Sunday, April 11, 2010

From Paganism to Consumerism: Exploring Syncretisms in Art

I’ve just noticed something quite curious looking through my last four art journals. I felt compelled to write about it and at the same time share my findings in my blog. Page after page my art journals are filled with a persistent interest in finding correspondence in many philosophical systems. Why has this occupied such an important part of my art practice? Many things have influenced this persistent thought and activity. I could certainly trace it back to the time when I was working on my M.F.A. thesis at Savannah College of Art and Design.

   At my studio in Alexander Hall, SCAD 2004

While at school I asked myself some serious questions about my cultural heritage and upbringing. Who am I?  What are my origins? What makes me different? These are profound, sometimes traumatic but crucial questions every artist must ask him or herself. I found myself between two worlds: Embedded in my veins is a mixed cultural heritage half Irish American and half Puerto Rican Even and even though I’m aware of these influences, I do not allow this cultural identity to dictate my creations as I am also aware that I live in the age of information, in a global age where global culture is shared by everyone through the web. Globalization was at the core of my thesis as I started finding interesting similarities between Latin American Colonial Art and American Consumer culture spread out around the world. It was a good way to reconcile my dual cultural heritage and incorporate them into my work. This was my first attempt to synthesize and recombine history and culture with a personal approach. This was quite successful and it motivated me to develop a deeper and more complex arrangement of religion, politics and historical figures and objects in my next art projects.  I chose to retain the “retablo” format as it communicated like no other format religious devotion and brought up to mind Christian imagery and history. As for the allusions of fast foods, well known corporations and consumerism in general, well they kept appearing and repapering because I constantly see them everywhere I go and it has affected me as an artist.

Partial view of  a wall of my studio at SCAD

In 2006 I presented my thesis show “ Iconsumer” at Hall Gallery in Savannah, Georgia. In 2007 I showed it in the Museum of the Americas in San Juan, Puerto Rico. “Iconsumer” was a show dealing with devotional Christian Icons and Consumerist propaganda painted in retablo triptychs. 

Partial view of Iconsumer 2007 in the Museum of the Americas, San Juan PR

Later that year I showed “Iconsumer Media” in the Museum and old convent of Las Capuchinas in Antigua Guatemala. With the new body of work I had emphasized the idea of a “Mediatic culture” manipulating information and pointing the way to new saints and consumer products. Now I was not only tying up religion and religious culture with consumerism but also with mass media and indoctrination strategies. The work seemed to be taking little steps ahead and kept evolving.

Introducing my work to the media in the colonial convent of Las Capuchinas
In 2008 some mythological figures started to show up in my work and I then “Syncretisms” was born. A Syncretism is the reconciliation of opposing beliefs by combining practices of different schools of thought. We can see many examples of this in literature and art especially during the Renaissance when humanist thought pervaded and merged classical ideas with Christian images. In the Caribbean many Catholic saints were syncretized with African Yoruba religion Orishas.  By means of syncretism many of the ancient pagan gods have been able to survive Christian persecution hiding under the guise of saints and virgins. After watching a documentary titled Zeitgeist I became more interested in doing some research and developing a new body of work that could incorporate classical figures into the already evolving narrative that I had begun with saints and corporations. 

Inspired in the figure of Christ and also the Greek god Apollo I created this piece on renewable energy. I felt this archetypal figure being a bringer of light must be a source of energy.It was not difficult to see a connection here with our current global issue of renewable energy.

I showed “Syncretisms” at Witzenhausen Gallery in New York. The show was composed of seven drawings and seven paintings based on the seven days of the week and seven gods. In this work my intention was to synthesize Christian Icons, Classical archetypes, with current global issues. I became preoccupied with finding esoteric meaning behind my symbols, including those that seemed most superficial like corporate logos and car models. I guess this urge to find hidden meaning behind everything has always been with me as an artist. So I took it a step further and studied pagan classical traditions from different sources and studied how ancient gods, festivities and symbols became Christianized. It became quite fascinating to me as I could compare how the corporate economy does the same thing as it appropriates particular identities of cultural groups and becomes one of them.

Conceptual guiding map to my work
 I began to see even more connections between marketing and religious indoctrination.  Everything started to make even more sense to me. Globalization had not started with the Christian enterprise in the Americas but far back in the late fourth century BC with Alexander the Great conquest and spread of Hellenic culture over the known world. From this thought is how the Syncretism’s came about.

Syncretisms at Witzenhausen Gallery, New York 2008

Syncretisms lead me to the project I am currently working on. ERADORADA or GOLDEN AGE is the culmination of some years of work, profound reflection and study. With the accumulated knowledge and experience of my previous work this new body of work brings many of those myths and doctrines from our current global age and embodied in the form of classical heroes, gods, saints and other historical icons. This has been the result of so many hours of research and an persistent curiosity in looking for significant correspondence between many philosophical systems that have driven the world to be westernized or as we may call it today globalized. 

Infant Informaticus 8” x 11” Egg tempera on panel, carved and gilded wood.

This is the way an idea may evolve. It starts with an awareness of who we are and in what time we live in. We start asking ourselves what has influenced us and inspired us in art as well as in life. We might be reminded of the ancient Greek aphorism found at the Oracle of Delphi that reads γνθι σεαυτόν gnōthi seauton” (Know thyself). To know who we are we must look back at history and learn from it. History tells us the story of our origins and who we are today. We also look at nature and what’s around us. Ive created this “Trivium” or triple way pyramid that has guided me through the creative journey. 
  I’ve talked much about it in my classes and keep emphasizing its importance as any art movement in history can be traced down to any one of these directions in the Trivium triangle. There is much more to say about the matter but I do not wish to make my blog entry too long. For now these are some ideas that I put forth in order to start exploring in next blog entries the fascinating connections between these Christian doctrines, Pagan Mythology and the Global  issues of Media and Consumer culture.