-By John Jude Palencar

When I was in art school I had different artistic sensibilities than I do now. For all of you that are entering the field or pursuing a life in art, should know that your viewpoint and tastes will change over the years. What you like today may not be what you like in the future. Although some core artistic values remain, others will adapt and evolve. Such is the case with this drawing and my journey creating the subsequent painting.

I was reviewing my old sketchbooks and ran across this drawing. I created it during my junior year in art school many years ago. The original inspiration was twofold… back then, I was influenced by Pieter Breugel (the Elder), Hieronymus Bosch and by a strange, nearly life-size porcelain statue of St. Sebastian located in St. Michael’s Cathedral in Cleveland, Ohio. I attended catholic school there up until third grade and never forgot it. Being seven years old, I often studied the statue with the bronze arrows protruding from the torso so much so that the the nuns would intentionally seat me away from it during the daily mass we were required to attend. I could identify with this martyred Saint, stuck full of arrows, as the long mass droned on in latin. A year after I created this drawing in art school, the movie “Altered States”,  starring William Hurt was released in theaters. So I knew I was on the right track, but the sketch on a scrap of bristol board sat tucked away in an old sketchbook, largely forgotten for decades.

A few months ago – I thought that I would finally attempt to create a painting based on this old drawing. So I set to work, copying the original drawing on a gessoed birch panel. Correcting the mistakes and adjusting the anatomy as I went along… In a distorted manner of course. I thought this would be easy moving from point “A” to point ”B”…. I was wrong.  The more I worked on the new drawing and then applied the initial washes to the panel, I began to realize that what I was going after had changed. My sensibilities had changed. The figure had now become characterized to the point of being genre entrenched. It was an overly ripe image drawn by a 21 year old going for a cheap visual thrill. The figure was too obvious… all of the knobs on the artistic amplifier were turned up to eleven. What I wanted was something slightly more subtle but still potent.  That’s when I got out my trusty orbital sander. You have to note that I stopped taking photographs at this point. I was pissed-off and knew I was in for a fight. Gone were the arrows, the distorted torso had been shaved down, new arms had been created, hands were redrawn – several times.  Each time I thought… ”nope. that’s not what I want”. I had become Doctor Frankenstien and this was my monster. Finally, I brought a live model into the studio, fashioned a loincloth out of one of my wife’s discarded nightgowns and continued adjusting the painting. Each time I would finish an area that I didn’t like… I got out the orbital sander.  I tried larger hands, then smaller ones,,, different positions on them, adjusted the legs, the arms and the torso…. you get the picture? This was wearing me out. Having developed areas to a near finish and then sanding them out was always hard. I would often close my eyes as I turned on the sander to remove an arm or hand or part of the torso. Reestablishing a new limb, weaving the washes and strokes was a true learning experience.  “Take no prisoners!”  I thought. The pose I was after, was one of adolescent awkwardness, with a hesitant and somewhat pleasantly disturbed smile.

I was also doing a number illustration assignments while I worked intermittently on this painting so I didn’t have a creative cadence going. Finally the painting started to come together. The below jpegs contain a number of details for your reference.

What I learned was to be tenacious in your efforts and do the best job you can, with passion and anger if necessary. I also learned that I may have to do more studies and try to stay on target with the design and concept. Working with a floating concept and design does take more time. While it can be enjoyable, it can take you places that you may not want to go…. or lead to strange new lands you never thought were there.

Over the last few years I have been working on a series of paintings that have dealt with various  religions, alt. belief systems, cults and contemporary pagan practices. The adjusted concept for this painting evolved out of the belief that some folks have in the “Rapture” and individuals that have “religious experiences” visiting  crop circles. The landscape in the background are the fields and woods that surround my studio. There have been no crop circles sighted recently or half naked people stumbling around in a spiritual stupor.

“Extasis”- Acrylic on birch panel, 33”x32”.

Latin: extasis (genitive extasis); f, third declension
    1.    rapture, ecstasy, trance
    2.    terror, amazement

This painting will be on exhibit at the Butler Institute of American Art,  Juried Midyear Exhibition, June 24th – August 19, 2012 in Youngstown, Ohio.