Author Topic: ex cathedra  (Read 1404 times)

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Jeremy Blackman

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ex cathedra
« on: December 06, 2004, 01:13:47 AM »
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I did this painting for my Art History class, as an alternative to writing a full-fledged research paper. It's called a "deja vu project" and you're supposed to update a Medieval concept.

You can't really see it in this picture, but written on the painting in the upper middle right is "EX CATHEDRA."

Here's the original.

Here's my version.



This is a short explanation paper I had to write. It pretty much explains everything.


“Ex cathedra” (which appears in my painting in place of “Maximinius”) is a Latin phrase that literally means “from the chair” but more connotatively means “with authority.” In the Medieval Christian sense, the phrase describes the divine authority given to (or supposedly inherent in) an official figure such as a bishop or emperor. This idea was my primary inspiration to convert Justinian and His Attendants into modern terms, and my personal perspective on modern rulers who could be easily compared with the figures in the original composition drove my interest over the hours it took to produce the final product.

In the original composition, not only is the ruler used to legitimate the religion (as we might think of it today)—the religion is used to legitimate the ruler. With Justinian in the throes of official religious rites, flanked by those of unimpeachably high authority, the work is, in effect, “the holy ratification of the emperor’s right to rule.” Some of the mosaic’s essential elements—the characterization of the emperor, the figures with whom he stands, and the heavily denoted religious context—all make this a saturated piece of propaganda, and all translate easily to the present day. On the most basic level, Justinian draws his authority from religion.

The most important part of my painting, and the part that I knew could make or break it, was the heads of the figures. Given the level of unnaturalism (elongation, simplification of form, abstraction) in the original composition, the figures’ bodies were almost a non-issue. Their faces, however, were crucial. I developed sketches beforehand and came up with semi-reasonable likenesses of each of my characters. Despite the small scale of their heads and the challenge of working with a tiny brush, most of the figures are somewhat recognizable.

Each group of figures in my painting is meant to precisely replace a group in the original composition. At the left is a group of soldiers, whom I have generously dressed with camouflage—a pattern especially alien to the Medieval world, but especially striking in this painting. Two of them hold assault rifles while the one in the middle holds a shield (like the shield of Justinian’s army) emblazoned with the American flag. (This is the beginning of my strategy of mixing modern and medieval symbols and costumes.) To the immediate right are Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney, replacing the two members of Justinian’s staff who accompany him in his ceremony, and dutifully connecting the soldiers on the edge with the man to their immediate left. In the center, at last, is President George W. Bush, crowned with a brightly shining halo (but no crown, incidentally). He wears a robe with a royal purple hue just as dark as Justinian’s. He also bears the communion bowl and some gold costume highlights. The comparison here is obvious—the two rulers form persuasive bridges between religion and government, using one to legitimate the other. Next is none other than Jesus Christ. The Pope was the obvious choice to replace Bishop Maximinius, but since Bush is not Catholic (and since the Pope opposes him half the time), Christ seemed to be the most appropriate (and extreme) choice. The mysterious figure hiding between Bush and Christ is the genius political strategist Karl Rove (a.k.a. The Man With the Golden Tie). He wears a business suit just to be gratuitously unique, in the same way the soldiers’ camouflage pulls the painting violently back into the present day. The original figure in his place has sometimes been identified as Julius Argentarius, “the church’s benefactor.” The last two figures, replacing religious officials from the original composition, are arguably the two most influential figures of the modern Religious Right. The first is Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition and influential political strategist, and, in fact, a close advisor to President Bush. He’s a famously underhanded and propagandistic character. (He once said the following—“I want to be invisible. I do guerrilla warfare. I paint my face and travel at night. You don't know it's over until you're in a body bag.”) He holds an unmarked Bible, the significance of which is unclear to me at this point (but it definitely means something). To the right of him (so to speak) is Pat Robertson, televangelist with the infamous Jerry Falwell and founder of the Christian Coalition. His head, coincidentally, is the most awkward of all the figures, but it does, unfortunately, fit his persona.

In overall composition, my goal was to replicate the bordering structures, trapping the figures in a firm rectangle, while simplifying and emboldening the forms, reducing the patterns mostly to blocks of color and shapes. The horizontal borders are intensified in my painting, given the inescapable height of the canvas. At the top is a dreary blue-gold color that weighs down on the rest of the composition, as if the sky is about to fall down and crush the figures. The columns on either side, capped with gold capitals, have alternating blocks of gold crosses and American flag stars—symbolic of the continuous juxtaposition of religion and state. The blood red strip at the very bottom of the composition could represent many things—an American flag stripe, the blood-soaked streets, or the fires of hell.

My approach to the figures themselves (and their costumes) was similar. The figures in the original composition are definitely unnaturalistic, simplified, exaggerated, and elongated, but they have many things that are mostly absent from my figures—chiarascuro, clear definitions of drapery, obsessive decoration, and intricate patterning. I opted for a more extreme, essentially cartoonish, simplification of form. Had my version been a mosaic and a composition on a larger scale, I might have favored the largely unnaturalizing detail of Justinian and His Attendants. The result of my different strategy, I hope, is a painting that, in its final form, is more about color than patterns—more about historical mixing, cultural comparisons, and striking images and statements.
"Hunger is the purest sin"

Jeremy Blackman

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ex cathedra
« Reply #1 on: December 06, 2004, 12:51:45 PM »
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Some details...



"Hunger is the purest sin"

pete

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ex cathedra
« Reply #2 on: December 22, 2004, 10:06:15 PM »
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a bit too obvious.
“Tragedy is a close-up; comedy, a long shot.”
- Buster Keaton

Jeremy Blackman

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ex cathedra
« Reply #3 on: December 22, 2004, 11:02:15 PM »
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Well, yeah, it's not subtle and it's kind of simple, but I still like it.
"Hunger is the purest sin"

 

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