URI Providence Campus Urban Arts and Culture Program
THE CULT OF PERSONALITY:
DIA DE LOS MUERTOS & SACRED HEART painting series
October 5 – November 6 by Jennifer Gillooly Cahoon
in the 1st and 2nd floor Lobby Gallery and URI Library Window Gallery.
Gallery Night Reception October 15 5-9pm with a special Day Of The Dead musical costumed procession at 6pm. The musical program continues throughout the eventing.
Jennifer Gillooly Cahoon is a prolific painter, sculptor and widely recognized Artist Educator whose work is exhibited regionally and nationally and is part of numerous private collections. She has recently taken on the role of full time artist after working in public education for 19 years. She lives and works in the Providence Rhode Island area, obtaining her art degrees at Rhode Island College in Sculpture and Education and supplemented her studies in both England and Italy in the 1990s. It was only as of 2011 that she transitioned into painting as her primary medium, working in both acrylics and water miscible oil paints. She is a self-taught painter.
In a recent review, art critic Don Wilkinson described Cahoon as “a high priestess” who creates paintings “which are expressionistic with an eye for detail (and an eye for the eyes, the “gateway to the soul”) (and) have controlled dripping and running of the paint, unapologetic brushstrokes and collage elements…”
Several series of recent works have been focused on well known personalities who have died but are remain alive if not deified in cultural consciousness. These sometimes haunting but also inspiring portraits presented in Dia De Los Muertos (Day Of the Dead) and Sacred Heart Portrait Series seem to be reaching from beyond to touch our lives as the influence of their work continues to speak about life and living. Cahoon says, “I was raised in the Catholic Church and Parochial School”and she seems comfortable letting the spirit of these individuals speak to and through her in these striking paintings that on the one hand bear a common core, yet are as unique as the individuals they portray.
“How come you bother with my heart at all? You raise me up in grace, then you put me in a place … where I must fall.”
— Leonard Cohen
They include actors, musicians, scientists, political/religious leaders, and visual artists. Working in acrylic and water mixable oil paints, she depicts cultural figures with a consecration reminiscent of old Catholic Church tradition, deploying sacred hearts, holy objects and colors that shimmer about heads like haloes.
Some of those depicted are still alive, such as Led Zeppelin lead singer Robert Plant, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson (cleverly immersed in a Van Gogh starry, starry night) and actor Tim Curry of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” fame. It is apropos that the painting of Curry is — unlike any other portrait in the exhibition — not named for him but for his best known role. In “Frank-N-Furter’s Sacred Heart,” Curry is the campy “sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania,” complete with a Dracula-inspired high curved collar, an overabundance of makeup, and a skull-headed dagger piercing his blood red heart. Curry as hermaphrodite trickster god/goddess works.
Most of the paintings, which are expressionistic with an eye for detail (and an eye for the eyes, the “gateway to the soul”) have controlled dripping and running of the paint, unapologetic brushstrokes and collage elements, including fragments of wrapping paper, stylized cursive writing and fragments of pages from a dictionary.
The depictions include the late Robin Williams, smiling but gray, literally and figuratively, and the martial artist and actor Bruce Lee (who some still believe is hiding in seclusion somewhere and others believe was killed for revealing secret ancient Asian fighting techniques to the West).
Prominent members of The 27 Club (a seemingly ever-growing group of musicians that died at the age of 27) are represented. They include Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain and relatively new member Amy Winehouse. Joplin is in the nude save for purple beads and trinkets, her hands crossed in front of herself. Her sacred heart is topped with a symbolic torch and is emblazoned by a single eye (a recurrent element) and three teardrops.
Marilyn Monroe is depicted, as one might expect, as the misunderstood sex goddess. The painting is compelling, all pink and blonde, lusty and vulnerable, smiling but on the verge of tears. Her sacred heart is ringed by barbs, like thorns of the stem of a rose, appropriately enough.
The rest of the pantheon includes Salvador Dali, as surreal as ever; Pablo Picasso, an old man but reassigned to his Blue Period; a beatific Mahatma Gandhi, and Brigid, a Celtic goddess, who given the company, seems oddly out of place.