Pic of Ranna® in 2007


Ranna®- Contemporary Artist

In Galleries

Breathing with My Eyes



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Commentary for this painting is below the images.


Painting, "Breathing with my Eyes", © Ranna®.
Shimmer view of  "Breathing with my Eyes", © Ranna®.


Breathing with my Eyes, Ranna®, mixed media on canvas, 152cm x 122cm/ 60" x 48". © Ranna®.

In one of my favourite Renaissance paintings, there is an image of a woman holding her eyes on a stem between her fingers, so that at first they appear to be some sort of flower. This really impressed me. It dovetailed perfectly with my comment to a friend after my first visit to Italy in that being there was "like breathing for the first time, breathing with my eyes".

It is as though I carry my eyes about on a wand, taking them for a lifelong tour of human existence, while I dream on, making images...

The painting, by Franceso Del Cossa is in the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., titled St Lucy (c. 1470)*. It illustrates the Christian legend (c. C3rd AD) of Lucy who, among other things, was condemned to burn at the stake but the flames did not touch her. The reference to her eyes is that a would-be suitor was so smitten with her eyes that she feared that this would do him real harm so she tore her eyes out and sent them to him on a platter. There is a similar oriental mystic legend in India, but there the protagonist is a man who tears his eyes out and sends them to the lady smitten by them. Lucy is at times also illustrated with a lamp to signify illumination and a poniard (when the flames did not touch her, the authorities stabbed her in the neck with a poniard instead, successfully killing her). Now, I ain't no saint(!), but coming from such a long period of involvement in Asian concepts I was particularly taken with the cross-reference between East and West in the myth about the eyes.

Meanwhile, before this, I had been reading Dante (Inferno and Paradisio), and then the whole thing about fire and flames has been swirling around since I finished the gold Veil (II). About the Veil pieces I wrote in my diary at the time that "I wanted to climb out of my skin" and in the same period, I wrote in my diary when working on Dance that "The wrestling match leaves me with ripples of fire flashing to and fro under my skin". A few months after I finished those pieces, I saw the movie Stigmata which, although lapsing into some silly Hollywoodisms, gives an unadulterated portrayal of the brutally searing nature of spirit experience (no New Age tryst with the Divine in some soppy glade, you know!), replete with fire and flames.

Yet fire does not have to burn; it can illuminate... so now we are back full circle to Lucy and Italy.

Indelibly seared into my mind's eyes (out there on their stem!) while in Florence was the astonishing reaction I had to all the Medieval/ Gothic work. I remember turning and momentarily glancing back at some of these as I exited one of the galleries in the Acedemia Gallery where Michelangelo's David is housed, and will never forget what I saw: although Andrea del Sarto, born about a decade after del Cossa's death, is my all time favourite high Renaissance artist, it was the medieval paintings that came home with me, and the extraordinary way in which the blues of the Madonna's robes float away from their gilded background as unfettered ethereal entities.

I was transported.

Back in the States, I began prowling the National Gallery of Art in D.C. - they have a magnificent collection of Medieval (and Renaissance) art, probably the best outside the Cloisters and the Met. I shot rolls and rolls of film of this part of their collection. I bought a number of reproductions which are taped to the wall of my studio. In a radical move for someone so fixated on Asia and Asian philosophy for so long, I bought "Signs and Symbols in Christian Art", Ferguson, G., 1954 (paperback 1961), Oxford University Press, NY.

Quite some time later I was visiting home, driving through bush fires along the coast, and seeing and being in our Australian blue ocean.

Meanwhile, I had begun creeping up on the Italy/ NGA experience but had to get free of the organza pieces and Asian references. When sea creatures/references began appearing in the Rip series, I was ready for the blue and could finally catch up with what as sown in Florence...

So Breathing With My Eyes is here, a shimmer treated image to push the floating blue and illuminating flame, simultaneously folding time back past Del Cossa's Renaisance to Medieval times and forward to now, radicalizing the visual quotation of Del Cossa's purely Renaissance version of Lucy. Breathing With My Eyes is peopled by anything but a saint but instead with someone with dark eyeliner and lipstick, the softening features of middle age held at an introspective but much less humble angle than Del Cossa's Lucy, holding a brush not a poniard, her eyes out on a sortie by themselves informing the dreaming brush, her hands more vigorous than Lucy's. Yet this a-temporal subject is sitting pensively still with her legs crossed, within the veil of embodied experience [white, gold, copper, & black backdrop to the figure - the colours of humanity]...

... but her left toe broaches the flame.

(Throughout its creation I suspended all social interaction, barely spoke with anyone - even my poor husband - and did only the absolute minimum of written communication. I listened to nothing but a CD of Gregorian Chant, imbuing the piece with this measured peaceful expression in voice, just "audible" I hope to the quiet and still viewer. It is speculated, by the way, that the Gregorian hand - the medieval method of notating modal vocal music - is derived directly from Indian modal chanting notation methods, and there are specific correlations between Indian, Greek, and Ecclesiastical musical modes.)

© Ranna®. All rights reserved.

* If you go to the gallery's web site, www.nga.gov, and search the collection, you can see a color image of del Cossa's St Lucy. Search by accession number, 1939.1.228






REVIEWER: Ranna's art "...explores the profound while serving as a portal to beauty."
(Kennelly, E., re Island, Continent exhibition by Ranna®, Washington DC.
The author writes for Art & Antiques, Art & Auction, ARTnews.)

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