The wall space that some fine art museums, like the Louvre or even the Met, sometimes devote to very large and dreary old religious paintings—often color-warped and poxed with deep craquelure—used to annoy me. Rarely did any of these paintings breathe any life or meaning for me, despite the high drama of good battling evil and spiritual catharsis they often attempted to render.
But when I finally learned to get past my disdain, and examined more closely the parts of these paintings rather than their whole, the excitement I felt was akin to catharsis. Stripping the sensual folds of fabric away from the subjects in the paintings so that the lush textiles could be admired more abstractly on their own--and sometimes focusing on a body part that mischievously emerged from those folds or gave them dynamic form when shrouded—gave me an entirely new appreciation for this art. It seemed almost as if the artists sought secret pleasures and freedom in their exploration of folds and shrouds, and an opportunity to express carnal desire in art that was otherwise expected to promote strict chastity.
Displaying swatches from the vestments in these paintings, on their own, as sensual abstractions may raise ethical issues. I suspect that—were they still alive--the artists might feel betrayed, and the religious authorities who commissioned the paintings might find my repurposing heretical. The museums too might conclude that I am much more of a thief and an opportunist than an artist. But wishing to give new meaning and new life through intimate observation to what is often overlooked--even when in plain view--is the impetus for almost all artistic endeavor.