Deerfield student-artist explores Christian themes in modern art
For centuries, artists have depicted the Pieta and strived to capture the deep emotion and spiritual significance of Mary cradling the dead body of her son, Jesus.
Deerfield artist Jennifer Lamontagne has used a modern visual language to create a powerful 21st-century image of the Pieta that speaks to modern viewers. That painting, "Loss: Mary and Dead Christ," is part of an exhibit of her contemporary religious art on display through Jan. 20 at Hooksett's Emmanuel Baptist Church.
"I have always been really interested in drawing and painting the human form," said Lamontagne, a junior in the studio art program at the University of New Hampshire. "The human figure is a really powerful tool of communication."
That interest took a new direction when Lamontagne discovered the power and humanism painters of the Northern Renaissance invested in their religious art.
"I grew up at Emmanuel Baptist Church, and Baptists don't have a lot of imagery in their churches," she said.
Art and faith
But Lamontagne decided to explore the relationship between art and faith and how human figures fit into that equation. She was awarded an undergraduate research fellowship and went to work to produce "Revival: Renewing Contemporary Religious Art through the Figure."
Religious imagery may not be part of the Baptist tradition, but Emmanuel Baptist Church welcomed the chance to exhibit Lamontagne's paintings.
The exhibit includes five oil paintings, two works in progress and two watercolors, as well as drawings and studies. And while the themes include familiar subjects, Lamontagne's style and vision presents them in new and compelling ways.
Her choice of angles and vantages points is immediate and intimate. In "Love: The Crucifix," Lamontage chose to imagine and paint an elevated close-up side view of Christ rather than the full frontal image often depicted in art. That angle, combined with the emphasis on human form, offers a fresh look at suffering and sacrifice.
In "Despair: The Garden of Gethsemane," the viewer sees the back of a male figure slumped over in anguish. Again, the focus on the faceless human figure conveys the emotional pain of the story, and all human stories, in an accessible and powerful way.
For Lamontagne, works by artists such as Hugo Van der Goes, a 15th century Flemish painter, gave religious subjects a different kind of life.
"His paintings are very realistic; they have characters," she said. "He painted a nativity scene with shepherds who are rugged, lumbering figures. He painted relatable scenes with real people."
More than five centuries later, Lamontagne has depicted the same connections between scared and human experiences and ideas.
Lamontagne said members of Emmanuel Baptist Church have enjoyed seeing her work and are very supportive.
"It's really my family," she said. "Growing up, I had my family family and my church family, and they have been phenomenal."
While she plans to move forward to new challenges beyond depicting religious subjects, faith will continue to play a role in her art.
"All of my paintings, whether they are religious subjects or not, have a sense of spirituality," she said.