20100519-livingind-0101Written by Mary Tutwiler
Wednesday, May 19, 2010

UL prof Lynda Frese embarks on a spiritual and environmental journey
in the creation of a new series called Pacha Mama.

There is something to be said for working under a bower of roses. Artist Lynda Frese’s backyard studio smells as fragrant as the gardenias blooming in her yard. That’s highly unusual in a painter’s studio that often reeks of turpentine and mineral spirits and the fumes of Barge glue.

But Frese is reaching out to the earth, both through her medium, egg tempera paint, and her subject, Pacha Mama, the earth realm she reveals in her current series.  
Frese, a UL professor of visual arts, spent much of the last year working abroad. “I started last year on my sabbatical working in Italy for four months on Italian Renaissance paintings,” she says. Her European studies delved into the image of the goddess in pagan religions and how the female divinity was absorbed and transformed into the Christian image of the Virgin Mary. Over the year of study, her travels would take her to the New World.

“The word renaissance means to be reborn, and I was looking at the parallels between the Christian rebirth experience, and then [I was] going to Latin America looking at the idea of rebirth in the Mayan belief system,” she says. That led her to the Mayan calendar and the year 2012.

“According to the Mayans,” Frese explains, “2012 is the end date of the Long Count Calendar after which another cycle will start. The idea of the Mayan calendar is that 2012 is a time of rebirth or renewal. It sometimes refers to the apocalypse, which literally means ‘the uncovering.’ The idea of the apocalypse as complete destruction or ruin comes from Christianity, not the Mayan belief system.”

When she began to study the religions of the New World she discovered Pachamama. The word comes from Quechua, a South American language indigenous to the Andes, and is variously translated as “earth mother” or “mother world.” Pachamama is often depicted as a goddess in South America.

Frese made the leap, and her work cleaves the separate ideas, like separated continents, back together into a universal feminine earth force she calls Pacha Mama.

She began uniting images — the church, the earth, flora, fauna, sea, land and sky — into collages, using 21st century digital reproduction layered with ancient painting techniques. Brilliant green cabbages stand in ecclesiastical niches in place of religious statuary. The angel Gabriel’s annunciation to the Virgin Mary anticipates not a living god but a living landscape with soaring peaks and healthy glaciers. The works look like the pages of a medieval missal, telling sacred stories in symbolic language. There is also a physical connection between her medium of egg tempera and the ideas in her work.

The paint is made by mixing ground minerals with egg yolks as a binder. Until the medium was replaced by oil paint in the 14th century, egg tempera was the way color was applied to create paintings.

“This is an organic connection between where I’m working, the chickens that lay the eggs and our food sources,” says Frese. [Part of the message of] 2012 references how we sustain ourselves, how we eat, our connection to the animals and plants. We’ve lost that.”

Along the way, Frese wrote a grant to actually print her work as a book, with text by some of her own spiritual guides. Michele Baker, her yogi from New Orleans and co-owner of Swan River Yoga studios, and Kathi von Koerber, a South African filmmaker and spiritual healer, will write sections about 2012, Pachamama, nature and evolution. Darrell Bourque, Louisiana poet laureate, will respond to Frese’s images with poetry of his own, and Italian art historian and critic Giuseppe Pannino will write about Frese’s work itself.

The grant, through the Louisiana Board of Regents, is substantial, allowing Frese to continue to travel as she pursues her ideas. By year’s end, she hopes to have the book printed in Italy, where the finest art books in the world are made.

Several years ago, after the hurricanes of 2005, Frese incorporated images of the devastation of Katrina and Rita into her art. This time, the oil slick in the Gulf is in the forefront of her environmental consciousness. “I do think I’m going to do an oil slick picture as things go along, about the coast. There are some nightmare pictures in the series, but also some blissed out paradise pictures. I want to include both aspects in the art.”

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