While it was once considered radical for art to speak to religious or religion-inspired injustices, a series of exhibitions on view at the Indianapolis Art Center resurrect an earlier notion: that art can be a medium for religious celebration. In three concurrent exhibitions, three living artists explore their individual faiths through artmaking in surprising and not-so-surprising ways. For those who fear religious art — afraid that some brand of fundamentalism will insidiously creep up through the paint after we’ve opened our souls to the beauty of the image — have no fear: Instead of dividing us, these faith-inspired works connect us.
Nancy Wride, #115 from the series ‘... to fill the immensity of space’
The iconographic paintings of Carol Boarman are at once familiar and contemporary. Boarman doesn’t re-interpret the Orthodox Christian tradition of “writing” religious iconography. These are images we’ve seen in any number of art institutions containing thorough art-historical collections. Boarman’s images of Mary and the Christ child, St. John the Baptist, the Archangel Michael and other traditional religious figures are rendered in that familiar gold leaf-enhanced palette — the scenes decidedly two-dimensional, the facial expressions decidedly flat. This stems from the long-ago dictate of the Church and a time period prior to the flourish of more three-dimensional realism and passion in figurative art that took place in the Renaissance. Boarman’s edge, if one can be discerned, is a subtle one. On the other end of the visual spectrum, Nancy Wride’s photographs are absolutely ethereal. They are devoid of imagery, speaking only from a wordless place of light-filled, saturated color. Her “color field” images are either expanses of single or dual colors varied by light, or egg yolk-like “suns” illuminated in the depth of colorless space. These are created, ironically, using technology’s best photographic goodies. Wride’s images would be beautiful but perhaps sterile if there wasn’t a spiritual depth or grounding: Wride comes from a Church of Latter Day Saints tradition, and here again, she’s not making art to convert us, but rather because she is moved, and she shares her passion within a practiced talent for her medium. Cianne Fragione’s assemblages are at once the most image-personal and specific, and seem to contain the most passion. Fragione’s Italian-American Catholic faith provided a community and spiritual grounding for her, and yet her assemblages, “No Greater Love: Stations of the Cross From a Woman’s Perspective,” refer to her own spin on the Roman Catholic faith. Her images focus literally on one aspect of the Christ story: that of a mother’s loss of her son. To this end, she makes assemblages of altars created from discarded debris from a Catholic church. This, of course, would once have been considered a radical departure in the Church — perhaps it still is. But Fragione reminds us that most of us yearn to feel a connection to a loving God, or notion of God, however we see him or her, gendered or otherwise. In Search of the Spirit: Religious Imagery in Work by Three Contemporary Artists is on view at the Indianapolis Art Center through Jan. 18, 2004, 820 E. 67th St., 255-2464, www.indplsartcenter.org.