FIRST NEWS (OF THE RESURRECTION), 48" X 24," oil on canvas
Well here it is, the finished piece for "First News (of the Resurrection)," the piece I finished for the 9th International Church Art Competition, "Make Known His Wonderful Works," at the Museum of Church History and Art in Salt Lake City. I just packaged it off this week (no small feat nor with a painting 48" x 24" that it had to travel via freight), in hopes that it will make it past round 2 in the adjudication.
By way of explanation, I will quote what I included as my "Artist Statement"
"I am intrigued that the first witnesses of the Resurrected Savior were women, who arose early to go to the garden tomb that Easter morning to anoint the body of Jesus. They then beheld the angels telling them to go quickly to tell the disciples that He is risen. I wanted to depict that moment of anxious awe and wonder while they were on that errand, at the very first issuance of the glad news which would roll forth thenceforth and change the world. This painting is an homage to those women and indeed all the faithful women disciples who are often overlooked but play a great role in Christ's Church nonetheless."
This image and several versions of it have been banging around in my head for about 3 years and this is the final version, well... okay, maybe it one of the final versions of the idea. In short, the idea has been in there ever since they announced the theme for this triennial event, and in some ways, it kind of takes that long to prepare (at least it did for me), to filter down a subject matter of this magnitude, to funnel it into a single focused interpretation that is honest and true to a single vision.
Filtering was no small feat either because there are no shortcuts to the homework. There is no getting around the research; in my experience doing this competition for the past 12 years, I've learned that it takes steady spiritual preparation over a long period of time, to read, ponder & pray... to pray a lot... in and out of the studio and then some more, here a little, and there a little. I think that there is a misconception that I can pull biblical or spiritual images easily out of the air and presto, it appears on canvas effortlessly. (We are not talking about non-objective, abstract, alla prima or plein air paintings, which you kind of do pull out of the air.) It is never that easy with this subject matter. That is not to say catalysts cannot happen to accelerate the process into a focused instant, but there is a process to the "arriving".
When the concept did come, the creation of this image, like so many others in my head, took time for it to develop, and frankly, it took time to be able to hit this project in earnest; everything from gathering resources, conceptual drawing, working with prelim models, actual models, doing photo shoots, and more photo shoots, and more pick-up photo shoots, then editing & compositing. And maybe that is why images can be cooking in my head for even a decade or more before I ever got to paint them. Having said that, there really is no shortage of the images, but rather... things stew there for a while, and it takes me a while to get to them. At any rate, I take it as a good sign that these images have not fallen by the wayside of whim since they have endured in my head that long and I still want to paint them. At least for me, this biblical series at has NOT fallen into the "been there, done that, that is so yesterday, and I have moved on" category. In short... expect to see more of it from me.
While this image took 3 years of cooking in the back of my mind, as it were, it took months of preparation, but my actual time behind the canvas painting really only took a matter of weeks. Yet, even after all the research and technical planning, drawings, photo shoots upon photo shoots, making some serious headway on canvas, even then, changes happen on canvas:
FIRST NEWS (early underpainting)
There are some very obvious things that I changed in the final painting from its original underpainting (see above), such as the woman-in-green, who originally carried the vessel (there is a hint of a vessel in her right arm), whereas the woman-in-blue (I guess we can call her Mary Magdalene) had nothing in her hands originally. That did not ultimately sit right with me. Therefore because of Mary Magdalene's preeminent mention in the gospels of being the first to behold the resurrected Savior, and her consistent mention in the gospels to be amongst a varying group of women (varying in number and name) who went to tell the disciples, she got the honor in my painting of carrying the sweet burial spices. Hence I changed that detail in the final, which opened up another technical can of worms, changing her gesture and the swing of her drapery all together.
Another item I took out was that rise in the earth in the foreground in front of Mary Magdalene... not sure why as I still think it is kind of cool, but, I think I will put that element in another version of the painting. I like that perspective of women running down a slope which dips into a rise. But in this image, my reasoning for taking it out is that it cut off the flow in Mary Magdalene's movement, especially since I changed her gesture to holding the vessel. In addition, the more time goes on, I have an irresistible urge to flatten and pull out my graphic edges, which also might account for the disappearance of the rise. Taking out the rise makes it flatter. (Can you tell I like flat and graphic?)
The woman-in-green got a makeover completely, her angle and everything. It became more frontal and chin up. In addition, the woman-in-red's drapery completely changed shape. Sometimes I change elements because I have reassessed the graphic impact of an element may look good on paper, but on canvas on a large scale, sometimes, things change. Or sometimes, it just isn't working or flowing. And then eventually, I change it.
I also changed the womens' head-bands to white as opposed to being the same color as the outer veil. In my estimation, it would be more consistent for women of humble clothing to wear simple un-dyed cloth on there heads everyday; it eventually kind of struck me as silly to depict them so perfectly color coordinated, like they hit the same sale at the veil outlet or something with the same headcloth with matching headband for 1/2 off, but in different color variations (sorry, I am chuckling at this). While it looked cool, all my research into reconstruction of biblical clothing eked out my inclinations to have them so smartly coordinated; hence the white headbands.
The process really would not be complete if I did not mention that I did have my share of artistic epiphanies during this painting process which can happen from time to time, but is along the rarer side of things. Painting, on good days will flow and fly; nevertheless, it can also be technically excruciating at times when some elements are not coming together. And as always, as I had mentioned, prayer is key, praying for a clear mind to solutions. But epiphanies are beyond flowing, the answers to prayer, where solutions become so simple and clear but so profound nonetheless; they can be life-changing solutions that completely change my approach and workflow. Those are bigger "aha" moments. One such solution came in a moment about how to lay down color more efficiently. It changed significantly the way I work. Another moment came in the simple solution of making sure I have the right kind of magenta or violet on my palette. For some reason it solved a lot of issues. Another one was to stick to a certain kind of brush for the majority of the painting. I still work that way now. (Is this too boring and technical for all you non-painters?) These solutions may seem simple and small, but they had a huge impact on how I work.
Moreover, this image, "First News (of the Resurrection)" for me represents 3 years of a lot of pondering, praying, preparation, praying, pain, praying, process, praying, panic (when we talk of deadlines), praying and... I am running short of "p" words... um... e-phinanies... (sorry, that was a stretch) praying and... oh yeah... painting.