Orb and Cross

One of the greatest things I can witness as a teacher is the point in a student's development when they start to connect some serious dots. When someone has seen, heard, read enough about art and art history, things start to gel and they can make smart, illuminating comparisons between things. This kind of comparing is, as Edward Tufte says, the true thinking act. But it can also become a cheap trick, a meaningless round of Six Degrees that focuses on surface effects and doesn't speak to the essence of whatever it is you're trying to elucidate.

A detail shot of a recent abstract painting that sparked various associations, including the traditional orb and cross symbol.

A detail shot of a recent abstract painting that sparked various associations, including the traditional orb and cross symbol.

I didn't start out to make a painting of the orb and cross, but at some point in the process (after lots of applying, wiping, and sanding of paint) the 'head' of my X-shape started to look something like a globe, so I went with it. Up close it just looks like a blue circle with splotchy brown paint over it, but from a bit of a distance it really does look like our terrestrial ball. The image is trapped in the paint.

Orb and Cross, Acrylic on 12 panels, 48 by 36 inches overall, 2017

Orb and Cross, Acrylic on 12 panels, 48 by 36 inches overall, 2017

Any poetry worth its salt will suggest many different things in a single line. In addition to the orb and cross, this painting reminds me of the Eames "Hang-It-All", a classic of Modernist home furnishings. I also think of the typical desktop globe from my school days. The X-shape looks like a little man, a swirling stick figure with his arms out from his side. Laid out in a grid, it reminds me of the diagram they use in my home town, Ocean City, to teach semaphore to the lifeguards on the beach.

Ocean City Beach Patrol guide to the semaphore alphabet.

Ocean City Beach Patrol guide to the semaphore alphabet.

Hans Memling's "Salvator Mundi" (circa 1480) features an orb and cross.

Hans Memling's "Salvator Mundi" (circa 1480) features an orb and cross.

Hang-It-All, Charles and Ray Eames (1953).

Hang-It-All, Charles and Ray Eames (1953).

The kind of globe I would have seen in school, or on my bedroom desk in the 1970's.

The kind of globe I would have seen in school, or on my bedroom desk in the 1970's.

Ocean City Beach Patrol semaphore.

Ocean City Beach Patrol semaphore.