Madonna and Child, 2004 Oil on Linen 48 × 36 inches
Madonna and Child, 2004
Oil on Linen 48 × 36 inches

We lived for years in a small place on Prince between Sullivan and Thompson in Soho, and at the church between these blocks on Houston, they always put up a Nativity scene around the holidays, and I used to always stop and reflect upon it when I walked my shepherd Julian around the block, when I took this picture. The amazing things about icons and religious artwork are that they are able to fuse the relatability of an iconic image—one’s ability to "suture into" an essentialized image (like the smiley face that Scott McCloud discusses in his great Understanding Comics), with spirituality. In Buddhist thangka paintings, it is with the motivation for the devoted to transcend into the Buddha entity to become part of the cosmology you are meditating about in order to become more Buddha like in your existence. For Catholicism and Christianity, I feel that while you might not "become" the persona you are praying to, you can project such feeling its as if the icon becomes alive and responds to you—certainly in Byzantine times this was part of the point, but even now I wonder how people react to religious art when it is about something beyond aesthetics and its used performatively in prayer. This was a hard time in our lives when I created it, although we had much to be thankful for, and the beatific beauty of this scene sent me. Although I may not be religious, I feel polymorphously spiritual, and try to honor and respect all that I’m rendering, especially with religious iconography I feel I could always learn more, and you never know…. Joseph Campbell, whom I do believe in as a thinker and scholar, discussed how their were similar stories that are ubiquitous around the world, which has a spiritual component—why do peoples everywhere have a version of a messiah myth that correlates in so many ways? While painting this, I feel that the humble beauty of the statuary really reflected the message, and the strangeness of this sentient baby given birth to by a virgin, here as loving as can be for this strange holy being was warm and intense at the same time. The Christ statue was actually stolen later—I wonder if they coveted it as much as I, feeling compelled if not to capture it, to render it in paint, along with Mary. I placed this where it is on the Last Judgment "Finale" wall in this installation as it emulates where she is on Michelangelo’s wall—hopefully it contemporizes it where it came from, and remains significant to me especially as its one of the first "major" paintings I created from my own photo.