Tag Archives: church

Cinat Paints Light — and Dark — to Explore Spirituality

14 Sep
CINAT-EVENTSY-2-642x360
Close up of one of Cinat’s paintings; image via Eventsy
The members-only networking club Eventsy invited me to attend a special viewing, co-hosted by CATM New York, of Argentine artist Mariano Cinat’s thought-provoking exhibition “New Works” in The Narthex Gallery of Saint Peter’s Church, located at 619 Lexington Avenue in Manhattan, on September 12. From dark and haunting to fluid and ethereal, his work elicited a visceral response, an impulse to examine one’s own beliefs and feelings through the cryptic scenes depicted in the paintings.
Average-sized paintings, the canvases ranged from 12” x 9” to 69” x 48”. During the Q&A, Cinat explained that his work was a particular size by request of the Louvre. He said, “I wish they commissioned me, but it was more like a competition.” Untitled, the paintings felt like a cohesive collection covering three intertwining themes: the Classical world in earthy tones; the spiritual realm in light, bright colors; and a mysterious interior of saturated colors.
Displayed in a gallery situated within a Lutheran church, the paintings took on perhaps more spiritual meaning than the artist intended. This religious interpretation of the artwork was helped along by the press release, which stated:
Be not afraid of spiritual idiosyncrasies but rejoice in the continuity of life. Experience the nuance of a master of color and emotion as Cinat refreshes the senses.
Many of the paintings varied from landscape scenes reminiscent of the Biblical-era Middle East, showing walls like one would envision in Jericho and simple homes in which one would imagine people tucked away breaking bread together, to more dream-like settings suggestive of ascension into heaven.
In one painting in particular, hung on a far wall, an image of a cross seemed to shine over a stone wall. And yet, the artist himself seemed put off that his work might be interpreted through a Christian lens. When I told Cinat of the cross I had discovered, he asked which painting I’m speaking of. He informed me he had not painted a crucifix in any of his paintings and sounded incredulous that I had seen such specific religious imagery in work. He told me:
“I’m spiritual but not religious.”
I suppose we all see what we want to see in art, or what we’re predisposed to see. Interpretation is left up to the viewer. Despite his surprise at my reading of his work, Cinat himself prefers not to explain his art to viewers. He said to the crowd of onlookers:
“Each one of us interprets it in other ways.”
Though he did reveal:
“I have a search for spirituality, and light is an element I use. It’s not a real place.”
His painting of figures seemingly ascending into heaven, then, may just as likely have more to do with a state of mind. The spiritual significance therefore changes from the physical presence of heaven and hell of Judeo-Christian to perhaps a transcendence of one’s mind through meditation in an Eastern religion. It could even be a bodily movement from one dimension into the next through portals. Of course, one may also interpret the work through a more metaphorical lens. In that case, a viewer could see it as impetus for change in one’s life, of moving on from the past and entering a future full of potential.
While those paintings seemed more clearly tied to positive spiritual themes, there were a series of paintings that seemed more secular, more human, but perhaps too almost more sinister. Unlike the other paintings, which used the browns and blues readily found in nature, and which depicted outdoor scenes, these paintings ensconced figures dressed in flame-like red and deep violets in rooms pitched in black. As with the other figures, their poses and placement on the canvases suggested an almost hypnotic state. If taken with the others as a reflection on religious matters, one may view them as agenda-oriented leaders of the Church—whether cardinals or kings—because of the way the figures are clothed in rich colors as they move about an interior that though sparsely decorated is vast and foreboding. These paintings hearken back to the works of Renaissance painters such as Raphael.
Taken to a more extreme secular interpretation, these darker paintings bring to mind the psycho-sexual Stanley Kubrick film Eyes Wide Shut, starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Cloaked identities suggest secrecy and positions of power.
But again, this is just what I personally saw in the works. They may actually be situated in much more real and less portentous places. Cinat said he imagines everywhere from Utah to Japan, as he paints in Harlem.
When asked during the Q&A what inspired him, Cinat said it was opera that had inspired his work. “I went to see The Magic Flute,” he said.
Advertisements

Road Trip: Hitchhiking to the Mission

24 Nov

 

By the time my poor bus rolled into Carmel, the day was fading and the shops had closed their adorable doors.  Music from a live concert rose up out of the heart of the main shopping plaza, and the moon made his appearance even though the sun hadn’t quite set yet.  I was a little disappointed not to be able to stop into the cheese shop that the wine guide back at the winery had recommended, but I was intent on getting a little culture out of the trip.  Man cannot live on cheese alone.  I set off to visit the Carmel mission.

I was a little annoyed that I’d paid all this money for a tour that basically amounted to the driver talking over the intercom as he drove the bus and then sleeping while we wandered off on our own into the unknown.  That was the point when I actually needed a tour guide.  I didn’t need someone to tell me to look out the window because by golly there’s a strawberry field.  I needed someone to physically walk me to locations because I’m for someone who loves to travel I’m notoriously bad with directions, and I hate wasting time getting lost when there are things I want to see!  I asked the driver to point me in the direction of the Carmel mission, and he told me the twosome up ahead of me were also headed there and honked the bus horn at them so they’d wait for me.

I awkwardly approached, not knowing if I was encroaching on some romantic rendezvous.  As it turned out, they were ex-brother and sister-in-law.  The woman had married and divorced the guy’s brother.  They couple had been divorced for many, many years now, but the woman and the brother had remained good friends and travel companions.  Hm… was there maybe something more there?  No.  He’s gay and in a committed relationship, and she is currently in a serious relationship.  They just like to travel together.

Alrighty then!  Onward ho!  (Actually, I found the relationship backstory out on the return trip.)

The woman once been given a beautiful painting of the San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo and always wanted to visit it.  We set off down the road, the driver having told us it was only about a ten-minute walk.  That was a lie.  As we were trying to figure out which way to head, a woman in an SUV pulled up and asked us if we wanted a ride.  Now, if you’ve read my “Nightmare of a Trip” post, you know that I’m well versed in the dangers of hitchhiking, but I figured I was with two other people.  Plus you had to have seen the woman in the SUV.  She was skinny with bleached blonde hair and wore these ginormous heels and what may have been a dalmatian-fur coat.  I couldn’t tell if she was actually old or if her skin was damaged from too much suntanning.  We were grateful to her, though, as she took time out to give us strangers a ride.

The San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo, like all the shops, had already closed, so we could only peer in over the fence.  It was a beauty!  Established in 1771, the Community of the Carmel Mission is a working church.   The Basilica Church is a registered National Historic Landmark and there are five museums on the grounds.

Of course, the bus also made a stop at the Carmel mission when we left the area, but we didn’t have time to get off the bus at that point, so I’m glad I ventured off to enjoy its peaceful presence.

 

 

I’m not sure which mission he’s referring to, but in Big Sur Jack Kerouac writes of Cody, the character based on Neal Cassady, saying:

“Now dont walk too fast, it’s time to stroll along like we used to do remember sometimes on our daysoff on the railroad, or walkin across that Third and Townsend tar like you said and the time we watched the sun go down so perfect holy purple over that Mission cross–Yessir, slow and easy, lookin at this gone valley…”

Exclusive Interview with Author Paul Maher Jr.

7 Sep

I am so excited to share my interview with Paul Maher, Jr.  He has such incredible insight on Kerouac and the writing process in general.  I think you’ll see why I enjoy working with him so much on Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.

How did you first become interested in Jack Kerouac?

I remember one of the first books I ever picked up of Kerouac’s, it was Dr. Sax. I didn’t buy it at the time, I just looked at the back cover and read its blurb: “In this haunting novel of intensely felt adolescence, Jack Kerouac tells the story of Jack Duluoz, a French-Canadian boy growing up, as Kerouac himself did, in the dingy factory town of Lowell, Massachusetts.” That was the exact same sentiment of myself at the time, I must have been about 18 or 19, and my adolescence too was “intensely felt” as well as growing up in Lowell. I also grew up in Centralville in a French  Canadian enclave for about the same time period as Jackie Duluoz. Soon afterwards, when I did buy Dr. Sax, I related to Kerouac’s capturing of the whole scene, the sense of hauntingness; the dialects, the sensibilities, and the mystery of Catholicism. I attended Saint Louis de France school like Jack did, and attended masses there. My last time in the basement of that church, it was for my father’s funeral. I remember sitting in those little wooden pews, smelling the burning candles, and the hushed yet amplified sounds of murmurings, sneezes and the priest standing before us all. It brought me right back to my boyhood when I used to walk there every day. Except, of course, the cycle was complete for my father who had also attended that church as a boy, as well as his parents.

So, dipping into Kerouac was easy for me. That was my introduction, not, like many, On the Road. After reading Dr. Sax and Visions of Cody, my first Kerouac books, On the Road seemed a bit tame. A disappointment really, and it still ranks lower than those aforementioned visionary masterpieces. It is no wonder Dr. Sax was a novel that he was really proud of.

You grew up in Kerouac’s hometown of Lowell, MA.  What was that like and how does it inform your understanding of Kerouac and his work?

I can’t objectively say what it was like, it just was. There was also a lot not to like about Lowell, like any other town or city. Growing up in Lowell was as natural as anything else. My home address was less than a quarter-mile from three of his Centralville addresses. His house in Dr. Sax was next to the Hildreth Street cemetery, and walking by that cemetery, as a child, the stone wall was high and there were iron gates surrounding it. It was padlocked with a chain. We never got in, so we wondered what was in there, and so that naturally retained a mystery for us. Adjacent to that house was a funeral home, and my father and grandfather were waked there (among others). There was a mystery to all of it, and I easily made those associtations captured so perfectly in his Lowell writings. However, I didn’t feel it so much with Maggie Cassidy or Vanity of Duluoz, because I didn’t grow up in Pawtucketville or attend Lowell High School. Those two books do more to capture an era than a certain mystical reverence for childhood.

I have a high regard for Visions of Gerard as well, because it captures more of the Franco-American sensibility of Centralville, and that sort of insular vibe common to the city. Like Kerouac, I was friends with kids named Plourde and Beaulieu, for all I know they were grandsons of his friends.

Which is your favorite of Kerouac’s books?

In no particular order, any of those books written between 1952 and 1954, especially those that have more of a mystical nature. I love The Subterraneans and Tristessa. The Lowell novels, Visions of Gerard and Dr. Sax; Book of Sketches and Some of the Dharma. I always carry Visions of Cody with me, though I am no admirer of Neal Cassady, I am fond of how Kerouac transmuted that person into his artistic sensibility to create a portrait of bygone America.

One of your greatest skills as a biographer is the thoroughness of your research.  Do you have any tips for aspiring biographers on how to track down hard-to-find material and incorporate the information into a work without it sounding like a Wikipedia entry?

I’m not a trained researcher. I took courses for my degrees on how to conduct research and much of it was rote, based on archaic practices and for the most part, teaching us to dispense with the piecemeal detective work of newspapers and archives, and instead operate backwards by working through secondary sources. For my Kerouac biography, I made it a point not to use the existing biographies as a resource. On the other hand, I had already retained much of what was written and having that knowledge, I could work on another level.

I also operate out of a sixth sense, almost intuiting where material might be, or something that may exist and is worth pursuing by surmising that it might be there. It may be as simple as spelling a name wrong, and then doing searches for it. The Internet has made it awfully easy to do much of it, especially in regards to newspapers and magazines. However, there is also room to abuse it, so that it does sound like a Wikipedia entry.

Per incorporating it, that can be tricky. You always want to use it where it adds to the narrative and doesn’t seem like filler material. I could have easily added anecdotal information on every town Kerouac passed through when he traveled across America. However, the emphasis is on Kerouac, not the town. However, if it was a documentary on the Travel channel, then it works.

I feel like you and I have worked really well together on Burning Furiously Beautiful, but collaboration is not desirable to many people or can be intimidating for those interested in it, particularly artists who want to leave their personal imprint on a work.  However, there is a grand tradition of collaboration; Kerouac himself collaborated with Burroughs on And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks.  What would you say to someone who is contemplating collaboration?

You just have to operate on blind trust and intuition. I like collaborating, but I can certainly understand the desire to want to have your own book, with just your name beneath the title. I am past that; it doesn’t matter to me if my name is on there at all. Films are created in collaboration with others, books are no exception.

In addition to various biographies on Kerouac, you’ve written Tom Waits on Tom Waits, Miles on Miles, and One Big Soul: An Oral History of Terrence Malick.  You’ve recently started writing your first novel and are documenting the process through your blog Scrivener Notes.  Why are you documenting the writing process?  What do you think are the positive and negative effects of lifting the curtain to expose the work that goes into writing, especially this early on when the work is still at its nascent stage?

I have always been very open about my work, sometimes to my detriment. To write inside a vacuum, to sit on your idea and let it gestate in isolation doesn’t seem like fun at all. I feel with this little adventure, that the book can just as well bloom when it is fostered by a like-minded community. I think there is something perilous and reckless yet strangely beautiful in throwing your ego out the window and letting the world watch you try to invent something out of nothing.

I have finally arrived to the point in my life that I don’t care about how any book of mine is received, because they are written out of a pure volition of wanting to do it, not having to, and in wanting to do it, once it is done, the act of creating has already been accomplished. The rest is just grist for the mill.

Documenting it just seemed right to do. I always wanted to see someone else do it, and I haven’t found it done to my satisfaction. I could write an entry how thrilled and elated I am to finish a chapter, and the next day write how much I suck. There is a reality television vibe to it. I do understand that it will only appeal to maybe 1% of the people out there, if anyone at all, but since I am doing it for myself, it doesn’t matter to me who reads it in the end. At the very least I will eventually get a novel out of it for better or for worse.

In happenstance, I could say the negative thing is that someone can lift your ideas and run with it. This has already happened with a reputable person in Kerouac studies. However, I think once the writing on the blog is exposed enough, it is more or less on public record so if someone does lift from it, then they are pretty much hurling themselves and their work into disrepute.

You write a little on your blog about why you wanted to make the leap from biography to novel.  What I want to know is how, if at all, do you think your biography work will influence your fiction?

I’m not sure that it will. The work ethic is already ingrained in me. I wanted to free myself from the world of facts and I have started resenting having to prove myself to publishers any longer. I have come to recognize that it isn’t an art form, it is a business, and I do not have a business mindset.

Also, a recent incident when my research and ideas were stolen from me has totally killed the spirit of writing biography, though I do admire others that are more honest in their profession. Operating out of my own intelligence and imagination keeps my ideas and impulses sacred and pure. I guess that’s it.

You also are a photographer and a filmmaker.  While these are notable in their own right, as a writer I am curious if you see any correlation between those art forms and the literary arts?  You and I have spoken before about how the narrative of film has influenced your scene-setting in your books.  Can you talk a little more about this?

The only correlation for it is personal, in that I am creating out of my own impulses to satisfy me. Taking a photo is immediate gratification, writing keeps me constantly busy, and it keeps my depression at bay. It keeps me in books and it serves to keep my mind occupied and focused since it is always burning at both ends.

Through chance and not design, I have a natural tendency to see things cinematically. That takes in imagery, dialogue, and creating a setting. This is how our collective minds are trained, and to bombard a reader with minutiae just for the sake of being all-encompassing with the facts is just an exercise of indulgence. We live in new times, where the facts are available if we want them, within a few keystrokes. I think pointing to the heart of the matter, isolating a biographical scenario like it was a storyboarded scene adds to the appeal of the book tremendously. I think Kerouac also had that in mind with his “bookmovies.”

How do you find time to do everything?  How do you balance all these various projects?

If I had to itemize my time, I couldn’t do it. I live this stuff. I breathe it. If we were taught at the beginning of our lives that we had to make sure we breathe at least eighteen times per minute, and it wasn’t automatic, that we had to go about our daily lives having to count, then we would crumble, sooner or later, under the pressure of it all. It would be too stressful. Instead, it comes to us automatically; we don’t have to make room for it. I just do it because it is all I think about. If I don’t do it, then I feel like shit. My mind turns to mud. I get lethargic. Unbalanced. So, like I said, it has become a survival mechanism for me, whether it is a book, a blog entry, an email or a photograph, all of it is tied into the daily phenomena of my being.

I never have considered how it is all balanced other than I keep my own schedule. When I need a break from one project to let it breathe, I move to another. Eventually I return to all of them.

Actually, managing writing projects is a lot easier than trying to manage a practical everyday life for me. To that end I am a colossal failure.

 

***

9/7/12, 10:28am: Several minor edits were made to this interview.

Mapping Out Houses of Worship in NYC

24 Mar

Remember the other day when I mentioned that cute little restaurant Penelope?  Well, last Friday Penelope happened to be the opening setting of a New York Times article by Mark Oppenheimer, entitled “Mapping Religious Life in the Five Boroughs, With Shoe Leather and a Web Site.”  The article is about a Texas native named Tony Carnes, who moved to New York to go to The New School, where incidentally I’m enrolled in the MFA program, and who is, according to his website, “exploring the postsecular city.”

He’s mapping out every house of worship in the five boroughs of New York.  My immediate thought was: there are so many churches that make use of school auditoriums, bars, and ballrooms — how will he find those churches, if he’s driving around looking for church signs?  Well, apparently Carnes hears about those by word of mouth.

But he isn’t just mapping the city out.  He and his colleagues are telling stories.  Stories such as:

“The youth of Bethany Baptist Church put together a modestware fashion show in Jamaica, Queens called ‘A World of Difference.’ They follow a long tradition of fashion shows in African American churches.” —Fashion in Church, Jamaica, Queens

“Under the searing sun and stench of roadside garbage, a teenage Hispanic girl carrying a baby boy comes out of a door next to a church. Her tousled hair looked like she’d been up all night. The baby’s unwashed face was smeared with dirt; a diaper was the only thing covering his bare skin.” — Girl Power in Flatbush

“What church would get rid of its pews to make more room for feeding the poor? Surely, wouldn’t the pastor resign, the elders stomp out in exasperation, and the members hastily decamp for a properly pewed church? All that didn’t happen at a Lower East Side church ten years ago when it did just that…” —East Village church threw out its pews to make room for the poor

If you want to know about Greek Orthodox churches and Greek Pentecostal, there’s also an article posted on the census the nonprofit took in Astoria.

I love the way Carnes and his nonprofit organization are uniting houses of worship.  In a way, it’s kind of a blend of the way Burnside Writers Collective gives community and voice to people of varied Christian background (head’s up: check out my church hopping column tomorrow!) and Asphalt Eden illustrates various New York church’s unique personalities by listing events.

In another way, it reminds me of the exciting and noble work the Endangered Language Alliance, headed up by Dan Kaufman, Bob Holman, and Juliette Blevins, is doing, mapping out endangered languages in New York and working to preserve them.

For more on Carnes’ “Journey thru NYC religions” visit http://www.nycreligion.info.

Christian Resolutions

20 Jan

Part 2 of my look at New Year’s resolutions was published on Burnside Writers Collective yesterday.  In part 1, I asked “Does God Laugh at Our Resolutions?”  Now in part 2, I look at “Christian Resolutions.”  It starts:

I’m tempted to write a satire called Christian New Year’s Resolutions.  It would go something like this:

  1. Pray without ceasing.  Ever.
  2. Don’t watch secular television.
  3. Become a physically fit Proverbs 31 woman.
  4. Read the bible every day and nothing besides it.
  5. Go to church every Sunday.

Is there such a thing as Christian New Year’s Resolutions?

You can read the rest on Burnside.

I started to have some self-doubt about my writing–this piece included but writing in general–and I’m so encouraged by the comments I received on this article.

Larry Shallenberger, author of the books Divine Intention: How God’s Work in the Early Church Empowers Us Today and Lead the Way God Made You, said, “If there were a “like” button, I’d have pushed it.”

Diane Nienhuis, a Burnside writer and food blogger whom I met at the Festival of Faith & Writing at Calvin College (she picked me up at the airport, she’s so sweet!), wrote, “Well said, Stephanie! Beautiful!”  She also shared some of her own resolutions.

Michael D. Bobo, who tackles a highly controversial work of art in his thought-provoking piece “Ants on a Crucifix,” currently featured on Burnside, and as it turns out writes the Claremont Christianity Examiner, which is in the California town where I went to undergrad (small world!), said, “Thanks Steph for getting us back to the basics in 2011.”

And, my editor, Jordan Green, said, “This is tremendous, as if that would be a surprise coming from Stephanie.”  Wow.  Jordan recently cowrote the book Besides the Bible: 100 Books that Have, Should, or Will Create Christian Culture and just wrote what is probably the most thorough review of the new IFC show Portlandia there is.  Incidentally, I once met Jordan in Portland.  (We did not Kombucha tea.) (PS. Check back here tomorrow for a bit of trivia on the Greek influence on Portlandia.)

Anyway, the reason I mention all this is two-fold:::

1.  To show my appreciate for the comments I received, I wanted to promote what all these other talented writers are doing.  Check out their links.  Buy their books.  Leave nice comments for them.  They deserve it.

2.  To encourage writers who struggle with self-doubt.  As I mentioned, I was plagued by insecurity and almost deleted the article.  Sometimes my writing is bad.  That’s the way it goes some days.  But sometimes, and I suspect this is true for other writers as well, my writing isn’t as horrible as I imagine it to be.  Sometimes, it might even resonate with someone.  And that’s why I write.