My paintings come from the entire history of art. Everything is open to me. These particular paintings are about Art and Christ. They were not done - as one can imagine - on a lark. They reflect a very difficult period of my life and in fact the painting of these images helped me overcome this terrible time. My earlier Iraq War paintings from 2003 to 2006 did the same - they reflected my views of that war and of the human consequences of wars waged before and since for nationalism, greed and especially religion. They also depicted the aftermath of life in New York and the world after the World Trade Center disaster - an event I witnessed through the windows of my studio that September day in Brooklyn. I felt compelled to paint that vision of horror as well. Francisco Goya depicted in painting and prints his view of the horrors of his world.
I have always tried to paint what interested me as opposed to what interests the commercial art world. The Passion of Christ is the greatest subject in the history of art and the artists I admire the most painted the subject throughout time - Cimabue, Mantegna, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Rouault and Nolde among many others. Just this past September I was surprised to see a Willem de Kooning drawing called "Women and Crucifixion" dated 1950 in the catalog of the just concluded de Kooning retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. Knowing the independent nature of de Kooning and the way he worked and lived, it made sense to me. Considering the role of Christ in the history of art, it seems rare today to see any depiction of Christ in the contemporary art world. In fact I can't think of any artist I knew in twenty-five years of living in New York or even now in my recent travels living and painting in Paris, Berlin and now Cambridge, Massachusetts who have painted any religious subjects. This surprises me, but it surprises other people much more that I paint these images at all. If they have not met me they must wonder what kind of person I must be. I believe all the strongest images of Jesus Christ were painted by artists in emotional or physical pain - from Michelangelo's Pietà all the way up to Gauguin's many images of Christ ("Christ in the Garden of Olives", "The Yellow Christ, “The Green Christ") and Van Gogh's Pietà and various Sowers which were his surrogate image of Christ. His Pietà was itself based on Eugène Delacroix's painting of the same subject.
I am a person who responds to his environment and his emotions the only way a painter can - by painting it. Charles Baudelaire in "The Painter of Modern Life" believed an artist should be a man of his times whose role it was "to distill the eternal from the transitory." So in my Christ Paintings I show how I feel about my world and our world beyond ourselves - beyond the Me and into the Him. I used Christ's pain to reflect my own. The paintings evolved from a graphic depiction of pain and suffering in VIA DELOROSA and CROWN OF THORNS to the very last of these painting and the one with the simplest name: UNTITLED (CHRIST). A view of a man both close to us and far away. A moment of calm. After this recent experience and having passed through it, I haven't painted the subject of Christ again. These paintings speak for me.
Larry Deyab was educated at Columbia University – School of the Arts
He was apprenticed to abstract expressionists Milton Resnick and Bill Jenson just out of school in NYC
In 1998 Deyab won the Pollack-Krasner Foundation Grant
He has been a visiting artist at the Art Student’s League in NY, Bennington College, Boston College and SUNY Potsdam and has shown his work in exhibitions too numerous to count
He is currently represented by the Serge Ziegler Galerie in Zurich and Galerie Bernard Jordan in Paris.
Thank you to Chris Hessman, head of IT here at Wesley and personal friend of Larry’s who introduced me to Larry’s wonderful work and who saw that the paintings arrived here safely from Boston. I just learned yesterday that Larry had no idea that Chris had proposed an exhibition for him. I’m certainly glad it worked out. When I saw pictures of Larry’s work I was excited to see a fresh, unique and bold portrayal of the passion, a subject which has been painted countless times.
Thank you to Larry Deyab for giving the Dadian the opportunity to show the Christ Paintings as a series for the first time, for his time and for the wonderful discussions we have had over email about art.
In the last six months of preparation for the exhibition I have spent hours among images of Larry Deyab’s Christ paintings. I could see from the representations that the works were powerful and raw. The formal elements were all there: the compositions are dynamic with an interesting use of positive and negative space. The brush work is impressive and appears deceptively haphazard. Bold colors are used to heighten the emotional impact. Monochromatic colors, with the faintest hint of the myriad that lay behind, provide contrast within each work. I could see that the paintings had the potential to be mood altering. It wasn’t until I was finally able to unwrap each painting and take in all the works in juxtaposition that I was able to experience their impact.
I frequently have a very physical reaction to art whether good or bad. It is often by this response that I am able to judge the efficacy of works of art. The weight of the Christ paintings is palpable. I experienced a growing tightness in my chest while in the presence of Deyab’s paintings. The expression “It hurts so good,” comes to mind. I found myself needing to take deep breaths, repeatedly. Art is meant to be experienced and it is only by actively looking with our eyes, minds, and emotions fully engaged that we can truly “see.” Deyab’s paintings are distilled down to the very essence of an emotion and therefore very accessible.
The paintings are not conceived nor presented within the traditional narrative sense in which we are accustomed to seeing the Passion of Christ. But rather Deyab has given us close-up snap shots of agony and true suffering. We infer the cross upon Christ’s shoulders in “The Weight,” by his position. We conjure the crowd in “The Mocking of Christ.” And we are left to imagine his tormentors standing over him in “The Flagellation.” By confronting the viewer with these snap-shots Deyab has framed the Passion in terms of how our brains process and remember trauma. Victims of trauma often experience violent flashbacks and recall events without respect to the order in which they occurred.
The Christ paintings delve into the very worst of human actions and experiences, yet Deyab allows us to breathe once more with his closing of the series in “Untitled (Christ).” This painting is a leave taking, unblemished and shining in comparison to the bruised and bleeding figure we encountered just a few paintings ago. The rough broken surface of the background is smoothed in comparison to the other works; the brush strokes have lost their frenzied look. One could get lost in the dark depths of the softly painted hair. We are witness to the calm after the storm. We are left with the impression that all the suffering we have borne and will bear is not in vain. We too can emerge on the other side of our own trials and tribulations. We can survive being human.
Curator, Dadian Gallery