Having finished 'Madonna and Child' nearly a week ago, it's given me some time to reflect on the making process. It began life as a series of pro-choice related sketches I made in the middle of the night early 2019, after hearing about the US heart-beat bill on Youtube.
My understanding is, that a lot of US laws are financed and can be credited to the lobbying of fundamentalist religious groups. While my ire is not towards religious individuals as such, I am very skeptical of religious organizations, where there is the risk of power being exerted over vulnerable people, and their well-being suppressed or actively attacked for the sake of upholding an ideology.
Conservatism and religion has always been a source of frustration for me. It's difficult being raised on conservative and traditional ideals of what a woman should be - good, kind, maternal, a child rearer, submissive, quiet, not too loud and not argumentative. Even more difficult, when a woman doesn't fit that mold. Mary seems to epitomize a lot of those ideals, not bad at their core, but rarely nuanced and always seemed like an unattainable state to me.
Ironically, this largely started taking shape when I needed a new desk. I had a pair of drawers that worked well and figured a trip to Mitre 10 was in order to find a decent sheet of ply. The warehouse hand was very helpful, and she generously humored me in cutting up several different sizes, the particular board for this project chopped down by a flat mate well equipped with electric saws. I started by sanding down the sides. Several coats of white budget house paint, plus whatever insect managed to die flying into the wet paint, and I had a surface to work with. I started with charcoal sketch, using a nativity scene as a reference image, in this case a lithograph produced by H. Hanfstaengl, after C. Maratti (1625-1713).
I admit to using most of my cheapest acrylics on this one. I was unsure of working on the wood and hadn't really applied an idea as explicitly before. In the interest of experimenting, I definitely compromised on materials, and struggled to work in faster drying acrylic on a larger scale. Similar cuts were made around the halo, which I might fix at a later stage. It helped to work in sections, first with the background and cloak, then the skin and figures. I tried to keep a cooler skin tone shade. A lot of earlier Byzantine scenes depicting Mary and Jesus have a slight green tinge, as the flesh tones have eroded over time. It also gave a potentially uneasy feeling to the picture.
Lighter tones were used around the halo, so to bring the black line forward. After the stigmata, the black censor line was the last addition. One of the things about this painting, is despite feeling very apprehensive personally about the subject matter based on my own experiences with religion, was to treat the subject matter with respect to not alienate people, but provoke some consideration.
The traditional idea of motherhood is complicated. What happens to the idealized woman after she gives birth? Is she happy? What sacrifices did she make and does she continue to make? What does the reality of those choices look like for her child? Does her identity matter in the narrative, or is she censored and her sacrifices unacknowledged? What about the women who can't, or don't want to have children; what about our gender minorities - do they hold space in these narratives or are simply erased?