A Study of the Virgin in Marker
I bought my first piece of art in 2008. I was living in San Francisco at the time.
It was a drawing by Bay Area artist Annie Del Pozzo. The woman herself was warm, friendly, and happy to talk about her art. The piece that I’d bought from her is one that hangs in bedroom. I often ponder what it represents.
The image itself is very simple. It’s a line drawing made with markers. It depicts a woman, with long, curly black hair. Her skin is fair, but her lips and eyes are dark. There is a halo over her hair that is accented with vibrant yellow marker. The woman is wearing some sort of tunic or robe. And on her chest is a sacred heart, the kind that is common in Catholic iconography. She holds a black cross in one hand. Strands of rosary beads are wrapped loosely around the other.
I was instantly curious the first time I saw this drawing. I then asked Ms. Del Pozzo about what had inspired this image
“I drew it based on a photograph of a woman.” she replied.
“Did someone model for this?” I asked.
“No, it was just from a photograph.”
“This could be a female Christ. Or, it could be a modern image of the Virgin Mary.” I remarked.
“Oh, yeah,” Ms. Del Pozzo said. “I guess you could say that.”
I paid her fifteen bucks for it, cash. In order to do this, I had to withdraw twenty bucks from an ATM. And like a complete moron, I left my card in the machine. Fortunately, for me, the machine ate my card. I was able to retrieve it the next day from the bank. I don’t read into that at all. I bought a spiritual image, and the machine eats my card. I can’t blame God for this one. The incident at the ATM was purely my fault.
I took the drawing home that night. As it was placed in a clear poly-bag (magazine-sized*) this made preserving it, and hanging it, easier. I simply tacked it up with adhesive poster hangers. Viola, I had some locally produced art on my wall…and little else. I had an overly expensive bedroom in a mid-grade apartment building at the time. While I had little money for furnishings, this certainly brightened the room up a bit. Come to think of it, all my furniture at the time, save for the bed, was salvaged from the sidewalk. Nothing in the room matched, including this Virgin/Womanly Christ image.
I was going through a transitional period at the time. I was still very new to California, and didn’t know what to make of it. I accepted the different environment I found myself in, for better or worse. I barely knew anybody at the time, save for the friends I’d eventually meet. I didn’t consider myself to be religious, though I’d started to attend church. Soon after, I’d start sessions with my first therapist, Jessica.
So this was a very odd time in my life. I had come to California to be somebody else. And as my current/new therapist Julie once remarked, “I think you found that you can’t run away from yourself.”
She was right; I couldn’t run away from myself. As for becoming a different person, that’s another story.
There I was, teetering on the edge of belief and non-belief, and I bought this odd drawing. I would have been disgusted with anything religious a year prior. Even prayer cards would put me off. But this image of The Sacred Feminine (it beats typing out Virgin/Christ) captivated me. I think it was because I was seeing God in a different way. I don’t know if Del Pozzo intended for this sort of reaction. But the drawing had that reaction in me. I wasn’t seeing God as threatening. Instead, I saw an image of God, or Godliness as something human. I saw an image of a beautiful woman who wasn’t scary in her holiness. She wasn’t floating on a cloud, spitting lightning, or bleeding tears. Instead, she was simply attired. She was simple, and yet complex, in her divinity. The simplicity was the lack of clichéd trappings. The complexity lies in the secret of her identity.
I then understood why, even though we know who The Mona Lisa was. People still go bonkers over her identity. I had an even bigger mystery on my hands. I was one that I couldn’t look up in an encyclopedia to get the answers. Instead, I just had to sit and think.
I was reminded of two things. One was something that Jessica had once told me. The other was something that Alan Jones, the former rector of Grace Cathedral had said.
First, Alan Jones had said, “A human being is where God chooses to dwell.”
Second, Jessica had told me, “People often ignore their inner divinity.”
While writing this, I’m reminded of something that Julie often tells me, “You have inner wisdom.”
The first statement is an old saying. I asked Reverend Jones about it, after my first visit to Grace Cathedral. It’d been years since I’d been to church, and didn’t know what to expect. Instead of hellfire and brimstone, his sermon was gentle. The main point of it was just that, “A human being is where God chooses to dwell.”
I should point out at this point that Alan Jones sounded like Sir Ian McKellen when he spoke. Both men are British, and yet look very different from one another. Rev. Jones is tall, white-bearded and wore long, black robes. Sir Ian is famous for playing a tall, bearded character that wore gray robes. See, a massive difference there.
I said to him, “I’d never heard that phrase before.”
He replied, “Oh, it’s an old desert saying. It goes back centuries.”
I was reminded of that Bible verse that had become a cliché, “Your body is a temple of the Lord’s presence.”
However, that phrase always sounded a bit scary, like one was possessed. But to hear, “A human being is where God chooses to dwell.” That was something very different.
A week later, Jessica said to me, “I see a lot of inner beauty in you.”
I had no clue what she meant. Frankly, I didn’t know at that time that men could be thought of as beautiful. Wasn’t that a feminine trait? Or, so I was lead to be think. Pop Culture is the reverse of milk; it does a mind bad.
I asked her to define it for me. It was a week later, but Jessica hadn’t forgotten.
First, she sent me through a labyrinthine series of questions about what I thought she’d meant. After nearly thirty minutes of frustrating the hell out of me, in loving way, I asked, “Why don’t you just tell me what you meant?”
“Because if I do,” Jessica said, “Something might be lost in the process.”
Half our session was gone.
Finally, with a smile, Jessica said, “You just want to say, ‘Tell me the answer, damn it!’”
“Yes,” I said. “I’d be more polite about it. But I’m getting irritated here.”
Jessica took a deep breath.
She then said, “Here is what I meant when I said, ’I see a lot of inner beauty in you.’ I see someone who wants to cast off the influence of their culture, their family, and their upbringing. I see someone who wants to bring forward their inner light.”
I thought about it for a moment. And I was reminded of her comment about inner divinity. The phrase inner light reminded me of it.
“I certainly do want to cast off the influence of my family and culture.” I said. “I agree with that. I don’t know if I’d call that beauty. It might just be stubbornness. It’s a refusal to accept what was given to me. I don’t believe in fate, and so I don’t follow it. I hate that cliché, ’play the cards you’re dealt.’ It just suggests that you’re a victim of fate. I don’t believe that. I don’t want to be a victim.”
“Maybe that‘s your inner beauty?” Jessica said.
And then, there’s the inner wisdom that Julie talks about. She claims that it’s a sort of guiding influence that protects one from harm. I think that it’s more a component of experience, than anything else. One isn’t born with this wisdom. One develops it from being hurt. It’s exposure to the wrong thing that shows you the right thing. But what if it were something greater? Was it something outside the self?
If God dwells within us, then we inherited something some heaven. The Greeks called it Psyche, or animating force. Putting aside the myth of Psyche and Cupid, let’s look at that word.
Animating Force… An animating force sustains you. It makes you a person, on some level. In psychology, the psyche is your mind. Your mind itself is an animating force. But what drives that force? Is it some inner divinity? If that’s the case, then maybe the woman is both Virgin and Christ, because the divine dwells within her.
I hope you laid down some plastic. I may have just blown your mind, and made an awful mess inside your head. I do hope the stains come out.
Perhaps this woman in the drawing is human, but acknowledges her spirit? Maybe the soul seeks because it was disconnected from the divine when it was forged? The soul then seeks reconnection. And everyone one of us is trying to reconnect in our own way; whether in groups, or in solitude.
Perhaps the great shame of our culture is that we don’t acknowledge this side of ourselves? I don’t mean that in a hellfire and brimstone way. I mean it in the sense that we often undervalue ourselves. Others can undervalue us as well. The result is that we become opponents in an “us vs. them” mentality.
Though I don’t belong to a particular faith, I know I have a soul. I know that it seeks, and continues to seek. And I’m alright with that. I feel that the answers cannot be found in any building, book, or one person. I feel that the answers have to be found by experience. And everybody has a difference experience of the world, and come to different answers.
So, I ask you to look at Annie Del Pozzo’s drawing. Think about what answers you come up with. You can’t be right or wrong. It’s all about how your experience interprets the image.
Copyright Riley Joyce 2013
*Magazine bags are polymer plastic bags used to preserve magazines. Similar to the bags used to preserve comic books. They come in a rang of sizes, for use on differently cut periodicals; examples, digest-sized magazines, current-sized magazines, etc.