The little painting on the right is also inspired by the Times. But this time, there is a touch of hopefulness in the photograph that shows a Syrian refugee family fleeing Syria for Turkey (b). They hope the gate will open to what could be a new home. I am taken by all of the facial expressions -- apprehension, curiosity, optimism, exhaustion, peacefulness, tension. I love the way the child seems so secure in her mother's arms. She is able to stretch far out to see more of what is ahead for her. There is something very real here, but also something that seems so off. The photographer's camera distorts the scene, just like history seems to have distorted the lives of these people. I want to capture that distortion in what I draw, but I also want to get right the basic shapes of these people, the basic shape of humanity.
These photographs have their own distinctive power. They also have power gained through links with earlier art. I couldn't look at these photographs without thinking about earlier images of adults and children, earlier forms of the Pieta and Madonna and Child. I am sure those earlier forms influenced the contemporary photographers, consciously or unconsciously, as they took their pictures.
From the first day of working on these little paintings, I knew I had to display them in a way that would show links across time, across artists, across human experiences. The triptych form struck me as right, a triptych that would contain a version of an old painting. Triptychs are often meant to be devotional objects, meant to inspire meditation on the human condition. I think they also emerge from the artist's own process of meditation. My Syrian paintings became part of a group with my rendition of a Madonna and Child by the Venetian Renaissance artist, Giovanni Bellini, between them (c). There are many Renaissance Madonna and Child paintings, but this one with the baby Jesus so clearly prefiguring the dead Christ seemed especially fitting.
By the time I was working with the Bellini, Christmas was upon us. I turned the triptych into a piece to share during the holidays. While working, it was easy to remember those many, many Christmases ago, when as a very young girl, I copied the images on the Christmas cards that came into our home. My favorite cards to copy were those with angels and with the mother and child. Amazing how so much changes, and so much remains the same ...
(a) The photograph was taken in Aleppo by Zein Al-Rifai, Agence France Presse/Getty Images. It appeared in the February 5, 2014 issue of the New York Times.
(b) This photograph was taken at Turkish border by Ulas Yunus Tosun/EPA. It appeared in the September 22.2014 issue of the New York Times.
(c) There are many reproductions of this Bellini painting in books and on the internet. Looking across a number and seeing how they differed from one another, I wished I could see the painting "up close and in person." I searched the internet to find the current location of the painting.
Lo and behold, it is in New York, at the Metropolitan Museum. I dropped whatever I was doing, jumped on the subway, and stood and looked at the painting for as long as I needed to. The joys of living in New York City.
Below is a slideshow that gives a closer view of each part of the triptych.