Virginia Billeaud Anderson
Lynda Frese wrote recently to announce her photo collage paintings are in this year’s International Contemporary Art Exhibition at Gallery Le Logge in Assisi’s Piazza del Comune, which means the art is ennobled by the first century B.C. Temple of Minerva which is also in that piazza and which has one of the most splendid facades in antiquity. Minerva’s Corinthian capitals are so lovely they seem to challenge the misguided decision to turn the goddesses’ house into a church.
Lynda Frese, Le Grande Salle, 2013, Photographs, egg tempura on panel, 16” x 20” (Exhibited in Assisi through December 8)
Frese is not new to Italy; she has had residencies and exhibitions including some at the American Academy in Rome, but the fact that many of her art images were photographed in Italy makes it a fitting exhibition venue. Further, she employs the technique of painting over collage elements with Northern Italian antique pigments used to repair church frescoes. When I first encountered her art in 2011 at Redbud Gallery in Houston I was so moved by the blue-toned egg tempura pigment she managed to snatch from Italian restoration artists, I described it as “that celestial blue Giotto stole from Cimabue.”
Last year Frese published Pacha Mama: earth realm, a collection of artworks with haunting combinations of myth-based and landscape images that proximate life as organic, pulsating and unified. By straddling human consciousness across demons, saints, Paleolithic cave paintings, the Peruvian goddess Pachamama, grottoes, streams, Neolithic Venus statuary and stone circles, they articulate sacred connectedness freighted with birth-decay-death cyclicality. In one painting a Hindu deity accompanies Romanesque carvings of the Virgin near a mountain pool, in another medieval religious frescoes float above a rainforest. Complimenting earth realm’s images are essays, poetry and Sanskrit verse, and the book includes a refreshing “Acknowledgements” in which Frese expressed equal gratitude to local saloons as to her collaborators and university colleagues.
Lynda Frese, House of Worship, 2010, Egg tempera paint, photographs, gold leaf on wood, 7.5” x 10” (earth realm series)
That area around Assisi is a pretty good place to realize the particular aspect of life’s unity based on fecundity and regeneration. You can’t go two feet without encountering depictions of that feminine principle in the form of the Virgin Mother whose god-birthing Queen of Heaven mythological history and iconography form a continuum with ancient goddesses of earth and abundance. A place to find the Virgin’s image by Cimabue, Giotto, Simone Martini and Pietro Lorenzetti is in the Basilica of Saint Francis where Francis is buried (d. 1226) and where pilgrims go to view his various relics such as raggedy clothes. It was Francis who began the business of saints getting the stigmata (hysteria?) which guarantees sainthood.
It’s often said that Italians invented their own hierarchy for divinity which ranks the Virgin Mary (Madonna) above Jesus. You don’t doubt this in and around Assisi, Perugia, and other Umbrian hill towns where people use the phrase “Madonna” for exclamatory emphasis, the way Sicilians say “Mamma Mia.” “Madonna” is a standard reply and means “oh” and “really” and “how awful” and “wonderful” similarly to our interchanging “really” with “Jesus Christ” or “no shit.” I once traveled to the thoroughly medieval town of Spello to see Roman antiquities and paintings by Pinturicchio at Sant Andrea (begun 1025) and at Santa Maria Maggiore (1159), this second church dedicated to the Virgin and constructed over a temple dedicated to Juno and Vesta, and while there encountered inebriated guys pulling large wine barrels on a wooden cart, Dionysian style. Outside Spello’s ancient walls is the small church of the Madonna of Spella where supplicants talk to the Madonna images in the frescoes and leave written invocations such as a 1586 reminder to do something about the famine.
Lynda Frese, Introitus, (detail), 2010, Egg tempera paint, photographs, gold leaf, 10” x 24” (earth realm series)
Frese didn’t have to travel to India, Crete, Peru and all those other places to realize unity of life artistic inspiration. There is plenty of that where she lives in south Louisiana. The Rhode Island native moved there in 1986 to be a professor of Art at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette. South Louisiana is grounded in Virgin Mary mythology extensively represented in statuary form. Virgin iconography is so prevalent it suggests the human imagination must have its gods in order to conceptualize existence and mortality, for as the Council of Ephesus determined, there could be no erosion of Artemis’s temple and cult without substituting Mary as deity. In south Louisiana the earth-spirit bountiful aspect of the goddess’ totality is palpable - shrimp boat captains, rice farmers, and sugar cane harvesters pray rosaries and light candles to ensure success and profit. Mary’s corresponding role is to intercede in personal matters - “Virgin Mary, help us win the game on Friday night,” “Mary, make Daddy not drink so much,” “Mother Mary, get those children to act right!” So if you want to see how deeply the human psyche longs for ordering through mythological and iconographic intimations of wholeness, unity and abundance, drive through the towns of Breaux Bridge, Delcambre, Arnaudville, or along the canal at Dulac, or down the highway to Grand Isle and witness the unbelievably high quantity of goddess statues, all there to mirror human fears and desires. None of this escapes Frese of course who artistically imagines sacred deities, the god Shiva for instance, in inconceivable places like Holly Beach, Louisiana.