Growing up in a Catholic home, my parents provided several religious images of Jesus, Mary, and other iconic Saints and Angels as part of our home decoration. On reflection, our visual input of God was through Jesus. We didn’t have any paintings, statues, or other representations of God the Father although we did have representations of God as the Holy Spirit as both dove and flame. I think that my visual reference for God has to be Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam. We had lots of art books in our house. Back to Jesus—this is about the letter J after all.
The image of Jesus that comes to mind for many people of my generation is the Head of Christ by Warner Sallman (1892-1968). Our family’s exception was that we had an original interpretation of this painting. My uncle Marc--William DeMarco Mayo—painted his version as a wedding gift to my parents. This image is my image of the Jesus of my youth. As an adult painter, I love how personal this interpretation has become for me. It is so much better than the “canned” Sallman version.
I am a product of 16 years of Catholic education. The first time I attended a “public” school was as a man of 39 seeking his master’s degree. So these icons were formative. What I like most about my Uncle’s version of the painting is that it defines my youthful understanding of Jesus. It is much like a treasured, worn photo in the old family album. It isn’t my Jesus today, but I love the feeling that it gives me of a time when I was innocent and accepting. As a piece of art it captures that feeling because the style is loose and warm.
Jesus is represented in many ways in paintings which help to put a face to the faceless deity. I will leave the sermons to my most articulate friend Dwayne Eutsey (shout out) but the Catholic upbringing of the 1960’s held a very confusing message. It was full of fear and rules (and nuns) that carried over from my parent’s upbringing, but the loving and forgiving Jesus was working hard to make inroads. It is valuable to understand that my mother thought of becoming a nun until she met my father. She would have been one of the nuns that we liked—of course the “we” would be without me for obvious reasons.
The “white” Jesus was prevalent, but we were also introduced to the idea of a Jesus of color. I think the representation of Rembrant’s Jesus at least had a flavor of compassion and kindness with some racial ambiguity. I like that version. Salvador Dali’s Crucifixion was an image that I remember from college and who can ignore the Pieta by Michelangelo.
Let me return to Uncle Marc for a moment. In one of those recent list exercises on Facebook, I said that I hope that one day a distant relative will discover a piece of art that I created and be inspired to create something themselves. Uncle Marc was an inspiration to me. He was cool. He was a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore and had great skill as a painter. He made his living as an industrial artist for Aircraft Armament Industries (AAI). He was not an engineer, but, through the logic of understanding form, he created artistic renderings that engineers would make functional. He was a problem solver. But most importantly, he was cool. I love the image of his home studio—and—he was cool.
DeMarco Mayo got the chance to see if his image of Jesus did the God justice in 2004. His painting inspires me.
Illustration: Spring Arts Preview
2 years ago