Recently, well , about six months ago I started a large painting of a woman looking forlornly to her left; this first rendition of her in a blue dress was beautiful, and even though it was unfinished, I received a lot of compliments on it…but “I” was not satisfied with it. I decided to give it more color, so I painted the dress ruby red, everyone loved it and the red did pop the picture…but, alas “I” was not satisfied with it, it was not speaking to me, so I hung it up in the art room, unfinished.

Daily as I went to work on other paintings I would glance at it as I walked in, time passed and passed again. Then one day about three weeks ago, it began to speak to me…NO, butthead, I’m not hearing voices, its a figure of speech that any painter can attest to, it’s actually a vision; a painting will suddenly reveal itself to the artist, who then endeavors to capture what the painting should be, lets say – it was beckoning me – I was beginning to see, to understand who she, the lady in the painting, wanted to be…yes, its like a fog lifted from my minds-eye and I saw her true identity. So I pulled her down from the wall and feverishly went to work on her. But it didn’t take long to realize that what “she” wanted to be, and what “I” wanted to paint were two completely different things. But here’s a well guarded secret amongst artists – paintings seldom end up like the artist intended when beginning; they take on a life of their own, and so she has. But, I have this problem with who she wants to be, so here I am, talking to you, and nearly finished with “her”. This is my problem.

What she is, is the “Virgin de Guadalupe”! Yeah, I know. For that reason I do not like doing religious icons, because seldom are they considered “serious” art, not anymore. So, in that I’m trying to be taken as a serious artist, I try NOT to paint icons. Yes, I painted a beautiful Buddha for a friend of mine and it is living the serene life out in California, and yes I painted another version of the Virgin, but in that painting she was standing in the middle of a bunch of prisoners – so that painting, was more about prison, than religion. And yes, I have painted a couple of “Sacred Heart” pictures for my oldest son…in fact, there’s a pretty interesting story to one of them.

A few years back I was in the prison over in Pollock Louisiana, we had there a couple of Mob guys, no, not these wanna be’s, but real Mob guys, Made Men in the five families. One of them is a guy named Thomas Fiore, you can Google him, anyway, Tommy lived in my cell-block, and is a close friend of mine. Anyway, he took a picture of himself and asked me to draw a portrait from it, so I did. Now Tommy is a very handsome man in his early fifties with that pure Italian look to him…like I said, he’s very handsome. As I went about the mechanism of rendering his likeness I began to see, as portrait artists do, deep in his eyes and into his soul.

Like I said earlier, at this time I had wanted to paint a Sacred Heart piece for my son Marco. And I saw in Tommy’s face the perfect image of what I wanted to convey. So I went to him and asked him if I could use his likeness for this face of Christ i had envisioned. Oh my, you should have seen his face when I asked him, I mean, his eyes went blank in what could only be a stunned disbelief at the audacity of my question…the look you’d get if you walked up to a total stranger and asked him if he was circumcised!…when he recovered from the shock of my question he very quietly said, “No. No,no” then added. “That wouldn’t be right.” Tommy of course is a devout Catholic. But, he’s also my friend, so I stayed on him and in the end he reluctantly, very reluctantly agreed to let me use his face for my painting…I of course assured him I’d never tell anyone that it was his likeness I had used, that that secret was between us…and I’ve kept my word, well… except for this blog 🙂

When I finished with my Tommy/ Christ painting, it came out beautiful except for the fact that Tommy has a hardness in his eyes that can be completely un-nerving, and I captured it completely. It’s an awesome painting, really it is, in it Christ is looking right at you with that Tommy Fiore hardness…he kind of looks like he’s looking you in the eye to say “What the hell is wrong with you people!” Yeah, just like that!

When I finished it I sent it to my son, he frames a lot of my work…but this one he didn’t frame – that means he didn’t like it. Like I said, it’s a little intimidating; I love it. Take my advice; that painting is valuable. So, if you could somehow talk him out of it, you’d be doing yourself a favor – trust me on this, the work is excellent, but its the story that makes it even more unique. That brings me back to my present problem with my “Virgin” painting: How to make a religious icon into a serious piece of art? I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Well, four years ago this week I arrived at the Federal Prison in Three Rivers, been a good place to do time.

Please pass this along to your FB friends and ask them to do the same. Peace be with you, Mark

Three Rivers, 11-7-17