In August 2012, octogenarian outsider artist Cecilia Gimenez made a statement to the world with her innovative restoration of Ecce Homo (Behold the Man), a beloved fresco by Elias Garcia Martinez enshrined in the Sanctuary of Mercy Church in Spain. The original painting had eroded over the centuries, coming dangerously close to complete effacement. Working of her own accord, without the blessings of any authority other than her own faith, Gimenez took it upon herself to restore the painting, and breath new life into it in the process. By creating the work as what some might call an act of vandalism, Gimenez combines the subversive spirit of graffiti street-culture with the reverence of religious tradition, reminding us of the revolutionary nature of Christianity, a faith that was outlawed in its early days.
The unconventional nature of the restored painting tells a story. The fringes of the painting are very faithful to the original, particularly in the cloth. However, the painting becomes looser, more expressionistic as we move to the center. This is reflective of how modern people have grown comfortable with the superficial window dressings of Christianity, yet tensions secretly boil at the core. The original painting depicts Christ’s moment of doubt on the cross, as described in PSalm 22, where he wonders “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Gimenez gives this moment of agony a powerful contemporary spin by depicting Christ not as a handsome anglicized man as we’ve been conditioned to expect, but as an ape!
This is a reference to a lesser known line from Psalm 22, “but I am a worm, not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people.” By depicting Christ with simian features, the piece smolders with the passion and agony of contemporary man, struggling to reconcile religion and science. Are we the divine children of god or the discordant descendants of apes? The lingering power of this question has lead contemporary worshipers to redub the fresco “Ecce Mono” or “Behold The Monkey.”
The painting daringly trails off at the mouth of Christ, left unfinished, imploring us to come to our own conclusion. Though the words of the bible are to be venerated as the word of God, the final sermon has yet to be delivered. Though icons are beautiful expressions of faith, the real substance of Christianity is found in a personal communion with God, a cornerstone of Catholicism.
In modern times, we tend to think of religion as dogmatic, set in stones that were carved hundreds of years before our time. With a few dexterous strokes of her self trained brush, Cecilia Gimenez cuts down this entropic notion and reminds us that the Church is a living, breathing thing, just as we are.
Since restoring Ecce Homo and putting her local Church on the map of the global art scene, Gimenez has been invited to restore many other classic works of Western art.
Art-Eater is pleased to present you with an exclusive preview of Cecelia Gimenez’s upcoming projects!
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