A song works across time the way a painting works across space … The song tells me what to do. The less my brain is involved, the more I trust the music. Often, I don’t know what the song is about until after it’s done, and not even always then. – Jean Sibelius
This collision of earth and sky myths (Nordic pagan and Catholic Christian) was inspired after seeing Michelangelo’s delicate, seemingly lighter-than-air Pieta in Rome, and then seeing in Helsinki a rigidly-posed attempt to reproduce that masterpiece, that someone had whittled from a couple birch logs and painted.
I’m only half Finnish, so don’t stop reading.
My absorption of Finland’s Kalevala mythology served me as the common text between the two Pietas. Jesus and Lemminkainen were both mama’s boys who ran afoul, died and were reborn, each in His own way. Jesus rode into Jerusalem, tied his ass to a tree, got drunk and acted out, this time with unfortunate results, and the feisty hunter Lemminkainen defied his mother Kyllikki’s advice and unsuccessfully fought a monster in the waters of Tuonela. Both mothers grieved and forgave. Lemminkainen was re-assembled and Jesus was reborn.
This cavas takes its shape to suggest that it might have been “liberated” from a niche in a church in wartime Europe, was perhaps hidden, but was ultimately rediscovered by the night watchman in a warehouse near Hagerstown. The large mushroom in the background I once saw on an enchanting hike in the woods in California. Jesus–Lemminkainen and Mary–Kyllikki in this painting both wear traditional Finnish costumes.
This painting was also informed by the moving first movement of Henryck Gorecki’s Third Symphony (“Songs of Sorrow”), about mothers losing children. (The bass strings sob for the first 10 minutes, then Dawn Upshaw finishes you off.) Listen to it.