Every City is Jerusalem

This is the first major painting I’ve done for what will be a show at Irma Freeman Center in 2025. I think this condenses the range of thoughts and feelings I have about Pittsburgh as a medieval world into a strong visual statement.

The simplest way I can put it into words is that I think trying to inscribe a sacred order into the modern world is both absurd and worth attempting. I think the sense of cosmic story in which medieval societies lived is hard to inhabit now without a sense of irony. As deeply as I feel spiritually, there’s a cognitive dissonance, a bleakness or creeping nihilism, that affects my belief in the cosmic worth of the mundane.

This paintings comes from the detente in my mind between hope and exhaustion.

The name “Every City is Jerusalem” (working title) is an attempt to express how paradoxically the specificity of stories like the magi can become potent in broad contexts. 2000 years on, I can relate to their driving hope embodied in their quest.

Also, for those people keeping score, it seems like in the world of my hyper local paintings that Pittsburgh is starting to be Jerusalem to North Braddock’s Bethlehem.

Details- I wanted to make Pittsburgh look like a castle city, and to do that I turned the PPG tower into the turrets on the wall. That way it feels modern/old at the same time. I decided to dress the wise men in ancient/medieval garb because I wanted high dissonance between their clothes and the Honda Odyssey and bike.

The line of cars/horses/other stuff was kind of a nightmare, the most difficult part of the painting. I knew I could make the city, I knew I could make the wise men, but the line of people going into the city created a number of conceptual issues. How much 3D affect? How does the road work? How fast should the figured shrink? When do they transition to being all paint? My solution, as usual, was to painstakingly try it different ways until something worked. I’m sure there are people out there that know how to do the math, but I’ll never be one.

Here is the painting I’m referencing/modeling after (made in the middle ages) :

I thought about making the sky gold but decided against it. I think I need to think through metallic paints in the future in order to make more striking knights and (potentially) robots. Gold metallic could be fun for doing approximated gold leaf- though I’d hate to be tacky. Knights! So many knights to make! (I wrote this before finishing the painting. I eventually did use metallic paints for this.)

Next up- I’m going to make a castle out of the UPMC buildings. I’ll call it “UPMC for Them” – it will hopefully be a Sauron esque, dour fortress of power. It’s a painting so ripe I wonder how it hasn’t been made. We’ll see if I can stick the landing.

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