Special Exhibit

La Mort de Jeanne d'Arc

before and after

Average folks (don't blame me if this includes you):
Click here to view the "small" 600x800 (72K) color JPEG of La Mort de Jeanne d'Arc

Detail junkies (you know who you are):
Click here to view the larger 1800x2400 (576K) JPEG

The Backstory

This is a story about a picture that demanded to be born. When i was a young experimental twenty-or-so in the early 70's, my life and art were in the thrall of elemental fairy folk to the extent that almost half of my artistic work included winged fairies, angels, and humans as an expression of the spiritual realm i was attempting to evoke, as in the picture below -"The Seed"

In those pre-computer days, my media of choice were pen&ink, pencil, and watercolor, due mostly to their convenience and speed. Oils and canvas were just too slow and messy and expensive to boot, so i neglected to master them. At any rate, on one of those days of yore, i was struck by a flash of artistic inspiration (which at the time and perhaps still today i credited to the elementals, though i have recently entertained the thought that it could be a deep past-life memory). In my mind's eye i saw a grand swirling image of a medeival woman being burnt alive at the stake as her spirit soared free above her, being lifted up to meet the goddess by angels who rescue her spirit from carnal demons of death and decay below. I immediately sketched out the scene on a piece of typing paper with a black ball point pen. That's it on the left above. As soon as i finished the sketch i knew that the only medium that could do justice to the layered swirling tornado of spirit i saw was the very medium i had neglected: oils.

The picture demanded the mastery and precision of a Dali, who specialized in grand, multi-layered oil masterpieces, and at that moment, i was definitely not Dali. So i stowed the sketch away, in the hopes of perhaps one day revisiting it when and if i ever did decide to emulate Dali and take up the oil brush to tackle a monumental canvas. Many years passed as the picture waited patiently for me to become equal to it. During those passing decades, my artistic life had gone down the surprising path of computer imaging, something i could not have even envisioned as a youth (although my dreams were dropping big hints even back then). Concurrently my spiritual life has continued to go deeper into possibilities opened up to me in my early adulthood. And while my commercial art career took me away from the fairy influence for a time, when i found that i could render them quite nicely with my new programs (poser, bryce, infiniD, and photoshop) i invited them back for the opening of the eagleZen website, .

Finally, this past year (2001), the picture sang out to me from its lonely file and i heard it and rescued it. As i looked at the sketch, it hit me like a flashbulb going off: "hey, i can DO THIS now!" Not in oils but in my new medium, the medium that allowed me to be Dali at last, albeit a digital Dali. I tacked the sketch to the wall beside my computer where it hung for a few more months til i had a window of opportunity. Then i went to work. It was the most ambitious single image i had yet produced, using all the skills i had learned as a computer illustrator. I created each element separately in 3D then brought them into photoshop as individual rendered layers, sizing and color balancing each element against the others as i built the picture up layer by layer. The final 100 MB image file has 30 seperate layers and took a couple of weeks to produce.

I'm kind of making a big deal about this image becuase it has great personal meaning to me, more than almost any other i have yet produced. It's partly because it represents a personal artistic milestone for me, having reached a point in my path where i can faithfully do justice to virtually any visual image i can conceive of. But more than that, beyond the personal satisfaction i feel, is the fact that this picture succeeded in making itself seen after more than 25 years. Whatever the primary inspiration might have been, i believe i am just a midwife to this (or any) image. The ideas pre-exist me, if you know what i mean. Witnessing their birth is always an honor and a thrill, but the birth of this one was very special.

By the way, when i first saw the image as i sketched it out, i just assumed i was sketching joan of arc, hence the title (jeanne d'arc is the french version). As i was producing the final picture, it occured to me that it could easily be any of the thousands of innocent women who were condemned to burn in the inquisition and witch trials in the middle ages by a clearly deranged church. It was even suggested that i change the title to reflect a more inclusive symbolism. I felt attracted to that idea at first, partly because something about the image was resonating for me in a very personal way (re: past life) and probably would for many viewers, male and female alike (in fact, i know of one extremely intense response to seeing the image). But ultimately i decided to stick to my first impression, for better or worse. For starters, the name "jeanne" resonates in special ways for me personally. Beyond that, jeanne was simply the most visible and well-known of the thousands upon thousands of people who were burnt alive at the stake, just like jesus was the most famous of the equally huge number of people who were crucified in roman times. If i painted bob smith nailed to a cross as a symbol of all the bob smith's who were crucified it would be kind of odd (or maybe not....hmmmm....)...So, we'll just agree to call this girl jeanne because in a way she's like a female jesus figure and i see the image as a kind of female parallel to a typical crucifixion scene. But you know, it's best not to THINK too much about it anyway. Just look at it.....it is what it is, just like we are....

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