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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Song of the Magdalene: Mary Magdalene of the Light

Mary Magdalene of the Light, Oil on Canvas Board, 16" x 20", 2010

I do not claim to know about everything I paint. In fact, it is through painting that I find clues as to what I should be learning. Painting the Magdalene has guided me in discovering the larger dimensions of our world.

I often get the urge to draw a canvas when it is impossible to begin painting, such as the last few minutes in my studio before leaving for the night. I remember I drew this Magdalene at one such moment, and then, months later, began painting. Since this is a very symmetrical image, I knew I must work in ways that complement its symmetry, but also help the eye move around the painting and provide variety. I found myself lightening more and more certain areas of her face, and semi realizing that I was painting the chakras.

I knew extremely little about the chakras. I knew there were chakras, and that's pretty much it. I must have seen pictures, no doubt, but it still surprised me to be painting the Magdalaene with chakras. The painting stayed unfinished in my living room for probably more than one year, or even two. I was not sure how to finish it, or why I had painted it. I really didn't feel qualified to paint things with chakras, but in the meantime, I began learning about color, energy and healing. Although there is still much to learn, I believe I finally understand why I painted the Magdalene this way.

I believe the human Magdalene to have been an enlightened being. Some scholars say that "the seven demons" that Jesus Christ casted out of her refer to an alignment of the seven chakras. She received a healing, and what this means, above all, is a shift in consciousness. A shift in consciousness means leaving behind old patterns and behaviors to emerge as a new being. Her chakras glow because she is light and energy. Her halo, the crown chakra that connects her to LOVE, glows large and bright. Mary Magdalene, by opening herself to Infinite Love, let her energy flow freely and thus became enlightened. She "let it shine", like my friend Pablito would say!

On July 25, I exhibited these Magdalenes for the first time at St. Mark's Church in the Lower East Side. It was a very special occasion for me because I had wanted this from the beginning. And it was a great and unexpected gift when the reverend asked me to place some of the paintings on the altar. The smaller ones went on the altar while the bigger ones, including this one, were on easels in front of a large and rustic cross, almost "at the foot of the Cross" like the biblical Mary Magdalene. When the mass ended and I was getting ready to teach a workshop, a man asked me if I would let him show me "your masterpiece". He said it was one of those pieces that artists paint once in their lifetime. He said it was my Modigliani! Modigliani is one of my favorite artists, so I got curious, Which is it? I thought. Well, he meant this painting, and I could never have expected it. Only time will be able to tell if it is my best piece! But I am glad that this Magdalene spoke to him so deeply. And I am grateful to him for sharing his feelings with me.

Painting Mary Magdalene has taken me to very unexpected places. She has guided me to learn about energy and healing, colors and their healing properties. I think this is a miracle: She is guiding me where I need to go, but where I would never dare go all by myself!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Song of the Magdalene: Mary Magdalene of the Roses

Mary Magdalene of the Roses, 40" x 60", Oil on Canvas, 2010. Formerly at Holy Rosary Church (now closed) in East Harlem. Now back in my home.

In 2007, I decided to change my life. I accepted a mural commission that providentially was offered to me when I made this decision, and ever since I have been a full time artist, even if this sometimes means having the greatest faith imaginable that all will be well and that my ability to survive, as well as retain my integrity as an artist, will be long-lasting. One of the reasons I made this decision was that I wanted to paint Magdalenes, and see them within the context of the larger world outside my studio. I wanted one of my Mary Magdalenes to be in a church.

In 2009, I attended a Catholic funeral mass for my friend's mother. I had written a poem for my friend and her mom as a way to express my condolences, and they were going to read it in the mass, so she invited me to attend. I had already spent more than a year visiting churches and spiritual centers "by chance", but I had not even once gone into a Catholic church, the church of my childhood, where my grandmother would take me every Sunday. Just the week before I had had an experience that indicated that I should go to a Catholic church, so receiving the invitation to the funeral mass was, well, opportune. I was there early enough to find a place to seat in the tiny and crowded chapel. The priest said that we should begin by reading the poem. And he did, and he continued with the mass, and continued with the poem as well. In fact, he kept interrupting the mass to read verses, and I wanted to hide under the rug because he kept asking me to come to bring poetry to the Church. Dios mío, that must have been one of the most embarrassing moments of my life, and you can't really lie to a priest during Mass! But how do you say no?! He waited for me at the end of the mass, held my hand, and took me to his office, where he an his friend Judy convinced me to help them out...

The story continues, but the point is that this is how my wish of having a Magdalene in a church came to be. Father Gilbert and I became good friends, and I met all the Puerto Rican ladies who take care of the church. They kind of immediately adopted me. I adopted them too. I began L.I.F.E., Art and Letters, and this Magdalene, the biggest painting I have ever painted.

Because it was always meant to be in a church, this Magdalene holds the customary alabaster jar and has no Vesica Venus... It also brings together all the other elements I strive for: the iconic face; the color red in all its shades; the great bright yellow halo that could be the Sun or the light of the Christ; the flowing folds of the dress like a river of passion that envelops the Magdalene; the dove of the Holy Spirit always near her, Sophia present in her presence; just a little bit of darkness under the dress. And yellow roses. For this one, I wanted yellow roses.

One of Raquel's songs in her CD Las 7 Salves de La Magdalena mentions "Yellow flowers for the Magdalene". I believe in her prophetic vision, and in being a faithful contributor to our mythology in the works, so I wanted to give the Magdalene yellow roses. I went to all the flower shops in my neighborhood and beyond, looking for affordable yellow roses. I could not find any, so I went home empty handed. Soon, however, Judy, the woman I met at Father Gilbert's office the day he kidnapped me, came to visit me with a gift: a big bunch of yellow roses. I had not told her I needed yellow roses! Does this qualify as a miracle?

The roses lasted long enough for me to paint them, actually, longer than any bunch of roses I have ever held in my hands. I had never painted roses, but drawing and painting have one trick that, if you learn it, helps you paint anything: seeing in terms of value and shape. You need to stop looking at a rose as a rose, and just see the lightness and darkness, the shape, the lines that make up the shapes. The roses came out pretty well!

I am very partial to this Magdalene. It might be because it took more than six months to paint it and because I worked and reworked it until it was time to let her go. She is now a bright presence in a very depressed environment. The material poverty of my neighborhood reflects itself faithfully in this church. So my Mary Magdalene is there and I think she is telling all of us to brighten up! Life is beautiful! Roses have thorns, and last such a short time, but would we want to stop loving and enjoying them just because of that?

If you would like to commission a Magdalene, Email me!
For reproductions or greeting cards, visit my store!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Song of the Magdalene: Connection to the Black Madonna

Our Lady of Czestokowa, Gouache on paper, 7” x 10”, 2008

My interest in the Black Virgin may have begun at the Porta Coeli Museum in San Germán, my hometown in Puerto Rico, the first time I was able to visit this ancient colonial structure. As a child, I had heard my father tell the story of visiting “the convent,” as it was called when he was a young boy and my grandmother took him and his brothers to hear the Latin mass. By the time I was old enough to be curious, the Convent was closed and I never got a chance to visit it until my thirties, when it had been a museum for several years. Like a book, I always start looking on the left side of a room, and there she was, a magnificent wooden statue of the Black Virgin, dressed in a white gown, holding her beautiful little Man-Child on her lap. I took some photos and then forgot her until some years later, when I discovered her connection to Mary Magdalene.

In Puerto Rico, I have heard people say that the Black Virgin is the syncretism of the Virgin Mary and the African slaves' religion. I believe this syncretism in fact exists, but I was always curious why she was so adored in Europe and where she came from. The Black Madonna does not originate in the Caribbean or America at all, but her early statues and icons were in Europe long before the Old World and the New World found each other. She is so ancient that she might already have been there when Christianity arrived. Some scholars claim that the peoples of Europe merged their own ancient goddess of the earth with the Virgin Mary, and made her into the Black Virgin. It was one of the theories exposed by scholars about the Black Madonna that ultimately attracted me to her. This theory is her connection to Mary Magdalene.

The Black Madonnas of Europe are usually called Our Lady. It is believed that at some point the Magdalene became linked to the Black Maddona by association to the Song of Songs when it says "I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem." Mary Magdalene is associated to the bride in the poem, and Jesus to the bridegroom. Also, the cathedrals dedicated to "Our Lady" were built by the Knights Templar, who were "champions of Mary Magdalene." There is also the link to Sarah the Black saint, believed by some to be the daughter brought by Mary Magdalene from Egypt.

The original icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa particularly attracts me because it might be Byzantine, or at least might have inspired Byzantine art (since Helen is said to have brought it to her son Constantine from Jerusalem) and, most of all, because of its scar. Margaret Starbird makes an interesting association in reference to the icon Our Lady of Czestochowa representing the vanished goddess/Magdalene, "she is not only dark, she is wounded." Even if she is the mother of God, even if she is adored and revered, the scar is the first thing you see when you look at this image.

Just as I try to make my Mary Magdalenes universal, I like the idea of the Black Virgin not being of any particular ethnicity, but a representation of the life-giving power of the Earth itself, the darkness of which light is born, the "Hodegetria", One Who Shows the Way, the Mother who points to her son so that we may, through her guidance, reach the ultimate goal of our human journey. And I also love her because she is dark, wounded, ancient, beautiful and miraculous, and because I am a mother with a once-little, dark, byzantine-eyed child. I too have many scars in my ancient body, which I am also not afraid to show.

This Virgin of Czestokowa is available. E-mail Me! or visit my store. Reproductions and greeting cards are also available.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Song of the Magdalene: Mary Magdalene of the Leaves

Mary Magdalene of the Leaves, Oil on Canvas, 30” x 40”, 2008

11. I believe mythology is based in truth, but not necessarily historical fact.
12. I believe that mythology is a valid foundation for spirituality.

When I first started painting Mary Magdalene of the Leaves, I thought of exploring Margaret Starbird's notion (in her book The Woman with the Alabaster Jar) of Mary Magdalene as "the vine" or secret wife of Jesus Christ. I have never seen a vine, or at least I have never paid attention to a real-life vine, so I looked at some pictures of roots and leaves. In the end, I kept the leaves, that form a halo of nature's gifts around the Magdalene. And I also kept the vine, which is hidden under her dress, that very dark place at the bottom center of the painting, a secret place. In the end, I think the iconographic reference works, even though it is invisible and only you and I know about it.
As I continued to study and assimilate all the different things that are written about Mary Magdalene, I began to move away from traditional iconography and embrace my own mythology, created over time with my dear friend and creative partner Raquel Z. Rivera. It was then that the Magdalene started evolving into Our Lady of Lexington, Patroness of all faithful creative ones who don't believe in anything, but believe in the redeeming quality of the creative act. My own faith has only grown in the process, and now I believe in everything.
Today, as I was visiting the blog The Magdalene Review by Lesa Bellevie, who is also the person behind Magdalene.org, I wanted to sign her Personal Manifesto. I found the two points in the quote above, among many others, that describe what Raquel and I have been striving for. I do not feel the need for the Magdalene to be more than an idea because I believe in the imagination as a creative force. All the stories about the Magdalene enrich my view and my references, and as she continues to grow, she points me to never before explored territories that are both fascinating and informative. I absolutely loved Margaret Starbird's book, it is so rich in information and connections, but I do not need them to be true for me to embrace the Magdalene. She is real because I make her real in my own imagination, and because she represents what I feel a human being has the potential to be: the embodiment of Ataraxia. She attained realization through knowledge, learning, experience and faith.
As a woman, the historical Magdalene believed in herself, and was not afraid of being among men who were often dismissive and aggressive towards her. Like Don Miguel Ruiz says "It's not about you, it's about them"... she let them be and continued to learn from her Rabboni. I think this is one of the best lessons the Magdalene has to offer, not so much in terms of machismo since it's about time we all get over that, but in terms of self-responsibility. In order to grow and evolve, we all need to take responsibility for our own circumstances. If a First Century Jewish woman could do it, then we all can!
I retouched this Magdalene just before her public appearance on September 10, 2010. She is very miraculous! A couple years ago the wind blew her away during a street fair and she came out unscathed! She has also fallen, had a bunch of dust fall all over her, gone up and down the four stories between my home and my studio (several times), and been caressed by my cat Mixta on various occasions. Yet, this is not why I retouched her. I feel I have grown a great deal in my painting technique and in my ability to catch weak spots over the last few years. So I wanted her to look the best she could. She is the Patron Saint of Gardeners, and they will all come after me if I don't make her look like the most beautiful flower in the field!
Reproductions and greeting cards are available.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Song of the Magdalene: Surrender (Peace in Your Arms: Infinite Love and Mercy)

Surrender, Oil on Canvas Board, 9” x 12”, 2007

Why does this painting have so many titles...? Well, I had forgotten that I had already given it a title and then decided to make a contest to search for one! I got two great ones. Then I liked them all, because they all tell about the piece, and they all sing to my heart.

Years ago, in the midst of recovery from the stem cell transplant and the subsequent emotional turmoil that this created in my life, I began "receiving" words. The first one was compassion, the next was surrender. Then came imagination and finally, peace. The title contains 3 of these words. The painting contains them all.

When I first started learning about Mary Magdalene, it never occurred to me to relate the words to her. I struggled with the first two words for a long time. It took a long, long time to understand compassion. Surrender is an action rather than an idea, and it is extremely difficult to practice. I never thought of these words in relation to painting, but as I write about this piece, I realize that they were essential to my understanding the Magdalene.

Compassion and mercy are synonyms. In the title, it most obviously refers to Jesus Christ, but we can also see it a little different. I think that Jesus Christ helped Mary Magdalene have compassion for herself. This way he liberated her from "7 demons." By seeing herself in his presence, the presence of Pure Love, she accepted the Atonement that he was there to give her. What else could atonement be but the acceptance of the self as innocent and divine. Our "sins" are washed away by compassion. This is the moment in which Love transforms the Magdalene.

I don't really care whether the Magdalene was Jesus Christ's wife or not. It does not matter to the way I view this scene. Maybe Jesus was a healer that aligned her chakras, or maybe they were tantric lovers, or maybe he really exorcised her, or maybe she really was a prostitute and decided to change her life. These are all things I have come across while studying the Magdalene. But I like to keep it simple: The true instrument by which Mary Magdalene was transformed was Love. Is there any other possible explanation? I think this is the root to all the explanations. Mary Magdalene became one with Jesus Christ by his compassion and her willingness to see herself in the mirror of his Love.

This morning as I was taking a shower, I thought of the colors of this painting and realized something (we all know the best ideas come in the shower...) She is dressed in green just before her change. And green is the opposite color of red. From now on, she will be in red. I confess that I was thinking about green as the color of fertility as well as the color of hope. But I also know I chose this green because it was the only bright earth color that matched the color harmony in the painting. And that's the true reason why her dress is green!

Mary Magdalene surrendered to Love. She had compassion for herself and learned that her soul is pure. Christianity stands upon her vision of the Resurrection, a vision that cannot exist without imagination. She now dwells in the arms of peace, and guides all of us who ask her towards Infinite Love.

If you are interested in this painting, a reproduction, or a greeting card, email me at tanyaetorres@yahoo.com or visit my store!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Song of the Magdalene: Mary Magdalene in the Garden

Mary Magdalene in the Garden, Oil on Canvas Board, 7” x 9”, 2005
This is the third Mary Magdalene I painted in 2005. She is in peaceful meditation, surrounded by light and nature. She is in a garden that has both live and dead plants. The green leaves contrast the reds of the dress, sky and flowers. The dove sits on a branch, watching over her.

I have been asked several times why I use the color red for my Magdalenes. In traditional iconography, the Magdalene's color is red, just like the Virgin Mary's is blue. It is interesting to note that early on the Virgin Mary wore red as well because it was the color worn by influential Jewish women, but an edict was issued by the Catholic Church that red was the color of a prostitute and that the Virgin Mary was to wear blue (read here to read more about this). Since a Pope declared Mary Magdalene to be the same person as the sinner in the Bible, her customary color became red.

My Magdalene is definitely not a prostitute, but an influential Jewish woman. Of course, when I painted this, I was only referring to traditional iconography, because I didn't know any better! Since then, I have learned that red is the color of passion, power and action. I think these are qualities of the traditional Magdalene. She had passion to follow Jesus Christ and become a disciple in search for knowledge, she had power over herself to make her own choices, and she took action by staying at the foot of the cross while the other apostles hid, and by being the first witness to the Resurrection, Apostle to the Apostles.

I also did not know at the time that Mary Magdalene is considered the patron saint of perfumers and gardeners. The flowers that appear in the painting are my made up flowers. One day, when I still had Mixta Gallery, I made a large mural drawing on the wall and drew some of these flowers. A friend, who is also a reverend and studies religion, told me that I drew the Vesica Venus. Later, he sent me some information, correcting himself and saying that he had meant Vesica Piscis. This is a symbol of great mysticism, that I had never studied, but that we all have seen in art and mathematics. Learning this was very important for me, because it made me aware of being in touch with knowledge I did not consciously have. But being poets, of course, my friends and I loved the first name, and it stuck. So I call these flowers Vesicas de Venus, and you will see them in several other paintings and drawings.

Finally, death. My experience with cancer taught me that death is always present. My paintings celebrate life, but they also contain, as I contain, the knowledge of death. For me, death means that we only have access to our bodies for a finite amount of time, and that we must use then as best as we can to learn and experience the joys of our own creation. And we do this by using our gifts and sharing them. So death is a contrast, like the branches contrast with the bright halo of the Magdalene, a light we all contain within ourselves, the light of Infinite Love. And Love is the other name of God.

The little dove is the Holy Spirit. She is watching over the Magdalene, really, they are one. Holy Spirit is Sophia is Wisdom. And Wisdom, or knowledge of ourselves, is the goal we all have for this life.

I want to share with you that Mary Magdalene and Sarah is sold to a wonderful woman and her daughter, and is going to Ecuador for the New Year! It fills me with joy that my painting will be with people I feel close to in my heart and spirit. Thank you!

If you would like a reproduction or greeting card, visit my store!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Song of the Magdalene: María Magdalena

Oil on Canvas Board, 7” x 9”, 2005

My friend Migdalia made a comment yesterday that anticipated what I wanted to say about this painting. She said that the Magdalene looked Hispanic. She saw her like her own self. And this is what I intend for all of the Magdalenes: to make them look universal. I think that, if you look at this Magdalene, she could be from America, or Africa or the Middle East, or even Europe. She is you and she is me, the sacred feminine in all of us.

I painted Mary Magdalene in prayer because it is a universal praying gesture human beings use to connect with themselves and with the divine. Her eyes are closed from distractions, she is looking within in order to really see. This way, her light becomes bright yellow because her whole being is responding to this timeless moment.

When I paint her, I think of the Magdalene more as an idea than as an actual person who lived years ago. As a child, I heard somewhere, somehow, that we human beings are all part of a whole. I used to imagine myself as a dot of light going towards a great big Sun. I guess I was meditating without knowing it. Many people also believe in spirits, angels, and saints, and that these energies are all around us. I didn't think much of these things as I was painting this Magdalene, but later on, I realized that ideas become a reality when I am painting. I feel connected to the Magdalene in both of those ways: as part of a whole, and as a presence that guides me. By paying attention to what happens when I paint (or stop painting,) I have come to feel guided and nourished by the presence I identify as the Magdalene.

Last month I decided to write all these experiences, but they came out as a really long essay that I can't really share here. My conclusion, however, is that I have been discovering what it means to be "fully human", two words that struck me when I read the Gospel of Mary. In many ways, she has become my muse and my guide into the world of the imagination, a very human quality that is part of our "fullness."

This is the second Magdalene I painted in 2005. I always start with a drawing, and what I look for is a sort of iconic image, lines that will help define the character of the painting. I always try to remember to keep these drawings for another project that I am working on, a coloring book, so here it is. It is a little gift for you to express my gratitude for your visit to this blog. Download it and color it, make it your own and remember the bliss of creation!
https://files.me.com/tanyaetorres/zej2h2 (available for the next 5 days)

This original is already sold, but it you would like to order a greeting card or reproduction, click here: http://web.mac.com/tanyaetorres/iWeb/Site/Shop_Paintings.html

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Song of the Magdalene: Mary Magdalene and Sarah

Mary Magdalene and Sarah
11” x 14”, Oil on canvas board, 2005

Mary Magdalene and Sarah is the first painting in the series Song of the Magdalene. It comes out of reading the book The Woman With the Alabaster Jar. Author Margaret Starbird explores different theories about the biblical Mary Magdalene, among them that Mary Magdalene could have had a daughter by Jesus Christ called Sarah, whom gypsies today adore each year as Saint Sarah the Egyptian in the french town of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.

Since my previous paintings were about mothers and babies, this Mary Magdalene is a sort of transition into the newer series of Mary Magdalenes. It also helped me establish the color palette that would evolve into the more intense reds and yellows of the paintings that were to follow.

In this painting I seek to portray the sacredness of a moment shared by a mother and her baby, a moment which enlightens them both and lets their souls continue to be one in timeless eternity.

To buy this painting, a greeting card with this image or a reproduction, visit my shop!