Two years ago I was approached by a young couple with a surprising proposition: they wanted to commission me to paint Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper". In my style was the only specification. I felt alternately daunted, disinterested, resistant and, mostly, out of my depth. Nonetheless it was a tempting challenge and me being me, as long as it doesn't involve bungie jumping or eating food that still wriggles on the plate, I'm up for it.
As I set about constructing this large painting, I was progressively overcome with surges of melancholic nostalgia. I had been here before. As a floundering teenager at a convent boarding school in England. In spite of the involuntary giggling fits which would invariably possess me during chapel attendance, I was deeply moved by the tragic human drama that surrounds the story of Christ. In fact the two influences which I adopted as my role models during my recalcitrant youth were my beloved father, and Christ. Indeed for a time I confess that I toyed with the idea of becoming a nun. I did, honest. Until my progressive inclination towards drunken debauchery scuppered that noble aspiration.
So, fast forward several decades where I am totally disenchanted with and dismissive of organised religion. I have found my own path of spiritual enlightenment pieced together from the various bridges I have crossed and burned. I'm working the midnight hour, playing tearjerker music, sipping my way through a bottle of wine, carefully applying brush strokes to capture the varied expressions of the characters in this dramatic scene. And I am simultaneously uplifted and melancholic.
Probably in much the same way as the impact of an exquisite fragrance would send a perfumer into indescribable raptures, this painting was, piece by piece, unravelling me. Splintering me into a multitude of sub-personalities.
The distraught lover leaning away from the shockwave of disbelief. The devoted defender rising up to deflect the inseen bullet. The miscreant slowly crushed under the weight of remorse. And of course, as I defined the heaviest of faces, cloaked in a thin veneer of loving resignation, I was the betrayed.
All this play-acting was emotionally exhausting. It was dredging up all my deep-seated memories of a turbulent youth. Suddenly I felt hooked on it. It was disturbing yet invigourating. Perhaps feeling a bit rutted down in the same-old same-old, I needed to find another vein of emotional energy and tap into it. I was going in reverse in order to move forward. So I spent the next two years consumed by and obsessed with this tragic narrative.
The end result is a collection of 20 large paintings reinterpreting masterpieces depicting the passion of Christ which are to be exhibited during Easter. See event details here.
Building up the painting after Caravaggio's Entombment of Christ.
*line from #leonardcohen song #halleluja