This eleven-metre-high, eight-panel painting of a spiral staircase exemplifies how my artistic practice works with cropped and manipulated images of architectural interiors to explore ideas of longing in society.
Harnessing the enigmatic quality of paint, I confront the viewer with a towering staircase that exudes its own visual rhythm as it curls upon itself. Observed up close, the panels reveal an intuitive process where expressive brush marks of thinly applied paint suggest immediacy and exuberance. The sides of the panels reveal vertical drips, signalling a horizontally-executed process, and the back exposes a scaffold support, shifting the painting towards sculpture.
The scale of the work, and its site-specific engagement with church surroundings, contextualizes it with the biblical story of Jacob’s ladder, despite there being no depiction of Jacob asleep at the foot of the stair or any rendering of angels ascending and descending.
The source material for this painting was the studio of French artist Gustav Moreau (1826–98). His symbolist paintings of biblical and mythological figures are hard to decipher in Descent, yet my reproductions of them line the walls around the painted staircase, mirroring Jacob’s dreamlike vision. A doubling is played out in the multiple curls of the stairs, recalling the baroque fascination of ‘tending toward infinity’ (Wolfflin 1986: 71). The painting tapers to a narrow top, where we glimpse an opening above. French philosopher Gilles Deleuze (1925–95) speaks of the world of human experience in terms of interconnected levels, or as Anthony Vidler describes it: ‘two stories, the one material, the other spiritual, joined by a stair of infinite folds’ (2001: 233). From one perspective, the painting reaches up to touch the untouchable; stretching from earth to heaven.
Concurrently, however, Descent questions whether the central image of Genesis 28:10–22 is best conceived as a ‘stairway to heaven’. The ‘ladder’ is let down into Jacob’s physical and moral wilderness. Rather than depending on the shaky foundations of Jacob's past actions and current circumstances, affirmation and encouragement are anchored in ‘the Lord [who] stood above it’ (Genesis 28:13).
This is a stairway from Heaven.
Harbison, Robert. 2000. Reflections on Baroque (London: Reaktion Books)
Koestlé-Cate, Jonathan. 2015. ‘Baroque Folds’, Art and Christianity, 82: 2–5
Vidler, Anthony. 2001. Warped Space: Art, Architecture, and Anxiety in Modern Culture (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press)
10 Jacob left Beer-sheba, and went toward Haran. 11And he came to a certain place, and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. 12And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! 13And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your descendants; 14and your descendants shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and by you and your descendants shall all the families of the earth bless themselves. 15Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done that of which I have spoken to you.” 16Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place; and I did not know it.” 17And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
18 So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone which he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19He called the name of that place Bethel; but the name of the city was Luz at the first. 20Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, 21so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, 22and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that thou givest me I will give the tenth to thee.”