Services at my mother’s Pentecostal church were frenzied and long, but there were unquestionable moments of inspired surrealism. From the late 1960s up until about 1980, I was allowed to take my drawing pad to her church and frequently sketched some of the impassioned chaos and performance art playing out before me.
In the early 1990s I found a couple of my childhood sketchpads and began a series of paintings from them. The first of these (and the best) was titled Brother Cobweb, after a comic strip I created on those wooden pews. Although my fictional preacher was not featured in the canvas, it contains Brother Cobweb’s essence and probably stems, in part, from a pronounced influence from Gauguin’s Primitivism.
David Dancing Before The Lord, and Healing Service depict the one time pastor of that parish. Glossolalia and Spiritual feature my mother caught up in charismatic moments. The Apocalyptic Sermon was based off a ho de ho diatribe, delivered by the original pastor (and father of the pastor in the previous paintings). I was intrigued even though it was decidedly not of my spiritual brand.
Proving the old maxim that there is nothing new under the sun, I took a small sketchpad with me to a series of Chicago Symphony Orchestra concerts I attended in the late 1990s. Although I had found much identification in the music of Anton Bruckner, this was the first time I had actually been to a concert of his music, which was conducted by maestro Daniel Barenboim.
The later canvases depict the music of modernist Pierre Boulez , as conducted by himself and Barenboim. My application of Boulez’s kaleidoscopic palette of colors probably is the direct influence of the Blue Riders on my own work.
Although these are a small portion of the paintings from both periods, it is curious, in retrospect, to note that the more intimate compositions are of Barenboim’s Bruckner. Even Barenboim’s Boulez feels more immediately intimate than Boulez’s Boulez.
In personality, the Jewish, extrovert, phenomenally successful Barenboim stands in sharp contrast to the orthodox Catholic introvert Bruckner who struggled most of his life for even meager recognition. Yet, Barenboim located his identification plane in Bruckner’s efforts to erect the metaphoric temple. How authentically Barenboim conveys that can be debated between musicologists and armchair critics.
Attending the concerts, seeing Bruckner performed in the flesh, channeled through Barenboim’s personal, proselytizing zeal for the composer, I found the conducting attune to the expressive, earthy directness of the composition, as opposed to an enigmatic spirituality, which is another way to perform Bruckner, of course. In that sense, I felt Barenboim nailed an inherent, organic character found in Catholic art and expression. My own interpretation of Catholicism is as an earthbound faith, optimistically grounded in humanity.
Belatedly, I sensed a connection between both groups of works that transcends the mere physicality of action drawing in a sketch pad or my subjective interpretation of what was playing out before my eyes. Of course, the two worlds are as far apart as can be imagined. I will quickly dismiss any proposed, erroneous conclusion that might be drawn from those who feel Bruckner’s symphonies too long (and therefore I was simply whittling away my time). Quite the reverse, I often find myself wanting Bruckner’s music to never end, while I almost always anxiously retreated from those charismatic church services. Therein lies a latent connection, perhaps.
When my grandfather introduced me to art and music, I felt this my desired state of nirvana. My exploration of both began very early and through those multifarious Pentecostal layers of heat strokes, feverishly pounding at me through the slaying in the spirit, I unwittingly sought a nexus akin to what Bruckner’s music later, inexplicably provided. In the depth of my interior, I yearned for a sense of shifting sanctuaries.
Interestingly enough, Boulez later tackled Bruckner himself, which initially sent shock waves throughout the music industry. The avant-garde boogey man Boulez conducting Bruckner was seen as something amounting to a type of ideological treason. Yet, when his performance of the monumental 8th symphony was released, it received near universal critical accolades (Reportedly, Boulez consulted the seasoned Brucknerian Barenboim about which edition to use). Boulez’s Bruckner was hardly of the traditional school and the appeal of the results will naturally be dependent on subjective priorities. Aside from that, there remains enormous potential in the latent strangeness and lack of predictability in Boulez, late in career and life, engrossed in the Bruckner 8th.
My expressed observation of these services, separated by 20 years and vastly opposing aesthetics, is filtered through an admittedly idiosyncratic sensibility. In no way will I suggest that others came away with the same or even similar experiences.
©2014 Alfred Eaker
Spiritual ©1996 Alfred Eaker
©2014. Alfred Eaker