Reviewed by Nancy Oliveri
A closing reception and artist’s talk for Yvonne Lucia’s “RE-Visioning Mary: Contemporary Icons of the Feminine Divine” will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. today (May 23) at the Orazio Salati Gallery, 204 State St., Binghamton. The collection of paintings and text came to life when Lucia, a Binghamton artist, stepped back from her role as environmental activist and revived a much earlier idea she had about putting images of Mary in a contemporary context. Fearing the inevitability of natural gas drilling in its various and controversial forms, possibly in her own back yard, Lucia coped by turning to her fertile imagination to create this affecting, intimate and timely body of work.
The long, deep environment of the Salati gallery, with its white walls and hardwood floors, is filled with modern day paintings echoing the ancient Byzantine icons that usually depict Mary as either a mother with a haloed God-Child (Jesus) on her hip, or as beautiful veiled lady with a slightly vacant, serene expression. Lucia’s paintings are different. All rendered by one very present-day artist, these lovely, colorful, delicate works, each done on a large oval canvas, pay homage to Mary as Earth Mother, not limiting her to the roles of mere co-redemptrix and intercessor for the oppressed. Those more traditional, yes iconic, images portray worthy goals for Mary, but Lucia’s Mary, in all her various incarnations, give her a broader reach in her responsibility to the rest of humanity.
Lucia describes this series of paintings “as a personal offering, exploring images of the sacred feminine symbolized in the figure of Mary, experienced both as a healing balm for our broken selves and for our dying Mother Earth.”
She explains that she used oval canvasses after the idea came to her in a dream, with the shape as a literal representation of the egg, which, she says, is “the perennial symbol of fertility” and also as a mirror, where it serves as “a symbol of reflection, vision and clarity.”
The images themselves are colorful, imaginative and appealingly primitive, and each is paired with either a prayer or poem, some inspired by works from literature much older. All of them were carefully penned to accompany the paintings, which include, among others, the titles Mirror of Justice, Mystical Rose and Gate of Heaven.
The exhibit is not all seriousness, and includes a little controversy and even humor. In Sacred Marriage, two faces meet in the middle of each to make one face, the two in an apparent embrace, with a poem that imagines the upside of a love relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. The poem asks:
Doesn’t every human heart long to see its image mirrored in another’s soul? In their union – if it’s true – what’s been torn apart is brought together, reconciling polarities, restoring balance, naming holy their embodied and transcendent love. (Y. Lucia – 2012)
Another, Our Lady of Guadalupe, featuring the bright oranges, golds and starry blue robe of the original, imagines Mary being amused by her own celebrity. Lucia enjoys the irony of this very famous Mary, champion of the common man, having been on every commercial item from coffee cups to dish towels. No doubt, she’s even been on a mouse pad.
Possibly the most remarkable, juxtaposition is the one of the first paintings you see in the Salati Gallery installation, Viriditas, with Mary as wood sprite, surrounded by leaves and illustrating the essence of a 12th c. piece that honors the greening of the earth, but prays for forgiveness for our role in its eventual destruction.
There is a lot of food for thought in this artistic effort.
While none of the paintings are currently for sale, they can be recreated on canvas in miniature, or as a full set of prayer cards. According to Lucia, this is still a work in progress, and she envisions “RE-Visioning Mary” installed permanently some day in a contemplative, almost labyrinthine space, designed for meditation and reflection.
As for a favorite piece, Lucia says she doesn’t have one. “It’s hard to describe, but in the course of working on each painting, it feels like I’m falling in love. I guess it’s similar to being a parent – each offspring is totally unique and individual; there are no favorites.”
The exhibit will remain on display through the rest of this month. Stop by from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. this Saturday (May 25), or call the gallery for an appointment (607-772-6725).