In my apartment, near my work desk, underneath two book shelves hangs a little reproduction of a painting by El Greco called ‘El Salvador’. It’s kind of a cliché Christ painting, it has all the usual elements of one, but somehow this particular one fascinates me.
One afternoon last week, as I was feeling restless, leaning against my radiator, staring at the large blank sheet before me, my eyes somehow landed upon this El Greco reproduction and I thought: Why not? I took some leftover paint from my last project and started painting that face. The narrow shape of the head, the long nose, the big round eyes.
Underneath this El Greco reproduction I’ve taped a short quote by Oscar Wilde. It says: “Indeed, that is the charm about Christ, when all is said, He is just like a work of art. He does not really teach one anything, but by being brought into his presence one becomes something.” (From The Profundis)
I think Wilde talks about the capacity of art to transform. How a silent, still picture can make you aware of yourself, your aliveness, your presence. And he attributes those same capacities to Christ. That by looking you know that you’re alive because you meet the eyes, the stare, the gaze of something outside of yourself and hidden deep within you. So often I deliberately ignore that presence. I pretend it’s not there at all. I don’t know why I do this, because being aware of it, seeing it brings so much joy and peace. It is so good, still I throw it away like it’s nothing.
Working on this painting (though I used more chalk than paint) was a way for me to try to come back again to that presence. A long conversation made visual. A meditation. A prayer. This song by The Welcome Wagon played in the background when I had just finished the painting and seems to accompany it perfectly: