Amongst a flurry of gallery-goers bustling along the charming pedestrian Chung King Road in Los Angeles’ Chinatown district, I spot “Baptism”--one of Diane Silver’s monumental blood-soaked abstracts--perched in the corner of the intimate Coagula Curatorial Gallery. One of seven new works in her Sacrament series which chronologically walks the viewer through the sacred milestones of Catholic life, including Baptism, Communion, Confession, Confirmation, Holy Orders, Matrimony, and Extreme Unction. "Baptism" looks as if it has been slathered in the griminess of a well-trodden sidewalk and violently sliced down the center in a move that echoes “Stations of the Cross” artist Barnett Newman’s famed zips. Is it a take on Original Sin and the notion of a tainted soul at birth? Absolutely. Here, Silver strips Catholicism’s heavily-weighted symbolism down to its very essence, its most pure abstract form.
Raised in the church by a family of artists, it seems only natural that Silver employed this mode of expression to examine and question the teachings thrust upon her as a child. Perhaps representing this programming she endured, her thick layers of impasto paint wrestle with binary code embedded in nearly all of the canvases. Much like the Catholic church’s own history, Silver’s search for understanding, truth, and freedom is not without violence. Her work reveals a constant war-like struggle with her own upbringing. Her surfaces often feature peeling and scraped paint, broken glass and crushed bone. In “Confession,” this brutality is perfectly exemplified by a gaping and dripping wound barely concealed by a gossamer-thin linen bandage.
The bodily donations found on the Silver’s canvases are real and the artist’s own. “I usually add a bit of blood in most of the things that I do. I feel like it adds an actual physical part of me as opposed to just a mental part. The blood I thought was pretty significant regarding the sacraments because the idea in the Catholic religion is about miracles and the body and blood of Christ and things changing,” the artist confessed to me over the phone prior to the opening. Amidst the muted greys, whites, and beiges that dominate Sacrament’s color palette, this inky claret fluid shocks the eye and demands attention. “I use color to make a point,” Silver adds and while her tints point to upheaval, they aren’t pessimistic. Case in point: the primary shades featured in the series actually lighten in tone as you move through it, perhaps implying a battle slowly, but surely won.
Sacrament is a celebration of freedom of thought and expression through an acceptance and of Catholicism and its follies. It demonstrates that religious art is as relevant today as it was its medieval prime, as Silver argues,“It’s a place to to think, to ponder.”
Diane Silver: Sacrament will be on display at Coagula Curatorial until October 4, 2015.