Friday, April 15, 2011

Portraits that Make A City

The Gallery is proud to share the portraits of fifteen individuals who, in our opinion, have helped shape the personality of Bowling Green, Kentucky. They are by no means the only ones but these folks came to mind quickly when brainstorming about personality, visibility, and accomplishments.

You may wonder about the Notable or Notorious title. We felt that we are all notable at sometime in our life and with some people, same with notorious. It truly is a matter of perspective. We all have our loving side, our generous side and yet deep down we know there's a little devil lurking in there somewhere too!

We gave four Bowling Green residents the honor of being included posthmusithly: Ernst Hogan, George Ann Hobson Duncan, Pauline Tabor and Dr. McCormack . It was our feeling that these people and their personalities were slipping from the collective memory of the city. We hope our exhibit reintroduces them to you.

Let us know which Notable or Notorious person inspires, intrigues, or just interests you. We would love to read your thoughts and comments. Better yet, suggest someone you think is worthy of inclusion in Notable or Notorious II.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


The most widespread and important of the Christian symbols is the cross. It is universally recognized as the instrument on which Christ was crucified, died for our sins and redeemed us in the eyes of God the Father. Many of the faithful sign themselves with the cross, “a repetition in motion of the symbol of our salvation,” and are blessed with the sign by the priest as they begin and end prayer. Crosses decorate our homes and adorn our bodies.

“Properly speaking, a crucifix is a cross to which there is attached, in relief an image of the body of Christ.” Simple literal representations of the crucifixion as relief in doors and walls began to appear in the 5th century. The Middle Ages continued to create literal images of the crucifixion but heightened the violence suffered by Christ’s body. Icons, a Byzantine art form, often depicted a pitiable figure of Christ “dead and yet alive.” Artists of the Northern Renaissance style kept a harsh emotionalism as seen in Matthias Grunewald’s, Isenheim Altarpiece (1515). The 17th and 18th centuries saw a rise in dramatic representation of Christ as in Rubens, The Raising of the Cross (1609-10).

Modern day portrayals of the crucifixion are much more symbolic or stylized and devoid of violence.

Meditations on the Holy Cross is a series of paintings, drawings and sculpture by John Warren Oakes. Oakes, a Professor of Art in the Art Department at Western Kentucky University, began the series in December 2008 and has completed over 100 paintings in oil, acrylic and encaustic, plus over 600 drawings and a dozen low relief sculptures based on the Crucifixion.

Following his return from a sabbatical in England during the summer of 2008, John began searching for a new direction in which to take his art. His wife, Libby, suggested that he investigate The Shroud of Turin which by its nature continues to intrigue viewers with its power. But John felt that The Shroud offered no options for further artistic interpretation, “Where could I go without minimizing the effect of the original.”

During his months in Arizona, meditating and studying images of the past, the idea behind Meditations began to take shape. Drawing on his insights developed at a workshop on iconography in 2005, John felt moved to create sacred images that people were familiar with but in a more contemporary style.

Although the central figure of Christ is immediately recognizable in each piece, Oakes’ approach allows the viewer’s personal history to “fill in the rest” of the composition. He expresses this concept by combining multiple visions of the crucifixion integrated with abstract forms and transparent layers to suggest rather than depict the event. Hints of traditional images are barely visible. The viewer contributes personal memories of the historical subject completing the image. “One obvious challenge,” John admitted,” was to include enough detail to suggest a historical representation of the subject without losing the shroud-like mystery as the suggestion of the form is revealed.”

In the series he has included shapes and forms that suggest the subject without detailing. He uses value and color contrast to emphasize the feeling of internal light emanating from the figure surrounded by ambiguous space and darkness. His personal mark making and brush strokes add texture by over-painting in a scumbling fashion. His color is triadically harmonized and limited to warm darks with yellows and orange tints chromatically making value shifts. He employs complimentary cool blues and violets which contrast with the warm colors. Fr. Ray Goetz saw, “More light out of darkness, massive, solid looking cross but looks like it is floating, ‘If I be lifted up…”

The compositions are basically symmetrical with movement of forms emphasized. Figure elements are repeated in various positions to create movement, rhythm and a repetition of form. “I am interested in depicting the life energy that emanates from Christ, not the crucifixion itself. It is the transcendence of the spirit on which I focus. To paint the crucifixion in a non-sentimental but emotionally charged manner is my aim.”

“I am personally inspired to do this series. By meditating on the crucifixion I hope my relationship with the subject will grow and contribute to the effect this image has on the viewer. These are not for worship but to inspire and create a spiritual experience.” Indeed, upon viewing the work one senses his respect for the subject and the feeling of life of the spirit emanating after the death of the body which significantly contributes to emotional impact of his art.

John has posted many of the pieces on both on The Gallery at 916 website and Since the series began he has received hundreds of comments that reflect an intense personal association with the work. “You know you are bearing witness to something great when you forget to take a breath in between viewings.” wrote Courtney Collins Bevins. “I see sadness within sadness here, Jesus/humility embraced by the father/grace.” Jennifer Bell commented. “It is lovely and I am moved.”

In addition to viewing Meditations on the Holy Cross on line, selected work from the series is on exhibit in several locations throughout the city during the month of April. The Presbyterian Church, 1003 State St. houses the largest collection and will host a reception for the artist on Friday, April 29th from 5:30-7:30. Christ Episcopal Church, 1215 State St. has created a gallery/ prayer space for reflection and prayer that will be open to the public during the day. St. Joseph Catholic Church, 434 Church St. has selected pieces for the sanctuary and the nave to enhance Lenten services and provide additional spiritual nourishment for all. Several pieces have been selected by Holy Spirit Catholic Church, Three Springs Road, for private meditation and prayer and may be viewed during day time hours. For 24 hour viewing, The Gallery at 916, 916 State St. has in addition to work inside the gallery several pieces displayed in the window. Additional work can be viewed through the windows at 1019 State St., which is next to The Presbyterian Church.

“I hope that a contemporary approach to this historical subject will contribute to the devotion of the subject of the crucifixion of Christ.”

John Warren Oakes was an Albert Dorne Scholar at the Art Students League of New York. He received the M.A. and M.F.A. degrees from the School of Art and Art History at the University of Iowa and did graduate work at Harvard University where he received the C.A.A. He is a member of ArtWorks Coalition of Bowling Green Kentucky, The Sedona Visual Artists Coalitions of Sedona, Arizona, Encaustic Artists International, The Encaustic Art Institute of New Mexico and International Encaustic Artists.

The reception for John Warren Oakes on April 29 is free and open to the public and will be presented by all participating venues. During the exhibition, visitors may register and list their church affiliation at The Gallery at 916. At the conclusion of the exhibit, the church with the most viewers will be given a painting of their choice from the exhibition.