the doorpost of the home. While some more orthodox Jewish sects do this with nearly every interior doorway, it is common that most families and persons of Jewish heritage do this with the main entrance of the home.

This act is a mitzvah—a biblical commandment. The command is found in Deuteronomy chapter six, where the LORD instructs Israel to not forget the laws and words given to them. They are compelled to teach them to their children and write them on their doorframes. They do this by affixing a tiny scroll in a small container to the right doorpost. The scroll contains the prayer known as the Shema Yisrael: “Hear O Israel, the LORD your God, the LORD is One.”

While evangelical and fundamentalist Christians do not feel an obligation to adhere physical scripture to the frames of their doors, they do hold biblical texts in equally high regard. The belief that the Bible is both infallible and inerrant results in the spare artworks in their homes that often include a verse of scripture in some form or another. In fact, Christian bookstores have made a huge industry of marketing and selling such works. I won’t waste space by offering my low views of Thomas Kinkade and his copycats here. However, I do appreciate the piety of those who purchase these kind of items. The American Church has done little to encourage a high regard for art, so we cannot expect the most art savvy Christians in a culture where art has a common status that is quite low.

This new series still places the cruciform image of the floorplans in the central, prominent region. The Hebrew and English texts become the foundation of the work in both conspicuous and subtle ways. Just as the Hebrew scriptures are the foundation for the Christian New Testament, so is Christ the cornerstone and foundation of the Church.

Only one edition of this new series has actually been printed—Fix these words in your hearts and minds. There are five smaller plates (including Write them on the doorframes of your houses, above) that have been proofed but not yet printed as editions. In fact, I still need to do some color tests before I choose the final color combinations for a few plates. Individual prints from the editions will be available, but the idea also evolved into the concept of a limited edition artist’s book that will be a gift to some friends and family. Each book will include prints of the five smaller plates along with text that explains the idea behind the project.