Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Adam and Eve in Modern Art

While looking for a piece of art to illustrate my post on Mormon Matters about the figurative nature of Adam and Eve, I discovered several modern paintings which impressed me, and I thought I'd share.

The first piece is the one I included on my post. I chose this because it went along so well with my emphasis on symbolism and my postulation that the allegorical elements of the Adam and Eve story are veiled in Mormonism, perhaps because of our emphasis on a literal, physical Adam and Eve.

The painting was done by Christina Saj of New Jersey. She enjoys working with the technique of Byzantine Icon painting, balancing it with contemporary influences. I really like how this creates a new interpretation of traditional themes. Christina's iconic paintings have been widely exhibited including such venues as the American Bible Society, Union Theological Seminary, The Ukrainian Museum in New York, Museum of Cultural Heritage, Kiev Ukraine, the American Embassy in Qatar as well as at the White House.

The next piece is a lithograph done by Robert Lohman (1919-2001), also an American artist from Indiana. He worked in ceramics, wood, watercolors, and oils and in a variety of styles from realism to abstract, but received the most recognition for his sculptures.

What appeals to me about this piece is that it has so much movement in it. Pictorial representations of Adam and Eve are generally not known for their movement, although when you think about it, their story is all about movement. The Fall, and being cast out of the Garden are themes which lend themselves particularly to this type of representation. The symbolism is great here, too. Several of the flourishes seem to possess floral and fruit-like connotations, and one can hardly tell if that is Eve's hand at the end of her arm(six-fingered?) or a flower in her hair.

Next we have a 1996 work titled "The Beginning of Life" by V.O.M. Petrillo. Petrillo was born in Rome in 1932.

The themes of this artist are said to demonstrate his innermost existential torment. Despite the title of the piece, I like to think it pictures Adam and Eve after they are cast out of the Garden. The spindly herbs in the diptych of Adam are certainly less fecund than any image I have seen of the story. And Eve is detached from the earth, even as her reproductive powers are symbolized in a many-faceted reflection of herself.

The next painting was done by Alison Ingram as a special commission for a wedding invitation and order of service.

Ingram explains that the brief for this project was to create an abstract image of the couple and their animal family, their horse and two black labradors. The design was to incorporate an oak tree to signify their country lifestyle and the sun and moon were included to signify unity. The color palette was chosen by the clients. Given these strictures, I was amazed at how well the final work captures the Adam and Eve story. Further, it demonstrates how each of us as humans are figuratively linked to our "first parents."

Here we have another "Adam and Eve," oil on canvas, by noted Chicago artist Frank Rakoncay (1936-1998)

Rakoncay's pictures have been called "poetic" and "dreamlike," and we certainly see that here. This painting stirs a lot of emotion, and has an elusive, erotic quality to it that many of the modern paintings miss.

Adam and Eve 1920 by Karoly Patkó is an example of 1920s neoclassicism.

A review of this painting describes its symbolism: "the protesting-rejecting gesture of dark complexioned Adam depicted from the back is in fact a reaction to pale-white Eve's movement of taking and offering the apple...In Patkó's picture the axis of the tree separates the two figures, who in contrast with the idyllic mythology, are in fact the main characters of a drama. In the modern iconography of man's fall the tempting Satan-snake is no longer present, it is only the apple that refers to the biblical story. The shaping of the tree of knowledge resembles the shapes of human bodies, as its roots leaning against the earth and the form of the trunk resembling the V-bend of the knee give rise to anthropomorphic associations. The backgrounds enhance the contrast between the two figures. Sun-lighted white clouds can be seen behind Adam, while the dark-blue-turning sky behind Eve is suggestive of the imminent storm." I especially love the color and the shapes here.

Here's one by Vladimi Zunuzin of Russia, a prolific painter with more than 1000 works.

This one really grabs me for its allegorical qualities. Notice how Eve is turning toward the viewer, in an aspect of being open to new experiences. She captures the essence of the LDS Eve and the choice made with eyes wide open. Adam, by contrast, is rigid and rejecting, even more so than in the previous painting. The earth here, is nascent, almost unformed, and reminiscent of a chambered nautilus.

The next painting is by Maia Ramishvili of Tblisi, Georgia. I love her style and her palette (see here).

Ramishvili's art is very feminine and pretty--she seems to capture the essence of femininity. In this painting the emphasis is all on the woman. Though the figure of Eve is set to the side, the man's glance upon her leads the eye to her sultry gaze. Though she still holds the fruit in her hand, she must have already partaken, for she has the knowledge of good and evil in her eyes. This is how I picture the story of the Fall. It is mostly Eve's story, and Adam is merely a bit player.

The last picture I have here is by Nataly Kuzmina of Almaty, Kazakhstan, who was educated in a variety of artistic styles including Old Russian Icon painting, Realism, Impressionism and the Avant-Garde.

I am very much touched by the expressions on the faces of these figures. Adam seems so sorrowful, so regretful at the loss of his Eden. And Eve is pensive, even a bit guilty. The positions of the man and woman speak volumes about the artist's conception of the story. While Adam slouches, seeking comfort with his arm around Eve, she sits stiffly, pouting and perhaps punishing herself for her transgression.

Studying these modern works of art is profoundly moving. It gives me a greater appreciation of the scriptural record, and it makes me wish I could express myself so eloquently in an artistic medium!


John Gustav-Wrathall said...

Very interesting... I'd say my favorite is the Petrillo painting.

Alberti's Window said...

This is a great post! A friend just referred me to your blog, and as an LDS art historian, I find this subject matter very fascinating. Personally, I wish that there were more depictions of Adam and Eve by good, legitimate LDS artists, but I haven't found any that impress me. Anyway, depictions of nudes in LDS culture would make people "embarrassed" (as my mother would say).

I really like what you said about the gestural and dynamic quality of Lohman's lithograph - it is a great way to visualize the Fall and perhaps the turmoil of transgression/sin.

I also think that the Ramishvili painting is quite interesting. Eve really is emphasized in her role as seductress here, and I think that Ramishvili's palatte and style add to that fact. Her work immediately reminded me to paintings by Gustav Klimt (see examples here and here. Even the "come-hither" look in Ramishvili's Eve is reminiscent of Klimt.

Alberti's Window said...

Sorry, I guess that first Klimt link doesn't work. Here it is:

Bored in Vernal said...

M, thanks for your comment. It's so interesting--our minds must work a lot alike. I immediately thought of the Klimt when I saw Ramishvili's painting. Also, I have a post half-finished deploring the lack of good LDS depictions of Adam and Eve, and linking to some "modest" alternatives! (There aren't very many!)

J G-W, can you figure out why Petrillo has the word "theology" (in Italian) featured so prominently on both sides of his diptych? What is that circle it is written in, the sun? Take a closer look here--I love it, I didn't even notice the serpent the first time.

Bored in Vernal said...

Oh, here is the Klimt I was thinking of, as well as his Adam and Eve which I also love!

John Gustav-Wrathall said...

Yes, I was wondering about the "Teologia" too...

If you look at the Eve side of the diptych, it looks smudged or faded. When I looked at the larger image, though, I realized that on the Eve side, the sphere looks sort of moon-like. So it's probably a representation of the sun on Adam's side and the moon on Eve's side. "Teologia" written on the heavenly spheres probably symbolizes the search for God.

I also saw more clearly that Eve is superimposed over the earth ("mother of all living," I suppose). But then there are also these curious receding box-like things. To me they look like ladders or stairs? Again, an allusion to the ascent back to Heaven?

I agree with your take on this portrait being "post fall," especially if you consider how alienated the man and the woman are from each other -- alienated physically by appearing on separate diptychs, but alienated stylistically two by appearing on very different kinds of backgrounds, and with male vs. female imagery. It's striking when you compare with other Adam and Eve images (like the Klimt!!) where they are sensually connected, almost merging into one figure ("and they became one flesh").

The Petrillo painting reminds me of the gnostic notion that the "fall" actually came about when Eve was separated from Adam, breaking the primordial unity of humanity into alienated sexes...

galen dara said...

LOVE LOVE LOVE these, biv!
thank you for assembling this amazing collection

Anonymous said...

...navels. They all have belly-buttons.

Why would they need them if there had not been a mother figure to which they were attached before birth?