Opening June 1st- June 27th, 2020:
"Saints & Intermediaries" Preview:
"The Ballad of St. Elmo's Image"
Visit the storefront window for a 4 week preview of the "Feast Day of St. Elmo: Saints and Intermediaries" exhibit that would have opened this spring on May 1st. The larger show will open this fall (dates TBD).
Saul Jerome San Juan
B. Shawn Cox
About "The Ballad of St. Elmo's Image":
June 2 is St. Elmo’s Day. Saul Jerome San Juan was asked by Vault Stone Shop to make art in response to the namesake of the road meeting Congress Avenue at the complex where the gallery is located. Inspired by the evolution of St. Elmo’s verbal and visual depiction San Juan discovered in researching the saint, the artist invited other artists to collaborate on an experiment on the generative power of making images on the understanding and translation of narrative information.
St. Elmo is the patron saint of sailors and abdominal pain, including the pain of women in labor. The seeming incongruity between St. Elmo’s two patronages resulted from misreading the object he was depicted holding from his earliest iconography. At some point in history, convention began assuming that what he was holding indicated the way he died as a martyr, a specific manner of martyrdom making him empathetic to the plight of those who suffer from abdominal pain. What convention began interpreting as St. Elmo’s disemboweled intestines wrapped around a spindle was originally intended to represent a ships’ ropes wrapped around a windlass to denote his patronage of sailors. As bishop and preacher, St. Elmo’s life was tangentially if at all related to a sailor’s vocation. Sailors looked to him for protection due to an early story in which he kept preaching unfazed even as lightning struck the ground next to him, demonstrating bravery in the face of a force of nature feared by sailors. Thus story begat imagery which in turn begat story; in a sense, in the continuing elaboration of a saint’s story and role in meeting human wants, art allows the saint a continually active earthly existence to meet their role in mediating between the particulars of the everyday and the vastness of the sublime.
With the permission of artist Izzy Kovalevskaja and Brave Mysteries Recording Company, San Juan made an egg tempera painting based on Kovalevskaja’s monochrome line drawing of St. Erasmus of Formia (another name for St. Elmo), one of a set the Wisconsin-based musicians commissioned the Norway-based artist to illustrate their album Communion of Saints. San Juan’s process recalls the tradition of writing icons in the Byzantine tradition, which often begins with a line drawing taken from a pattern book. Richard Ashby and Thomas Cook then painted their own versions of San Juan’s painting without seeing Kovalevskaja’s original line drawing nor knowing the name of the saint to be able to research him, knowing only that the saint is a martyr of a sort, thus relying largely on visual information in the generation of their own paintings. Jeffrey Primeaux and Erika Huddleston then painted from Cook’s painting without seeing the prior iterations by the other artists, followed by Valerie Chaussonnet and B. Shawn Cox painting from Jeffrey Primeaux’s painting. The project then is like a game of telephone, in which information mutates from one generation to the next, due to the varied properties of the different materials used by each individual artist, the subjectivity of purely visual interpretation subject to the artist’s preconceptions, or deliberately playful creativity in interpreting their immediate source.