Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Saint

This photo of Father Damien was taken within a two weeks of his death. The photo was taken by William Brigham. Father Damien's right arm is in a sling made by Mother Marianne from a red silk scarf.

"Look at my hands, all the wounds are healing and the crust is becoming black...I have seen so many lepers die, that I cannot be mistaken. Death is not far off. I have seen visions of the good God calling me to celebrate Easter with Him. May God be blessed for it. " Father Damien, 1889. This quote is taken from the book, "The Lands of Father Damien" by James E. Broker.

This is an ink jet print that I am hand coloring and adding back the detail that is lost by way of the fact that this is a second or third generation print of an image whose exposure wasn't the best, let alone the quality and sharpness of it.

A detail of his hand that I had 'touched up'. Because I still have to make a laser color copy of this image and do a gel transfer from it, I leave the image in an exaggerated state that you see here. Most of the touch up work is done with Berol Prismacolor colored pencils (brand name of the pencil).

In making a decision as to which image to choose to represent him in "The Saint", I chose this one because it shows him in the advanced stages of leprosy; a state that he had seen in the residents of the Kalaupapa peninsula every day for 16 years. An important part of the decision is to NOT visually lessen the appearance of the disease. When I began this project, the selection of images via Google in regards to leprosy was not nearly as much as there is at this writing. Interesting, huh? Last night I noted that there was so many more images of people afflicted with leprosy. I'm sure the impending canonization date has a lot to do with it.

Here, the canvas is being prepared with the background color.

Making sure that I am satisfied with the gel skin before I adhere it to the canvas.

And, a snippet of the final image.

To become a saint, three miracles have to be documented as an intercession of an illness. To find out what the third miracle was click here for the video clip that explains what that miracle was.

Of course, if you want to see the images from this series in its entirety, please be sure to come to the exhibition for the show. Click here to view the flyer for the show. I am also in the process of creating a site dedicated to this Damien Series. Check back to it for updates for a possible one month exhibition and for more detailed information that will be added for each of these 'paintings'. I will be going home in January and plan to make a pilgrimage to the peninsula, God willing. Here's the link for the blog:

The Leper

The culprit. A bacterium, Mycobacterium leprae (image is from Wikipedia's description of leprosy).

By 1884, just 11 years after his arrival to the peninsula, Father Damien was diagnosed with leprosy.

I made a "skin" of the image by way of the gel transfer method and added more color from the back of the skin. The bacterium isn't really this color. This is a microscope slide image which is treated with a stain to differentiate the cells.

This image of Father Damien was taken shortly before he died. The photo was taken by Dr. Sidney Swift who felt that it was important to document this man's death. Shortly before Damien's death, the doctor arrived at the priest's rectory with a box full of glass plates and a camera mounted on a tripod (from "The Lands of Father Damien" by James Brocker).

I did a Lazertran transfer with this image and created a border that should bring to mind the image of blood. Blood that symbolizes the sacrifice he made day in and day out without hesitation. Blood because it is the vehicle for the disease, leprosy.

When this image was taken, the sisters that he had repeatedly asked the Diocese to send to Kalaupapa to help in the care of the patients, had just arrived. As Mother Marianne had said to Damien that, "It took them one month to travel by boat from Syracuse, New York, to Honolulu. From Honolulu, it took 5 years for them to get to Kalaupapa" due to the reluctance of the Diocese. In less than two weeks of their arrival, Damien died on April 15, 1889. He died shortly before Holy Week (Easter). He had hoped to be with his Lord by Easter.

It was this photo of Father Damien that went around the world after he died that became the agent of change that Damien had so hoped for. It was as though in his death, he became the 'poster child' for leprosy. It raised public awareness to such a degree that it finally made a difference for the people of Kalaupapa.

Here is a small portion of the completed image that I've named "The Leper". The image of the bacterium is merged with the image of Father Damien.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Healer

I think there were many people wondering about the specific process to this image (I had posted it on Facebook). So, here's a bit more detail about the process:

This first image is an ink jet print of an image of a leper. I wanted to use an image that really gave a close up of the disfigurement of the disease.

The ink jet image was then given further tweaks by hand coloring in areas with colored pencils (Berol Prismacolor). It was important to capture all the details of the disfigurement. After this, I then made a color laser copy of the image and coated it with self-leveling clear tar gel. When it was dry, I soaked the paper off of the back of the image to yield an acrylic skin of just the image. I ended up doing this twice because the first time, I scrubbed the image too much and lost a lot of detail. In addition to that, there were bubbles that had formed that went unnoticed until it was too late. Re-dos happen a lot sometimes in this kind of process!

Blank canvas (already gessoed) with first layer of paint going on it. There is also a special layer of acrylic to help the paint disperse more in a watercolor-like fashion.

The next few layers. By now I've done some additional tweaking and bringing out the more subtle elements of the paint.

In this step, I am creating a special substrate to place the skin of the face on. I used a soft modeling paste and used the skin as a reference as to where I wanted the nose and lips to be. The substrate was so thick that it took about two weeks for it to dry all the way through! I had to score the back of it to let air get to the very middle. You can also see that this is the skin that I had scrubbed too much of the image off of and if you click on the image to get a closer view, you will see where the unwanted bubbles landed!

Here, I am gluing, or adhering the skin to the substrate. I attached just the nose and the bridge of the nose area first and let it dry. Then I went back in and did the rest. In this step, I got over zealous about moving forward and used the WRONG product to glue my image down with! I used a matte medium which gave the image a cloudy, milky kind of look. UGH! I meant to use the semi-gloss gel which dries transparent. This meant that I had to go back over the surface of the image with colored pencils and oils sticks to bring forward the details that I had lost.

So, here is the re-worked image. There are still the 'bandages' that will be wrapped around the face.

I call this image, "The Healer" because on a daily basis, Father Damien cleaned and changed the bandages of the lepers. He was horrified that the residents were left to their own with no personnel to give medicine and keep the gaping wounds clean and bandaged. Some patients would have large chunks of their sides or limbs or digits rotted away and full of maggots and infection. The disease of leprosy also affects the nerve endings to the areas of affliction. There is no physical pain that can be sensed in the areas of the disease.

In a letter to his parents in August 1873 (just several months after he got there), he wrote, "My greatest pleasure is to serve the Lord in his poor sick children rejected by other people." And, in another letter in 1874, he wrote, "In tears I sow the good seed among my poor lepers. From morning to night, I am amidst heartbreaking physical and moral misery. Still, I try to appear gay, so as to rise the courage of my patients."

Daily, he strove to not only heal their wounds, but their spirits.

I also wanted to visually convey how horrific this disease looks. I wanted you, the viewer to experience first hand the reaction you might feel had this been a face in the flesh. I know that I had achieved what I was going for when my son (who is nearly 18 years old) and his friends visibly retract when seeing this image for the first time. I invite them to touch it and they find it difficult to do so.

And in that retraction, lies the magnitude of how shallow our compassion can be when we thought otherwise.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Advocate

If one were to write a job description for all that Damien did, somewhere near or at the top of the list would be, 'advocate'. He wrote numerous letters fervently and often. He wrote to the State Board of Health. He wrote to his superiors in the Diocese. Some made enough of a difference to nudge the powers that be. I'm sure, often, he felt that his letters fell on deaf ears. He persisted, nonetheless.

In this letter to the Board of Health dated December 6, 1877, he wrote: "You are aware that for the general welfare of the lepers I have sacrificed my health and all I have in this world...Your most humble and obedient servant, J. Damien, Catholic Priest." (excerpt taken from "The Lands of Father Damien" by James H. Brocker: p. 21)

This is the background painting for "The Advocate". There is intent in all the color choices that I have made for each in this series of nine pieces. I pre-selected all of the colors that I had intended to use in this series, set them out and restrained from pulling other colors out as I worked. This makes the series more cohesive as a group, yet still lending a sense of individuality for each one.

Here, I am using skin or gel transfers again and making composition decisions as to the layout of the piece and how I want it to look when I am done. The image I used here was done by artist, Edward Clifford who came all the way from England in December of 1888 to pay his last respects to the dying priest. In this image (which was created within 6 months of Damien's death), all signs of leprosy were left out.

Damien wrote countless letters. What letters survived are in the state archives of Hawaii (and I imagine some are in Belgium). Because of Damien's activism and letter writing campaign, he did raise the level of awareness to the public. Many from around the world were moved by his work and dedication. Some would send him money and before any authorities could tell him what to do with it, he would buy clothes and shoes for the children there. Or food. Or building supplies.

A 'snippet' of the final image with the letter incorporated into the piece.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Girls

As always, I start with an under painting or a background painting.

This is the back side of a gel skin image of the hala (pandanus or screw pine) tree. It was the only shelter Damien had his first few weeks at the peninsula. He slept under it at night. Here, I am painting and adding color to the image as it will show through from the back. Additional painting is done on the flip side too.

The significance of including this tree with the young girls is that the children that were sent to the Kalaupapa Peninsula were torn from their families. They were young and vulnerable and fell prey to the older and stronger adults there. Not long after he arrived, he soon brought law and order to the population and essentially, became the parent and guardian to these abandoned children. I cannot even begin to imagine how a parent would've felt having their 6 year old child taken from them and banished to the peninsula, let alone how the child would've felt.

He formed a girl's choir which became very popular with the residents. And, over time, he built a home for the boys and a home for the girls; giving them the shelter and protection that they needed.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Boys

"The Boys" is next in the series that I am working on that outlines Damien's work on Molokai. His story is worth telling because he brought more than hope and compassion to the 600 people that were literally banished to the Kalaupapa peninsula.

Fear and ignorance can easily separate us from our sense of humanity. Leprosy was spreading at an epidemic rate in Hawaii. There was no CDC at that time and the State Board of Health was the state agency responsible for making decisions as to how to handle this rapidly spreading epidemic. The solution to anyone diagnosed with the disease was to send them off to the Kalaupapa peninsula. This included children.

Once again, the under painting.

A gel transfer of a young group of boys who were already residents of Kalaupapa. At this stage, I am making decisions about the composition. Other parts of the image had already been removed.

This is the text that is incorporated into this piece:

My Father came to take me home from school. But instead of taking
me to the Kalihi Receiving Station immediately like the principal
said they should, my parents took me home. The whole family cried,
including my father. The next day my father took me downtown and
bought me a new suit. It was my first suit of clothes-they were so nice.
I looked good. I had never had clothes like that before because we were
poor. So I wore that suit of clothes to the Kalihi Receiving Station. Even
though we were poor, my father said he wanted me to be dressed
nicely when I was taken to Kalihi to be declared a leper. They took my
picture for the official record of the Board of Health wearing that new
suit of clothes. When the picture was taken, my father broke down again
and cried.

So, I became a leper.

This is the young man that this text refers to.
He was six years old.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Carpenter

Sharing some of the process behind the one called, "The Carpenter"

The under painting. Decisions are made as I go along; I work in a concept and process mode. I have a general idea of where I want to end up, but much is decided upon as I go along.

Starting to put down the content of this piece. One of the skills Damien acquired as a young lad was carpentry. You know, no TV, no video games, no phones...a kid with a lot of energy. It all got channeled by learning all the tricks of the trade in carpentry. I doubt that he thought he would use it as much as he did later on in life. But, he did. And then some.

The bottom image in this painting is a photo taken about 3 years after he got there. The three buildings above it was the church (St. Philomena). It was built the year before he got there and after Father Damien arrived in 1973, he added on and then added on again.

Those that suffer from leprosy often do not have full use of their hands or legs- because leprosy is much like a rotting disease (an oversimplification). Death came almost daily. Those that died were buried in shallow graves because if you are sick, how can you bury a fellow human being if you physically can't? Father Damien was horrified to witness the wild pigs coming along and uprooting these shallow graves and...well you can guess without my saying.

In the first six years that Damien was at Kalaupapa (Kalawao), he dug most of the graves and built most of the coffins for 1,600 people.

And, built over 300 homes in the 16 years that he was there.

A bit staggering, in my opinion!

Thursday, July 30, 2009



This is the second of the nine that I am doing. I pretty much finished this one a while back, but haven't gotten around to posting it!! Oops!

For this series, I am using a variety of transfer processes. You name it, and I've probably employed that transfer process in one of my paintings in this series. This is an old topography map of the Kalaupapa peninsula that I've transferred onto the canvas. The canvas was primed, then coated with an acrylic ground. The image was printed on "Sheer Heaven" paper, then transferred onto the canvas. After that, I start to bring up the image that I transferred by using colored pencils, oil sticks and acrylic paint.

This is called a 'skin transfer'. This is a toner based copy of Damien when he was 33 years old. In doing this transfer method, a toner based copy has to be used.

The elements are starting to come together, but I'm not anywhere done at the stage you see here.

At 33 years of age, Damien had been on the Big Island since his arrival in Hawaii. He accomplished a lot in the ten years he was there. During the Holy Week of Easter in 1873, he went to Maui to attend a dedication of a new church. The Bishop was looking for several priests to volunteer going to the Leper Colony on Molokai as there was much work to be done there. The thought was that he would recruit several priests and they would be there on a rotational basis. Damien volunteered and soon, he and the Bishop sailed over to the Kalaupapa Peninsula. He arrived there with just the clothes on his back, his Holy Cross and a breviary (a prayer book). That was it.

Damien never left.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Hey. Haven't figured out how to use a computer yet, at least to the point of making a "swell" page for everyone! But guess what? I'm always willing to try! So just so everyone knows, this will probably be onhe of my most interesting efforts to date, and I am SOOOOO excited. Hope to post something more visual as soon as I figure it out!! Luvsya dearly, Jofish.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

What Were You Doing When You Were 23 years Old?

Often, the hardest part of any project is STARTING.

And, start I did. The initial stages of the first piece with a photo transfer onto the canvas (coated with an acrylic ground). This young man was 23 years old when this photo was taken. He was still a Brother then and it was not long before he embarked on his journey to Hawaii.

This is about more than halfway through completion. To see the finished product, you will have to come to our show's opening on 9/9/09!

Here is my artist statement for this project:

Where were you when you were 23 years old? What were you doing?

So many of us, even when we reach the age of 30 are not sure of what we want to do with our lives. We wait for that crystallized moment in time hoping to finally figure out why you were put on this planet to begin with. For many of us, that moment never comes with any kind of conviction or clarity and we spend most of our lives stumbling through it with a certain degree of uncertainty.

Imagine, at 23 years of age having such a strong calling to become a priest (or a vocation), that you leave your small town and family to sail halfway across the world to a place that couldn’t be any more opposite than where you came from. Talk about leaving your comfort zone! Most of us labor over trivial things such as deciding what to order off of a menu, or what to wear that day. In this day and age, people can commit to a tattoo more readily than they can a vocation.

This April 15 marks a 120 years since Father Damien’s death (now Blessed Damien and soon to be St. Damien). Unless you were raised by a pack of wolves, you already know that he died of leprosy. Did you know that he was only 49 years old when he died? So very young.

Damien left Belgium to sail to Hawaii in November, 1863. He was still a Brother, not yet a priest. He was 23 years old. On March 19, 1864, he arrived in Honolulu, Hawaii. He ‘celebrated’ a birthday during that journey. I figure, that’s FOUR long months of an ocean voyage to get from point “A” to point “B”! I can’t even begin to imagine what kind of a journey that must’ve been.

Since I grew up on Molokai and lived just above the Kalaupapa Peninsula that lepers were banished to back in Damien’s day, I felt compelled to honor this man’s life work. The connection to him, for me is very strong. Until you visit this peninsula and the island, it is impossible to get a full grasp of what he accomplished. In so little time! Most people outside of Hawaii and Belgium know very little about this man’s remarkable life. I hope to at least raise the level of awareness for some of you.

When I was a teenager, Gavin Dawes published a life story on Damien, called “The Holy Man”. It was the first publication about Damien’s life. When I read this book (as a teenager), I wept. Profusely wept. I wept because it made me realize the extent of this man’s compassion and how far he was willing to go in order to make a difference in the lives of the people that were banished to Kalawao (a district on the Kalaupapa peninsula).

On October 11 of this year, he will be canonized in Rome as a saint. Those of us from Hawaii and Belgium are quite jubilant about this (and that really is an understatement).

Creating nine pieces of art that commemorates this man’s life is a challenging project. There is only access to a limited amount of images of Damien throughout his life and everyone has seen them all. My approach is to use the images that many of us are already familiar with and give them my own twist. It is a visual outline of his life and his work. It is my hope that I impart to the viewer a greater sense of the enormity of his work. piece is completed. Eight more to go!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

At Last!!!

At last!! They are here! We had special ordered 9x9 canvases since that is not offered as a ready made size. I think they were ordered a few months ago. I'm not in the habit of stretching my own canvases (because I don't always use canvas as a substrate), so doing the special order seemed like a no-brainer. took so long I had almost given up that it was ever going to happen. A few weeks ago, Leau announced that they had arrived (yay!).

They're here!

Now I really have to get working! September will be here before I know it. Choke...