Monday, August 10, 2015

Quincunx Recap

My new artist's book, Catholics, is a memoir that's haunted by three saints, all portrayed by either Joan Crawford or Tallulah Bankhead. The saints—Joan of Arc, Saint Veronica, and Thérèse of Lisieux—are each referenced in the book's anecdotal prose pieces, and the layout of the illustrations is patterned after their prose companions' typographic design. Their layout is also inspired by the quincunx, a sacred formation where one central image is surrounded by four smaller objects at each corner. In Renaissance art, these four objects often represent aspects of the fourfold world: humors, elements, seasons, gospels, or some other system of correspondences. Robert M. Place writes in The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination:
... the symbolic structure of the physical world is used to define the sacred center and frame the image of the divine presence. Buddhists place Buddha in the center of their four-sided diagrams called mandalas and Christians place Christ in the center of the cross or a mystical diagram called a quincunx (165). 
The World card is a Tarot image that often uses the quincunx formation; the iconic Rider-Smith-Waite version of The World depicts a dancing woman encircled by a wreath and the symbols for the four Evangelists. I also reference Pamela Colman Smith's depiction of The Tower in one of these saint illustrations and mimic the theatrical background horizon line she uses in many of her images. Place points out that Smith's experience as a theater designer influenced the performative nature of her compositions, where flat background lines often invoke stage backdrops. I wanted a similar feeling of pageantry for these saints and am grateful for Smith's inspiration.

Catholics is a project that is animist. During its creation I’ve tried to tap into the energetic potential of material objects, whether magazine scraps or metal ornaments collecting dust in inherited type cases. The tension between sacredness and profanity that plays out in the book's themes is a reflection of my process as I sought transcendence in tangible bits of detritus. Catholicism is ornately melodramatic, but it didn’t build that baroque on its own: the pagan cultures suppressed by the Church were mined for their sacred objects and images, which were then repurposed to maintain the Roman hierarchy’s power. Each of Catholics' illustrated saints was once a goddess who is now being refracted through my twentieth-century pop cultural lens.

Joan of Arc fends off childlike grotesqueries—are they specters or saints? A little bit of both, actually. As a teenager, I got a glimpse inside my local Masonic Temple when I found work dressing up as Mr. Peanut and a Campbell's Soup Kid at a Christmas party hosted there. And my childhood movie-watching habits were restricted by the National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures, who seemed to dislike campy anti-consumerist morality tales featuring bloodthirsty monsters like Gremlins and Little Shop of Horrors.

Saint Veronica contemplates icons more crass than the one she clutches: John Stamos and Brooke Shields posing for the cover of a teen Catholic propaganda magazine, and Traci Lords and Pope John Paul II as depicted on some shredded T-shirts my boyfriend referred to as shrouds.

Thérèse of Lisieux, her quincunx rotating into the back- and foregrounds, smiles an epiphanic smile. The ladybug and magpie are animals important to both Thérèse's childhood and mine. The tower in the background is in imitation of Pamela Colman Smith. The crucifix Thérèse holds recalls another saint, Brigit, who evolved out of a Celtic goddess associated with both the nocturnal owl and the solar cross. In the book's final prose section, Brigit, Thérèse, and the memory of my mother all converge to intimate a threefold deity.

More information about Catholics can be found here.

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