The History Of Theology

Recently a patron asked me to explain the meaning of the image above. It is titled Theology and was completed over 15 years ago, but seems relevant now. This is an edited version of what I wrote and since it was originally written in one sitting, it jumps around chronologically like my mind does.


After I had received my MFA in 1992, I did not have a job and my wife was working full time as well as going to school. We had a brand new mortgage, a new baby and for several years I had been having recurring dreams about tornadoes that were inspiring paintings like the one below which was based on a print by The House Book Master called Death and the Young Man

At that time I was having physical and emotional problems that could not be explained. Many years later I would be diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. But that is another story.

At the same time I was working on the tornado paintings, I started the painting below titled Portrait Of A Man Wearing A Red Tarpon.

That image was inspired by the painting below by Jan Van Eyck titled Portrait of a Man Wearing a Red Turban.

Many scholars believe that this painting may be a self-portrait (which is what I would like to think). It is technically virtuosic, and depicts a man that appears pensive, but proud. The turban may be an allusion to worldliness. During Van Eyck's lifetime, the artist was a respected professional.

When I graduated from college, I had an amazing and incredibly patient wife, a beautiful, healthy daughter and we owned wonderful house with an fantastic mortgage payment. I was having severe panic attacks and anxiety that never stopped. I very seriously thought I was going crazy.

I was adrift in a liminal space between school and work; between childhood and being an adult; and even between being a mother or being a father because I did not have a full time job and my wife was the one supporting us. I was a stay at home dad at a time when no one else that I knew was doing that.

I had started painting the Madonna and Fish images while I was in college and continued to create variations in which I substituted a fish for the Christ child. The oil painting below is based on the Leonardo painting called the Madonna Litta.

As I am sure you know, early Christians had used the fish symbol (the "Ichthus") as a way to find out if they were communicating with another Christian. Today this secret symbol is on the bumper of most Christian's cars. It has become a brand that declares what team you are on. Most of the Christians that I have quizzed do not even know about the significance of that symbol.

The Madonna and Fish paintings and drawings were my attempts at creating an iconic image that depicted what I believed to be the feminine nurturing conception of the religious experience. It was maternal and required an unquestioning acceptance of the literal religious symbol to transcend the duality of human existence. The Madonna holding a fish was also intended to point out the absurdity of the love of a symbol devoid of humanity. 

I then tried to depict the way that I believed most men expressed their spirituality and religious beliefs. At that time I believed that we men intellectualize religion and wear it like armor to protect us from evil and/or the things we do not understand or agree with. I have observed men to be more interested in ideas and ideologies than human life and when we feel threatened, or when we want something, we use religion as a weapon to attack those whom challenge our faith or stand in our way. 

I created several images exploring that idea including the one below titled Study for Theology. 


It was inspired by the Leonardo drawing below which had the warrior's disposition I was trying to reference and call into question.

LEONARDO da Vinci, Profile of a warrior in helmet, c. 1472, Silverpoint on prepared paper

LEONARDO da Vinci, Profile of a warrior in helmet, c. 1472, Silverpoint on prepared paper

But it was not until I had left the idea for a while and finished a series of work on the Icarus and Daedalus myth as well as reading the book The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time by Jonathan Weiner that the final pieces fell into place.

Theology is the study of religious faith, practice, and experience, especially the study of God and of God's relation to the world. If God cast Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden, heaven is closed to us. We are separate from and cannot experience God directly except through death.  As far as I know, every religious text has been written by a human.

The drawing above depicts a man pointing to a piece of paper with instructions that illustrate how to fold an origami eagle. The man's image is based on Jan Van Eyck's self portrait. On top of his head sits a finch which, for me, alludes to Darwinism and the scientific method.

He is unaware of the real bird on his head and he is also unaware of the fact that the instructions that he confidently points to illustrate how to make a symbol for a bird and not a real bird. He has turned his back on the real world.  The environment, represented by the clear cut trees, is dead. It has been sacrificed to make the paper for his sacred text and for my drawing. The thing he worships, the eagle, has no place to live. As the world dies so does he. His scalp is as barren as the landscape.

The only things that break the boundry of his world are the finch, the origami instructions, and death (hair). Additionally, there are several things that I was thinking about that are probably not discernible to anyone else but me even after I explain them. For example; There are two steps intentionally missing from the origami instructions which is an allusion to the missing texts from the Bible. The wrinkles in the origami instructions used to look like a flower. The wrinkles around the theologians eyes are birds heads facing each other. His tie is an inverted tornado and anyone that has worn a tie knows that it is just a fancy noose. 

To emphasize the absurdity of this entire endeavor, the right hand corner of the window into the Theologian’s world is out of square and, instead, it is parallel to the wrinkle in the paper. The fact that the instructions to make the sacred bird refer to my last name is my acknowledgement and awareness that I, like any human, am limited to my own point of view which is based on the amount of information that I have at this moment in time. The eagle is also our national symbol and a symbol of patriotism and war which are diametrically opposed to the Christian conception of agape.

P.S. February 24, 2017 - The Madonna and Fish and Theology images represented the mother and father. Their child is Faith.

Faith    Charcoal on paper      1993

Faith    Charcoal on paper      1993