Living through the pandemic and re-reading an article from 2003 by Steven Vincent on her Crucifixion sculpture, fashioned as a response to 9/11, made Rachel Feinstein want to use religious iconography in her work again. The result is Mirror, her current art exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery.
Vincent’s article is entitled ‘The Plywood Intercessor’ and toys with the possibility that Feinstein’s Crucifixion ‘can be understood as apotropaic-or an object that petitions a divine agency to put demons to flight and defend the believer from harm.’
For Mirror Feinstein has taken images by Tilman Riemenschneider and Gregor Erhart that represent Christ, the apostles, saints, and Mary Magdalene as symbols of compassion, suffering, and love, and reproduced these with oil on mirrored glass as historical and religious symbols embodying worldwide anxieties of the unknown during the time of COVID. The unpainted passages within these pieces – eyes and edges – enable the viewers to see themselves in or alongside the Biblical characters, an act of identification or empathy. Feinstein says she has found ‘inspiration and energy from drawing these universal images.’
The idea of art as prayer can be further explored through exhibitions and installations in London currently. Lakwena Maciver’s work is regularly described as ‘painted prayers and meditations which respond to and re-appropriate elements of popular culture.’ Her aspirational paintings and murals are both about the connection between people, the link between heaven and earth and ourselves as individuals in relation to a higher power.
Her Jump Paintings at Vigo Gallery are abstract portraits of some of the most inspiring Basketball Players past and present. Each is titled with the first name of the player and is the same height as the individual. They are painted on bespoke slim wooden panels and given a seductive, almost mirror-like gloss. As with all her work, these paintings have her joy- inducing palette, dynamic designs and profound, succinct messages.
In October, Vigo presented Aerial BB Paintings in the courtyard of Somerset House as an interactive installation referencing inspiring mantras from the countries and languages of Africa and the Diaspora. At the same time and running until the end of April, Lakwena’s immersive intervention Back in the Air: A Meditation on Higher Ground curated by Claire Mander, a 1,400 sq metre contemporary vision of Paradise, has transformed Temple Station’s Roof Terrace. This artist’s garden includes the phrase ‘Nothing Can Separate Us’, a powerful spiritual message with multi-layered meaning – profound love, physical and spiritual connections and the strength of unseen bonds. This oasis of coloured calm offers space for the contemplation and creation of a positive future.
Susan Rothenberg also spoke of paintings as being ‘like prayers.’ This was because they ‘have to do with whatever it is that makes you want more than what daily life affords.’ Thomas Dane Gallery is currently offering a rare opportunity to see works by Rothenberg in London. The five paintings on show span almost the entire career of this ground-breaking American painter whose representational paintings helped stem the tide of non-representational art in the early 70s and reasserted the motif and the emotive in the discourse of painting.
Blue Frontal is a striking example of her horse paintings, which the art critic Peter Schjeldahl described as seething with emotion. This is because Rothenberg’s aim was to paint energy: ‘It was important that I waspainting something that was alive. I didn’t want to paint something inanimate. It needed to have flesh and spirit. I guess I wanted to paint the kind of energy you find in the real world rather than the abstract world.’
Rothenberg and Feinstein meet presently at the Hall Art Foundation’s Kunstmuseum Schloss Derneburg. A retrospective of Rothenberg’s work shows paintings that trace the evolution of her figurative, emotionally charged and gestural style from her iconic horse paintings of the 1970s to works completed in the past decade. These works convey a dynamic sense of movement across the picture plane, depict subjects that inhabit tensely activated spaces, and demonstrate how the representation of the figure can be transformed into a study of space and form.
Feinstein’s Crucifixion is included in a group show entitled The Passion which includes a large number of contemporary depictions of the crucifixion. In this large-scale sculptural installation, we see the crucified Jesus, with an angular, extended rib cage and a protruding crown of thorns, flanked by John the Baptist and St. John, as the curled figure of Mary grips the bottom of the cross. The elongated figures, made of plaster, plywood, fabric, and enamel paint, exhibit a mannerist sensibility, while folds in the fabric hardened by the stark white plaster recall both the bandages Feinstein’s father would bring home as a doctor, and the artifice of commercial stage production.
Installed throughout the cloister of a former monastery, The Passion examines the use of Christian iconography in contemporary art, while paying homage to Schloss Derneburg’s long ecclesiastical history. The show features approximately one hundred paintings, sculptures, videos, photographs and works on paper by over thirty artists including Dan Flavin, Anselm Keifer, Gerhard Richter, Andres Serrano and Andy Warhol. All the works come from the Hall and Hall Art Foundation collections.
Vincent argued that Feinstein’s Crucifixion looks back to a pre-modern time:
‘A time when art and religion shared great cosmological symbols. When each helped the other maintain the bond between the human and the sacred. And when, in periods of fear and uncertainty, they aided mankind in its cries to Heaven for divine intercession and protection. Kyrie Eleison: Lord have mercy.’
I wonder whether Vincent’s perception applies to more contemporary art than Feinstein’s Crucifixion alone and whether the prayerful aspect of art is ripe for rediscovery.
Lakwena Maciver: Jump Paintings, Vigo Gallery, London, 19 January – 28 February 2022
Back in the Air: A Meditation on Higher Ground, Temple Station, London, to 30 April 2022.
9 February 2022