NoFo Houses of Worship
The Gallery at Holy Trinity – Greenport NY
The body of work in Rainer Gross’s exhibition, “Houses of Worship of the North Fork” comprises a unified theme. Here the term “contact” is meaningful. Gross, an internationally renowned painter and resident on Long Island’s North Fork, having explored the subject of some of Germany’s famed Baroque and Rococo churches, with their swirling convoluted embellishments and triumphal gilded angels, has now turned his attention to the religious edifices of his immediate surroundings on the East End.
The innovative photographic techniques of these works has an affinity with Gross’s predominant painting mode, wherein possibly unexpected effects arise out of a certain pattern of studio practice. Gross explained to me his method of eliciting from an initial photograph certain key elements that are flipped, perhaps multiple times and in more than in one direction, and fused together. The recognizable imagery of the interior depicted is never lost, but it becomes layered and intensely dimensional: a type of pictorial depth emerges comparable to the effects of layered paint in Gross’s oil painting: you can look past the initially recognized surface and see vestiges of seemingly submerged elements underneath. With the pictorial images of these spaces, which often feature delicate or semi-transparent architectural elements that can be seen past, around, or through to a distant focal point, unexpectedly complex, semi-abstracted, configurations emerge.
The body of work in this exhibition covers approximately sixteen houses of worship on the North Fork. Each image takes a central vantage point. The heritage of the Roman basilica pervades many religious edifices beyond those that are specifically Catholic. This arises out of its architectural pattern: a central aisle, under an elongated rectangular nave set below a gabled roof, at the end of which is the focal point of an altar, surrounded either by a curved apse, or interior space for choir. This is practically ubiquitous among the chosen structures and provides a suggestive matrix to their interpretation. Notably, the choice of subject bespeaks the abiding presence and continuous re-invention of spiritual life, variously Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish among them, on the East End embodied by these time-honored buildings, even including a brand new church, the Vine Church on the North Road, in Southold.
They become, at once art, and an invitation to explore this aspect of heritage: how many know that the Presbyterian Church in Southold is one of New York State’s very oldest continuing churches (it may well be, and certainly has the oldest cemetery, 1640). Sometimes it takes art for people to recognize what they have in their midst. These works of Rainer Gross help us notice how fabulous these structures are, what they embody in terms of an ongoing aesthetic response to the spiritual: they become, as well as art, an invitation to find out more about these places, which is certainly a good thing.
Certain particulars in each church come vividly into focus: details from stained glass windows, the range of surfaces, like spectacular gilding (Polish church on Depot Rd. in Cutchogue); maple hued wood carving with medieval detailing; pigmented trefoil motifs (Redeemer, Mattituck); the boat-like ark lectern at nautically themed St. Peters in Greenport, or the refined carpenter Gothic interior at Holy Trinity Greenport. Particularly dazzling is the work inspired by the Greek Orthodox church of Greenport with its multiple saint iconostasis. Gross has honed in on such elements, and by the kaleidoscopic effects produced by his handling of the imagery, elicits the potential of experiencing these structures, and their underlying use and symbolism, in a fresh light.
So here, the contact, beyond an old world Europe and America, or between two painted surfaces, or between one image meeting its double, proposes through art the potential for a meeting between our everyday world, that of experiential reality, and that of the infinite, whether we identify it as a spiritual realm, or whatever else our own journey, intellectual, emotional, or visual, conceives. Rainer Gross’s work, in this respect, parallels the intent behind these structures and their history: a contact between the means of art and the tangible manifestation of the spiritual in human experience.
Franklin Hill Perrell