November 15, 2012

Do you like this?

Changing his voice to a lurid whisper, he recreates this dialog: “Ca va? Ca te plait? Oui, ca me plait.” Translation: “How’s that? Do you like that? Yes, that’s good.”

The result is “Ecstasy of the Sacred Heart”—named for the famous Basilica near the hotel—a simple but stunning sketch-painting of a woman in the throes of passion. Rather than working his vision of carnality into a detailed painting, Decosimo leaves the immediacy of the sketch intact, including a few drips of blue paint running down the canvas from a really wet brush.

There’s also a lot of play in these works. “The Angel Marilyn,” in rich purple tones, depicts a very Monroe-like angel with heraldic sword and shield, inspired by the angel Moroni, who dictated the Book of Mormon to patriarch Joseph Smith. Decosimo says he was thinking a lot about Mormonism when he thought we might have a Mormon president.

“If Joseph Smith had the angel Moroni, why can’t an angel come to me?” he thought. Decosimo said he wouldn’t mind being in charge of a new church, especially the iconography, but rather than a Moroni, “I’m requesting personally that I get a Marilyn. Her way of illumination and inspiration will probably be through carnality,” he deadpanned.

Wall of Bacchus

The biggest element in the new exhibit can’t be seen yet, but Decosimo and Usrey tell me about it. Earlier this year, when she called Decosimo to suggest that he paint a wall in the gallery, he already had the same thing in mind.

The day before the show opens, Decosimo will paint a mural on one of the gallery walls. The process will be captured on video by another artist Usrey represents, Kevin McCarthy, a filmmaker and conceptual artist based in New Hampshire. As Decosimo and Usrey talk about how the mural was conceived, he starts sketching.

“I have an idea. We’ll see if it works out,” Decosimo said. “I’ve been composing it in my head, roughly. What’s interesting is it’s going to have to be spontaneous. This is the first time I’ve drawn it.”

He describes the scene as it takes shape on a piece of lined paper torn from a notebook. In the background is the Greek god Bacchus, along with a few of his many female followers, known as Bacchante. Decosimo is in the foreground painting the scene.

“Bacchus is taking a break,” he said. “I’ll do a Velasquez nude, a model that’s looking over my shoulder here and maybe another here. They’ve come over here to look and see what’s happened, to keep me company.”

The wall painting will be Decosimo’s take on another polarity that complements the sacred and profane. The Greeks included much of what we consider profane within the sacred. They were more interested in a tension between the Dionysian and the Apollonian. In mythology, Bacchus (also known as Dionysus) is a somewhat dark god of revelry and intoxication ... or if he is disrespected, of frenzied madness. Apollo is the paragon of light and rational thought.

In Decosimo’s wall painting, “You have the Dionysian, which is the flesh-loving, drunken, orgiastic, feeling response to life, and then you have the Apollonian. I’m trying in this image to create the dynamic between the Apollonian, which will be the study of the Dionysian, and the Dionysus scene.”

When paint begins to hit the wall on Thursday night, Decosimo will be improvising, so this scene might not be what visitors see on the wall at Friday’s opening. As he finished the sketch and handed it to me he said, “I’m pretty sure this is going to be it. Here you go. See if that doesn’t happen.”

Cessna Decosimo: “Sacred and Profane”

New painting and sculptures

Nov. 16-Jan. 11, 2013

Opening Reception and Talk

Friday, Nov. 6 • 5:30 p.m.

Tanner-Hill Gallery

3069 Broad St. (423) 280-7182


November 15, 2012

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Cessna's cultural battle

Culture war usually refers to the clash of morality over abortion and trashy TV. A much larger clash, in the background, is between cultural supersystems. This mega-conflict is remarkably explained by an intellectual ordered to the firing squad by the Bolsheviks who escaped and in 1930 became chairman of the Harvard sociology department. Christianity reflects “ideational culture,” Pitirim Sorokin says, but this system vanished nearly down to 2 percent. It is on that small, bright spot of artistic output that Chattanooga sculptor Cessna Decosimo stands.

David Tulis more than 1 years ago

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