I don't know what is in the mind of other painters when they work, but my mind is very busy while I paint. As I spent my day painting this man, who is in his work clothes, being as he is a genuine Hieromonk of the Orthodox Church, I was thinking of what he might be thinking. I was hoping that I might convey something, like a vanitas painting, that would project beyond the subject and into the ether of the great beyond. Without being weird or morbid.
So my first idea was kicked out immediately: that of Hamlet, Act 5, Scene 1; the famous "Alas, poor Yorick!" meditation. Now, Shakespeare was my favorite in school and I knew him well, but holding the skull of a friend must needs be counted as weird and morbid in any man's book. And Father John, as he is called, seemed not to be tragic at all, as he rested his hand on someone's skull. Rather, he seemed somehow radiant and self-transcendent; the opposite of Hamlet.
That's when it hit me. He gave me the same feeling that I had when I looked at Bernini's sculpture, The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa! Here's what Teresa herself says about her feelings following the vision she had, that inspired the sculpture:
"...The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God... It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying..."
(from her autobiography, "The Life of Teresa of Jesus" 1515-1582)
There are no "alases" in her heart, the heart that she perceived as pierced by an angel with an arrow of fire unto earthly death. This is what I could see in the priest-monk's face as he posed in silence. It was as though he were looking at a thing of beauty that only he could see, and I was finally reminded of the verse in the Bible, James 4:14:
...you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.
So I left the top part of the painting lighter, like a lifting fog, and have entitled the painting, The Vanishing Mist, so as to allude to not only the vision that vanishes when one awakes fully, but to earthly life itself: a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.
That makes me want to live a life that counts; one that is colorful and courageous, while it's still today!
The Vanishing Mist, 20x16, available through RS Hanna Gallery