I. Images For A Better World: Alison SHEPARD, Visual Artist
Alison Shepard is a well-established artist and musician, born and raised in Cincinnati where she currently lives with her husband, Evan Hildebrandt, also an artist and director of Bromwell’s gallery. Shepard received her BFA from Northern Kentucky University and her MFA in printmaking from Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. She also studied Printmaking abroad at the Joan Miro Foundation in Palma de Mallorca, Spain.
Shepard is also a very enthusiastic and passionate teacher who has taught in a variety of settings throughout her career. She taught as a professor at the college level for over ten years and her curriculum has included all levels of Drawing, Painting, and Printmaking; 2D & 3D Design Foundations; Figure and Portrait Drawing; and Watercolor. She recently left her job as a full time Assistant Professor at Thomas More College in Crestview Hills, Kentucky, to pursue a career as a full-time artist, devoting herself and her time to her own studio practice.
Ethereal and somewhat surreal, Shepard’s work seems to both occupy this world and another beyond it. Her love of narrative allows her subject, be it a flower, a face, a figure or just a space, to evoke a sense of magic realism. As an avid gardener, many of her flower and plant paintings derive from her own backyard.
Shepard also dabbles in making short films and stop-motion animation. Her art has been widely displayed throughout Greater Cincinnati as well as across the United States. It has been collected by many private clients and her printmaking is part of the works on paper collections at the New Orleans Museum of Art, the University of Dallas, and the Cincinnati Art Museum.
A gifted musician, Shepard is known to sing a variety of music throughout Greater Cincinnati, from folk, pop, old standards and jazz to original music; she is usually accompanied by her brother, Carl Shepard.
Shepard’s series: Adam and Eve: A Portrait of Humanity
The Genesis narrative of creation has always fascinated Shepard. As a portrait of humanity, she finds it ripe with psychological and spiritual fullness in its explanation of human nature, the story of Adam and Eve being a poignant illustration of how humans are made with the capacity to choose love instead of fear, and how they deal with fear by feeling shame and hiding. Shepard thinks that humans hide in a number of ways, both from themselves and from each other. They often live under the masks of addiction and denial, all the while not realizing that they are hiding from God, and thus cutting themselves off from the ultimate source of real love.
Shepard also feels that from the macro to the micro, humanity struggles with a deep-seated, toxic fear of self, God and others; and that from this fear springs forth all the myriad problems and violence that plague the world today. Humans (and entire countries) are afraid of the sense of inferiority they might have in the presence of others and, like Adam and Eve after eating the fruit, they often feel naked and ashamed, and desperately attempt to cover this sense of being ‘less than’ by hiding, accumulating and insulating. For Shepard this manifests itself in a variety of behaviors such as consuming material goods; over-indulging in food, exercise or spending; taking drugs; lusting after power and control; creating weapons of mass destruction…
And yet Shepard notes that before the fall, Adam and Eve were naked and unashamed. Their nudity must have been a potent symbol of their experienced sense of confidence, safety, freedom, and peace, of their feeling of being unconditionally accepted and loved, comfortable in their own skin. This is the elusive Eden humans now long for, a world free from shame and fear. For Shepard, that world is not so much a space as it is a person. Part of her goal in the Adam and Eve series presented here, is to come to a deeper understanding of this person, the Creator of all that she perceives and can’t perceive with her five senses. Historically, the Creator is often portrayed in art as detached, or as an angry judge; Shepard aimed at depicting Him instead as furiously in love with Humanity that he is willing to ransom with what is most valuable to Him.
Shepard states that Love by its very nature must be chosen and not forced on; and that due to that freedom of choice, there will always be the risk for humans to choose the opposing forces of love, such as fear, envy or malice. It might be absurd, therefore, to always expect a world of freedom and love; but Shepard believes that humans experience hauntings of heaven here and there while they traverse this terrestrial plain. By making a portrait of humanity in the persons of Adam and Eve, she got to understand herself the redemptive power of love to bring about healing and restoration; also to see how the narrative of the creation is still relevant to a contemporary view of humanity.
One of Shepard’s artist heroes is the painter and illustrator, N.C. Wyeth. Because of the power of his compositions, many of the books he illustrated became synonymous with the images he created. As an illustrator, Wyeth would often choose phrases from the books as titles for his paintings; this served at the same time as a launching pad toward understanding the characters and themes of the works. In the same vein, many of Shepard’s Adam and Eve paintings’ titles are taken directly from the book of Genesis, and thus aim at shedding light on the content and message of her work.
With her series, Shepard hopes to not just illustrate the creation story, but to also provide herself and the viewer with a visual understanding of the psychology of Adam and Eve as archetypes of man and woman. She sees them as a microcosm of the state of our human race, their story embodying our capacity to choose either love and compassion or, on the other hand, fear, that leads to division and strife and ultimately to violence and war.
Shepard chose to depict Adam as a muscular black man for many reasons. On a purely aesthetic level, she finds the colors and reflections in the skin of people of African descent to be quite beautiful. She also chose a black man and a very fair-skinned white woman in order to make a statement that celebrates the diversity in humanity’s spectrum of color. The muscular man is meant to represent an ideal of masculine beauty and strength; and his pose, depicting Adam’s nudity with no shame, expected to show him in a place of rest, potential power and honor as a splendid creation.
The painting The Birth of Woman represents the creation of Eve in the mind of God, before being created out of Adam’s rib. It relates to the scripture from Genesis: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Gen. 1:27 NIV) Shepard chose the particular pose for Eve as she envisioned her creation having begun in the spiritual realm but not yet manifest in the physical. She made the boundaries of her form somewhat nebulous, as if just beginning to emerge into the fullness of her being.
For Shepard the painting And He Brought Her to the Man deals with many issues that she would like the viewer to interpret. On an illustrative level, however, she wanted it to depict the completion of God’s creation, after He has put Adam to sleep and taken his rib to create Eve. It is the moment before Adam and Eve discover each other.
In Fruit of Life: Naked and Unashamed, the couple has just discovered one another and they are united in their love for each other and with their Creator, also with their call to be good stewards of the earth. Their creation was a cosmic event; they are radiant with life and partaking in the fruit from the tree of life.
In the painting And the Two Shall Become One Flesh, Shepard wanted to depict the mystical union of Adam and Eve as a physical reality. It was her goal to express the love, passion and the sexuality of Adam and Eve as a beautiful and sacred thing, the act of love-making given to them to express intimacy, experience pleasure and create life.
The Idol represents the moment of temptation for both Adam and Eve. The painting, layered in meaning, pays visual homage to artists like Rembrandt, Caravaggio, and Jacques Louis David. Conceptually, Shepard envisioned Eve as being naively deceived by a serpent who seems both lovely and sinister. Satan appears as a creature very beguiling and familiar to her; it is as if she is speaking with her own visage. Eve has chosen to put the appeal of the fruit and the words of the serpent above what her Creator has said, lusting after what the fruit promises: knowledge, pleasure and beauty. Adam has also chosen to disobey the commands of his Creator, brought to his knees by his own lusts for both Eve and the fruit. The notion of idolatry thus becomes multi-layered; and Adam and Eve, exercising their freedom, are about to not choose love which, by its very nature, must be freely chosen.
Reveling in the consummation of their decision, And He Ate shows Eve coyly offering fruit to Adam, who leans forward greedily to eat it. They have both opted to violate the protective boundaries of their Creator and have chosen their curiosity and fear instead of their love and obedience to Him. They trusted in the false promises of a fruit that appeared to be full of potential, but in reality was just a mirage. They still seem unaware of the consequences of their act. Creation, however, has begun to die off around them.
After eating the fruit, Adam and Eve have become aware of their nakedness and have been implanted with a seed of toxic shame. Realizing that the serpent deceived them, and that they didn’t become gods as promised, they have become embroiled in a tug of war of blame and shame. Reaping the fruit of their fear, they feel divided from their Creator and divided from each other. Creation has become a cold tundra; death surrounds them. Above them in the heavenly realm is a war over their possession and salvation. The enemy and his army seem to have gained ground, but the sky shows a foreshadowing of hope.
The triptych Redemption Washed in the Blood of the Lamb is Shepard’s vision of Adam and Eve and of all humanity being redeemed by their Creator who, in love with His creation, is willing to sacrifice His most valuable possession in order to ransom them from the enemy. In the painting, the son of God is represented as an innocent lamb slain and bleeding across the fabric of the universe, transforming all of creation with the hope of redemption. Adam and Eve have been purified and made innocent. The ghostly tug of war behind them has been covered in the blood of the lamb. Like the butterfly leaving its chrysalis, they have been transformed and made into a new creation.
All Things Made New, Adam and Eve have been fully restored and have become co-creators with God.
It was important for Shepard to do a painting that showed Eve alone and in a different light. Throughout art history, paintings have often depicted Eve as a naïve and shameful woman, and many arts have objectified women as forbidden objects of desire. At the opposite end, many paintings of Mary have stressed her purity, chastity and motherly qualities. These dominant themes throughout millennia have in some ways created polarities of femininity that have shaped cultural views of women as either mothers devoid of sexuality or as forbidden tempting fruits to be ogled. In The Rest of Eve, Shepard wanted to present Eve as a different archetype of femininity. She chose the title as a play on words, the painting representing both another facet to Eve, also her being in a state of peace. The rest of Eve, or the other side of Eve, is here depicted as a place of spiritual rest from striving and shame, a place from which Eve is able to almost effortlessly bear fruit that yields life, nourishment and beauty.
II. Words For A Better World: Mark FLANIGAN, Literary Artist
Mark Flanigan is a poet, a spoken word artist, a columnist, a short story writer and a screenwriter from Cincinnati, Ohio. His “Exiled” column appeared almost continuously for eleven years, first in X-Ray Cincinnati, then online at semantikon.com and, finally, in CityBeat. Minute Poems, a free e-book, was published by Three Fools Press in 2007, and his manuscript Journeyman’s Lament appeared in the 2012 Aurore Press publication, Versus. He recently co-founded a monthly/open feature reading called Word of Mouth Cincinnati and is currently working on his second screenplay, both of which were co-written with his friend and collaborator Brian Keizer.
Flanigan doesn’t pick his topics; they pick him, just as the medium is dictated by each individual piece. He shoots for evocativeness and longs to make readers or listeners feel something, anything, sometimes at the risk of making them uncomfortable. His ultimate aim is to make everyone involved feel alive. Speaking of his writing he states that there is no easy designation for it, adding that even though he went to college, his writing is not academic; that it is urbane, yet not street; and that it resides somewhere between academia and the street, which lends it some of its singularity and surprise.
‘A Poem About Whatever You Want It To Be’ is a protest poem that Flanigan wrote thinking that there is no better way to fight injustice than enjoying life, those who truly enjoy life valuing it more and, therefore, less excited about destroying it.
A Poem About Whatever You Want It To Be
Shit man, holy moly, I mean wow.
Geezle Peats, you know?
Goddamn that was good.
I needed that.
I know you know what I mean.
Jesus Mary & Joseph.
I mean, you got to be kidding me.
You know what I’m saying?
Just so awesome.
Thanks for that.
Jiminy Frickin’ Cricket.
In ‘Sucrose Hill’ Flanigan grapples with the concept of responsibility. He wonders what is the responsibility of a celebrity to their fans, and what is his own to those in his life, acknowledging that none of the two even mentions the self, which often takes precedence over most everybody else.
As he’s getting older, Flanigan has been finding himself thinking more often of such issues as in “when we are born, are we born into a contract.”
“Oh to live on Sucrose Hill
With the doctors and the colored pills
You can’t be forty on Sucrose Hill
Though you’re thinking that you’re leaving soon still
You’re leaving soon still”
you were my older brother
a smart record collection
when at 24 I moved my few possessions
into my first apartment on main
plugged in the radio
where they’d just started playing our song
the voice something recognizable
the tune one I could get behind
plugged in the radio
to hear you cut it short
the needle skipping
kurt, it hurt kurt, it hurt
my head to hear
success and dreams fulfilled
fell short a panacea for pain
no matter how high
you or one’s walls become
a gun and a denial after all
it hurt, kurt
3 years later I tried to become a member myself
but couldn’t get in
didn’t have the credentials
gifted but lacking genius
what need for ambition
I hung around
backstage and in backrooms
when my nose hurt I smoked it
when my throat hurt I shot it
despite my continued efforts
still my pledges fell short
no easy exit for me thankfully
but now it hurts, kurt
twenty years later
gynecomastia, swollen lymph nodes
and bloody stools
prostate exams and colonoscopies
those last two really hurt, kurt
torn labrum torn achilles
so many achilles heels
cialis in lithium’s stead yeah!
middle age paunch, mid-life crisis
insufficient cash and urine flows
to ride it out right
how it hurts, kurt
my body my pride even my soul hurts
painted in a corner
evicted from life
more dead than alive
tired of the chatterings, the constant conversation
the same everyday dialogues
tired of being the last to know when I’m lying
can’t smoke, can’t fuck, can’t eat this, can’t eat that
can’t drink that, I won’t drink
drunk again gimme a smoke
what’s worth living for
more than this moment
high and sublime
the mundane at bay
my cock so engorged it hurts, kurt?
they say bush is putting the finishing touches on both their new album
and my demise
pearl jam has become the new dead,
only more well-adjusted
courtney’s face is falling into a reformed black hole
little billy sits in the sandbox by himself sipping tea
aunt kim divorced uncle thurston
he was sleeping with the sitter
all our heroes aren’t dead they’re just dead to us
I’m alone and I will find my answer where?
twenty tears later
and trent still closes the show with “hurt,” kurt
it’s a very good question
there are certain things I guess that make life worthwhile
bill murray, to name one thing
and muhammed ali
the second movement of “paranoid android”
steve earle, recording of “south nashville blues ”
woody allen movies, naturally
catcher in the rye by salinger
jarvis cocker, paul westerberg
those incredible abstract paintings by winterhalter
the crabs at Sam Wo’s
yeah after a long, cold winter
the sun was out and shining on her
as she walked down the sidewalk
the light cutting through her long, blonde hair
her smile underneath it all
the scene so beautiful it almost hurt, kurt
Flanigan once published a manuscript of ‘Minute Poems’ wherein he attempted to say as much as possible in as few words as possible. He has been slowly working on a sequel; ‘Small Change’ is such a one.
I walk across the room
Put on an early Tom Waits album.
It’s late afternoon,
There are a million things I should be doing.
A few I shouldn’t.
We have today.
Unbelievable just how filthy rich we are right now.
Aralee Strange (1944-2013) was a poet, playwright and filmmaker. Born in Alabama, she lived on Main Street in Cincinnati in the mid 80’s and early 90’s, before it was hip to live or drink there. She wrote an incredible series of poems during that time entitled ‘dr. pain on main.’ Strange was a champion of the underdog, the underserved and the under-appreciated; Flanigan wrote the poem ‘gone doctor’ for her.
the elevator rings
to think how many eons the peons walked up here
watch your step
isn’t it something?
this here is the mondo condo
this here is the ‘i’ in hurricane
the lighthouse amidst the heavy tempest
where the bucks stop
to rest their cloven feet
see that gilded handrail? hold onto it and it’ll take you
deep into the hip of chic
hear that air conditioner hum? you’re not the only one
merely the only cool one
see that space age kitchen? constructed such that you forget both
your space and your age
outside things may wax and wane
but inside here they stay the same
for I flip the real in real estate
I hide the bones under a finished basement
you want to let your eyes ramble outside that window, do
to the tourists as they stroll down main street
here there is no proof
you can’t hear the sound
of the man on the street saying to no one
hey your phone is ringin’
you can’t hear the sound
but you can see
the street being widened such that he’s running out of sidewalk to walk on
you can see
the light rail replacing the railroad itself
you can see the only cheap sleeps a stoop
see the underbelly under a 200-dollar shirt
see a Lexus sharing space with a beat to shit Chevrolet
hasn’t moved in 20 years
bird-shit on both
no discrimination here
it’s for the birds
here what you choose to see and what you do
is entirely up to you
they don’t call em blinds for no good reason
would you believe this once was a doctor’s office?
doctor’s out now
if you catch my drift
they say his ashes run along where the Rhine ran
all the way down to where timber danced
whatever that means
probably not a hill of beans
for that was then
this is now
business is even better and how!
Over the Rhine
but wait, what is that ringing?
I don’t know who set that alarm clock.
where is that music coming from?
I don’t know who turned on the radio.
I don’t know why the big clock suddenly tick tocks
or why the sky darkens and a mist starts to fall
thunder shakes the very foundation.
I didn’t think such a thing was possible.
I don’t know why or how or
Who blows there? Loud enough now for us to hear the man on the street
say with urgency to no one
hey your phone is ringin’!
HEY, YOUR PHONE IS RINGIN’!
I don’t know why a crow alights on a wire across the way
nor why the dogs bark and scratch at the basement.
I can’t tell if that’s a raven or a snake
crossing main street
the only certainty is it’s an evil eye
don’t leave just now
I don’t know why
the power went out
or where the steps are even
I don’t even know what I’m saying
or who’s saying it
I don’t know why I kiss like this
I only know
some one wants my advice
say you standing inside looking outside the mind’s eye
say you look long and hard
say you see the bus finally come
say you see a moundless grimy tribe dismount
and you look up in the sky
and your mind is southern fried
by a large bolt of lightning
splitting the clouds
Old St. Mary’s Gabriel’s Corner
and the office all alight
and you feel a finger touch your high right cheek
and you wonder if you locked your car
check your pocket for your knife
while down below the old crone
she stops pissing on the power company plate
long enough to point to the sky and cry
dr. pain rides again!
dr. pain rides again!
while the long gone coffee shop lights up like a movie set
and an unplugged jukebox on liberty frees itself and plays Amazing Grace
and a mini cooper heads south the right way on main
all the stoplights flashing green arrows
and the beat to shit Chevy will will wills itself to start
a faint but forever beating heart
and you stand there in the dark
and you say to yourself while smirking
the rich voice welcome but not your own
you say to yourself
you bet, bubba yeah buddy, you bet
Lemuel LaRoche (a.k.a. Life the Griot) is an author and activist who lives in Athens, Georgia. Among many things, he is known for his unique approach of fusing poetry and chess as a therapeutic model for adolescent, family and community development. One of his taglines is “Think before you move.”
Life just left Cincinnati, where he was in town for the screening of the documentary that bears his name. Flanigan wrote the poem ‘What I Learned From Life’ inspired, not by something Life said, but by his overall mindfulness.
What I Learned From Life
what you are doing
you probably shouldn’t be
By: Saad Ghosn