John Warren Oakes
Meditations on the Holy Cross Series
In Meditations on the Holy Cross I focus on the transcendence of Christ's crucifixion, not the actual death. I seek to depict the life energy that emanates from the dead body, as well as its androgynous nature. My goal is to interpret the crucifixion in a way that is not sentimental in the traditional sense but, instead, emotionally charged in a contemporary fashion. The images are not meant to be only or even specifically for worship but may relate to anyone who embraces the numinous life of the spirit.
Basically, I am an abstract painter, and the idea of painting a representational crucifixion does not interest me. Thus, in some works only hints of the subject are visible. The viewer may contribute memories of the historical event upon this framework to complete the image, resulting in, it is hoped, an interactive experience. Unlike much of my previous work, these paintings are not about self-expression; instead, I am acting as a kind of channel for representations and variations that are created in the intuitive process of painting.
During this process I researched how the crucifixion has been depicted in the past by such artists as Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Tintoretto, Caravaggio, Picasso, Zurbaran, William Congdon, Chagall, and Dali. Rouault and El Greco, with their expressive liberties in painting the figure, especially inspired me. Also, during a workshop on the painting of icons in Santa Fe in 2005, I experimented with an image that's repeated with minor variations and the shift of focus from personal expression.
Several trips to spiritual sites also influenced me. I drew inspiration from a month long stay in July 2008 in Glastonbury, England, which has been a site of pilgrimage since pre-history and is the site of the first Christian church in Europe. There is even a legend that the young Jesus was brought there by his uncle, a tin merchant. In its famous Abbey, partially destroyed by King Henry VIII during the Reformation, the remains of the art work have a haunting spiritual energy. I augmented this experience by meditating in the Arizona desert during four month-long stays in Sedona the past two years.
The over 100 paintings of this series are done in watercolor, gouache (an opaque water color), acrylic, oil, and encaustic (a hot wax technique using pigmented wax crayons and melted blocks of wax). I have also done over 838 drawings. These studies contributed significant form and added to the breadth of the project as I internalized a visual memory of the images. What was rationally planned at first became spontaneous in time, and the images became a part of my experience, a change that enabled me to become more intuitive and meditative as I worked.