Jennifer Gillia Cutshall
ARTIST-A-DAY-BLOG: Inside A Generous Kingdom V...Along the road to Beulah with artist James Bradley
“ ...tea with William Blake. I'd ask him the way to Beulah.”
The painting in the show is part of a series of allegorical oil paintings on canvas (“Scenes from Aeoul”) inspired by the religious paintings of late Medieval/early Renaissance masters such as Fra Angelico, who worked in a style I think of as a kind of “simplified realism,” a straightforward style in which each element is clearly rendered and presented, and serves a more-or-less well-defined symbolic function within the larger picture. Whatever expressive quality there is in the work comes not through technique, per se, but rather through choice of subject matter.
This painting depicts a scene from the initiation rites of the Catherinian Order of Monks (from my personal fantasy world of Aeoul). Basically, it is an initiation into higher awareness through suffering. The statue the blindfolded initiate reaches out to touch represents Job, and the painting's overall concept is inspired by the “way of purgation” laid down by Saint John of the Cross in poems and books such as “The Dark Night of the Soul.” The entire landscape is symbolic, which is how I read existence. Baudelaire said that the world is a “forest of signs” we must pass through. That is how I interpret the theme “A Generous Kingdom:” God's generosity in creating the universe when there could just as easily have been nothing at all.
Does the idea of transformation influence your work and process?
Yes. I'd say that transformation is a recurring theme in my work, and also, that the process of creating an artwork is not just a linear process of laboring towards its completion, but rather a dialectical one of allowing the work to transform itself from what the creator originally had in mind to what it will finally be when it is finished. The same could be said of an artist's entire lifetime body of work, revisiting the same central preoccupation (idée fixe) again and again, and allowing it to continuously transform both creator and creation, while at the same time holding on, in some mysterious sense, to something eternal that transcends this very process of transformation.
What draws you to the medium you chose? And tell us a little about your process.
It's hard to say. I've always been drawn to painting, as if it were my only hope of escape, my only means of doing with my life that indefinable thing that had to be done. To me the medium of painting implies a whole metaphysics, a way to engage with both phenomena and nomena, appearance and essence. Within the confines of the 2-D picture plane, anything is possible. A painting is like a concept: complete, self-contained, and (ideally) free from internal contradictions. Or, a painting is like a person, with a body (canvas/support) and a soul (subject/image). My process is the process of attempting to untangle the knot of concept/self/soul/body, I suppose.
What are the strengths of the medium? What are the challenges?
The strength of oil paint is that it can do anything the artist wants. The challenge is choosing a single direction in infinite possibility, and then doing your best not to get lost on the way there (or perhaps only getting lost when you want to).
Who inspires you? And What do you do to get inspired?
I am inspired by truth, and mystery, and how the one delineates the other, and by people who think for themselves, rather than allowing themselves to be vaccinated with someone else's prefab thought concoctions from a lab. The best I can do is prepare myself, attempt to remain lucid and mindful in a world of slumber and hypnosis, make myself an acceptable vessel for inspiration to enter into at the time and the place of its choosing.
If you could have coffee or tea with any artist who would you pick? What would you have coffee or tea? What would you ask that artist?
Perhaps tea with William Blake. I'd ask him the way to Beulah.
What do you hope your work achieves, in general, and/or specifically with this installation?
I don't really know. I make art for very personal reasons, to work out certain problems, to externalize a thought, and make of it an object of contemplation. As regards this show, I guess I just wanted to get the work out into the world in a sympathetic context, and to be seen in the company of so many beautiful works from other artists. I hope it makes someone wonder about something, anything.
What recently made you smile?
The wild bald eagles of Westmoreland in Portland, Oregon.
What recently made you cry?
The domesticated human beings of Westmoreland.
If you could tell your viewers one thing, what would you tell them?
Don't take the Mark of the Beast. Love God, and your neighbor as yourself. Turn off your television, your computer, and your phone, and throw them into the bottomless pit. Study the fallacies. Existence exists. That might seem like more than “one thing,” but it's probably not.