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Life Arts    H2'ed 8/22/14

Janet McKenzie: Sacred Art and the Feminine Spirit

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Rev. Nancy McHugh,  Pastor of the Waitsfield United Church of Christ, views the exhibit
Rev. Nancy McHugh,  Pastor of the Waitsfield United Church of Christ, views the exhibit
(Image by Photo Credit: Janet McKenzie)
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Janet McKenzie: I strive to create art that is fiercely inclusive - art that is a reflection of our inherent similarities rather than our differences and what I create is my own vision and the way I need to see things.

When I painted Jesus of the People, I used a female model as my primary inspiration in portraying a dark-skinned Christ, in order to include the feminine spirit.

I have been told (often) that Jesus of the People looks like someone the viewer loves, but in reality that person looks physically nothing like the image on the canvas. Clearly they are seeing with their heart and not their eyes and that is the power of this painting and what I strive for with all of my work. I never think about putting work into the world as a gesture of provocation, although much of it has been regarded as provocative.

All my work comes from my heart, which resonates with hopeful joy and profound despair at the hateful violence of the world. Each mother protectively holding her child, every pair of closed eyes and each woman looking out of the canvas into the eyes of the viewer reflects my desire for change, for a world where mothers don't fear losing their children on a daily basis and where a father of color does not have to remind his son to be careful every single day of his life.

What others bring to the way they view my work is a reflection of their own journey.

(L) The Guardian Angels with Mary, the Girl; (R) The Chosen One,  c. Janet McKenzie
(L) The Guardian Angels with Mary, the Girl; (R) The Chosen One, c. Janet McKenzie
(Image by Photo credit Lightworks, (Winooski, VT), art c. Janet McKenzie)
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MAB: Yes. And so many images portray Jesus as fair and blue-eyed, which we know is not an accurate depiction, so your images that mirror a wider variety of races and genders, are so refreshing.

I understand that Jesus of the People was already on exhibit in a solo show at the Good Hands Gallery in Santa Fe when 9-11 happened. It is interesting to muse upon whether that was coincidence or synchronicity. And you were at the gallery - can you share what happened as a result of this poignant timing?

JM: After the twin towers came down, the owners considered closing the gallery for an indefinite period of time. But upon reflection they decided to keep it open in case anyone wanted to take solace in sacred art. Many did come and it was an emotional experience seeing people look up at Jesus of the People and cry.

This old, beautiful, adobe, soft-walled gallery in downtown Santa Fe evolved naturally into a chapel that day, and continued its compassionate role in the the coming days. The area where Jesus of the People hung on the wall seemed to transform into an altar.

Janet  at work in her studio
Janet at work in her studio
(Image by Photo Credit: Jeb Wallace Brodeur)
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MAB: Wow, that's a powerful word image!

I love your style of painting, it is so unique! I notice some aspects that seem to me to be a little reminiscent of cubism, art deco and even Russian iconography, and underneath it all is the kind of solid art training that can be learned at so few places these days, the Art Students League is one of those few. Coming from that kind of background, myself, I know that it is a rich foundation that informs your work, and it is especially notable in your beautiful rendering of drapery.

Can you tell us about your style - how it developed, the influences, and how it enhances your message? I know that you spent a transformative and pivotal time of retreat in Albuquerque, perhaps that ties in with this question.

JM: I think more like a sculptor than a painter as I am very interested in form and negative space. My style evolved through the love of drawing and the refusal to get rid of line, which as a student I was told to do. There is an existing force underneath the paint that is unseen but still comes through, an energy built from ferocious activity and interconnection.

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Meryl Ann Butler is an artist, author, educator and OpedNews Managing Editor who has been actively engaged in utilizing the arts as stepping-stones toward joy-filled wellbeing since she was a hippie. She began writing for OpEdNews in Feb, 2004. She became a Senior Editor in August 2012 and Managing Editor in January, (more...)

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