Transcription Master Studies
The Annunciation has been one of my favorite images for many years. The narrative of the Annunciation has inspired many of my paintings. These evolved into my current series of modern interpretations of the Virgin Mary. In preparation for this endeavor I took on a studio exercise creating small studies of famous Annunciation images. These Annunciation master studies are a study of art history as well as a meditation.
What is a “Transcription”?
Graham Nickson of the New York Studio School calls these sorts of studies “transcriptions”. He says “the transcription endeavors to understand the nature of the original work; it investigates the power of the work through its construction rather than emulating its look or style.” My studies are very different from the originals. For instance, they are not as polished, nor as crisp, and painted in oil rather than egg tempera. But I am trying to capture something of the mystery of the moment: something revealed, something concealed, to find my own way through this work…
After completing my first series of Mary/Annunciation paintings, I knew that I wanted to continue the series. I struggled for a number of reasons. During some of my stuck periods I created these small master studies. Perhaps by studying the images of the past I could mine inspiration for my future work. Graham Nickson says, “Great art of the past did not appear out of a vacuum; it had a continuous link with its precursors, distant and recent. It reached for the life-line of understanding the past holds out to the present.” In painting these images I become familiar with the figures – their gesture and their form — as well as with the compositions and color, and I am looking for what holds them together.
Why Study the Annunciation?
The Annunciation is the moment when God comes to earth. It is the instant when human and divine come together to become incarnate in Jesus, Savior of the world. The Incarnation, God’s greatest act of compassion, will end with the ultimate sacrifice of crucifixion. It will culminate in the resurrection, but all that has its beginning here, in the announcement to Mary of the coming of the Holy Spirit.
I began this series of master studies with the intention of meditating on other Annunciations. In this way I sought to move my own contemporary images forward, even in a moment of “stuckness”. The narrative is about waiting and the expectation of new life. At times this “new life” became a metaphor for new beginnings, forgiveness, spiritual renewal. Sometimes the time of waiting was literal, as I waited, in pregnancy, for my baby girl to be born.
How does one artist see and appreciate another artist? Many painters over the years have studied and re-interpreted those who came before them. Even though my style of painting is much different from the painters of the Renaissance, we are both seeking to communicate a truth. The appearance and dress of Mary and the angel differ among these artists, and differ greatly from the way I will eventually represent these scenes. Through making these Annunciation master studies I can learn and appreciate the way they chose to portray this timeless narrative.