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Work Samples

Damen_ Raised With Walls, 77x47, OL, '14

In a field of red, layered images of marching, saluting boys
Several antique photographs were sources for "Raised With Walls - Bad Education". I identify with boys of an era. I feel their desire to please. They are not yet formed but are boys molded within a field of red blood. They are caught in an endless chain of mis-education. It is bad education when young boys are taught to fill boots they are too young to understand.

Damen_ Dulce et Decorum Est, 71x78, OC, '04 &'13

boy soldiers, Iraq war, propaganda,
"Dulce et Decorum est,.." was inspired by an antique photograph of five young boys wearing World War I era uniforms posing as soldiers, this painting was begun after Operation Iraqi Freedom. This photo served as a springboard to contextualize my artistic concerns: the similarity of messaging used to encourage young men to sign up for WWI and the Iraq war, along with the terrifying burden of boys wanting to be men confronted by the horrors of war. This painting was inspired by British WWI poet, Wilfred Owen's poem, "Dulce et Decorum est, Pro Patria Mori ".

Damen_Leda and the Angry Swan, 72x102", OC, '03

Rape of Leda, mythology, oil painting, feminist perspective
"Leda and the Angry Swan" - The theme of Leda’s rape, by Zeus disguised as a swan, has been a favorite artistic subject for thousands of years. My goal with this painting is to make Leda’s eye the focus. The viewer cannot escape Leda's gaze, the window to her soul. She is overpowered, but not subdued. This Swan–Zeus is not a loving “divine spirit”, but rather a territorial, aggressive being.

Damen_What's This? 60x79", OL, '16

myth of Leda, oil painting,
"What's This?" is a prequel to "Leda and the Angry Swan". Pictured just before Leda's violation by Zeus, the painting conveys stillness. Soon there will be wreckage. The world that she knew will be gone.


About Jessica

Baltimore City

One sweltering summer I found wonder and escape through drawing. It was the summer I feared my mother could die from a surgery she required. Yet, despite my fear and the humidity, I was suspended within a magical escapism imagining myself to be the ladies whose costumes I copied. Love of painting and drawing deepened through my high school years, until finally after many detours and decades, I was able to complete a post baccalaureate at the Maryland Institute College of Art and a MFA from the... more

Dashed Dreams - A Record of Baby's Days

Dashed Dreams - A Record of Baby's Days is a series of paintings and drawings I completed upon finding a manila envelope after my parents deaths. The envelope simply labeled “Cynthia Damen ” was filled with snapshots of a sister I never knew. Cynthia died just two months before I was born. Her death left a pall of sorrow over the family for decades. The works inspired by these photographs are foundational to the artistic issues I have mined since 1999. The following projects explain how each theme relates to a previous and subsequent one. They address the concerns of children’s emotional development, grief, the presence of myth within the ordinary and the inexplicable persistence of the past within the present.

  • Damen_Her Holding Onto, 42 x 30", charcoal, white conte/paper

    drawing, reconstructed memories, American dream, Jacob's ladder
    "Her Holding Onto"- The Second World War is over but there is no housing for the newly married couple. The central rectangle separates a snapshot of a beautiful woman. She is my mother standing on the proverbial ladder to the American dream, a home being built by her husband. Energy and optimism abound. They survived the war, they are climbing up and she is holding onto to that ladder, to him and their dreams.
  • Damen_His Building, 42 x 30 charcoal, white conte/paper

    drawing of builder, Jacob's ladder, memory through photography
    "His Building"- My father is building the foundation of their home. But it is balanced upon spindled legs, a precarious placement. Like the biblical Jacob, my mother and father must climb ladders with no clear terminus.
  • Damen_The Christening 58x49"oil/primed paper,'97

    Memory and religious rite, landscape as metaphor, mixed media
    “The Christening” During the 1940-50’s hospital policy dictated that a woman couldn’t give birth without the obstetrician. Births were delayed until he arrived. This unnecessary and cruel policy often caused severe hypoxic brain injuries. Not seen here are the horrible cathartic drawings I did, as if to work through an inherited rage. Only then, was I able to imagine my parents' hope. I placed these snapshots amongst tumultuous rapids. An environment with no grounding that sweeps away their optimism. There is no foothold after their baby dies.
  • Damen_Through A Glass Darkly 30 x 22, pastel/paper

    drawing of madonna and child, memory, landscape as metaphoror
    "Through a Glass Darkly" begins my juxtaposition of past and present. The foreground shows my mother smiling at Cynthia. In fact, my mother’s expression is radiant. I can almost hear her satisfaction because Cynthia is finally gaining weight. It is a bright autumn day and winter’s death is distant. Perhaps my mother felt that Cindy’s future could be as bright as the sun behind her. The image is only slightly marred by her baby’s unusually bent left hand indicating her cerebral palsy. There is also a girl obscured behind a cut glass door window. She is separated by time.
  • Damen_Suburban Mom 30 x 22" oil on panel,'99

    drawing of a madonna and child, memory
    My mother’s narrative says that Cindy’s “slow start” was diagnosed as cerebral palsy at six months. Her little girl had little strength or muscle tone. “Suburban Mom” is painted on wood panel reminiscent of early Renaissance portraits. I envision Anita, my mother, as the archetypal Madonna, a holy woman who intuits her child’s death. Her vacant eyes contrast with the baby’s penetrating gaze and light reflects off her dress shining a halo behind her upswept hair. There is no ascension for this wounded woman. This human Madonna suffers an unrelenting and understandable decline into depression.
  • Damen_Repose, 58 x 50, mixed media/paper

    warm colors, pastel, oil stick, empty chair, shadows
    "Repose"- It was a hot summer afternoon. The snapshot cut off my father’s head. The image of tranquility was truncated. In opposition to that image I drew my shadow within the iconic Adirondack chair. That hastily captured moment of rest was forever lost to my sisters and I, never talked about amongst the family. Even though the envelope was found, everything I painted or drew was just a shadow, a vision through a glass darkly. Nevertheless, the shadow of Cynthia’s death was always as palpable as summer’s heat.
  • Damen_Cynthia's Stance 32 x 24, oil on canvas,'99

    Memory, disability, interior space as metaphor, warm colors, oil
    Cindy’s baby book, “A Record of Baby’s Days”, begins with entries noting her weight. Not surprisingly, the developmental milestones are left blank. Found behind the cheerful pictures is my mother’s narrative written in careful cursive. She records with understatement the horror of Cindy’s botched delivery and therapies to make her better. A snapshot celebrates Cindy’s progress. She is finally able to stand and cruise with braces. Turning toward Cindy’s perspective I see hidden, beneath the table, girls leaping. Both triumph and anguish is in the painting.
  • Damen_Last Birthday Party 22 x 28" oil/panel '99

    Memory , interior space metaphor, photographic reference, two realities
    Shortly after her second birthday, Cindy died of aspirational pneumonia. She choked on her own phlegm. I labored over "Last Birthday Party" for weeks. The photo shows a pregnant mom who is worn out. Skinny Cindy is weak. I painted and re-painted my mother’s emotionless face, her puffy maternity dress and the sad, blue, Cindy. Grace Hartigan admonished me. “Are you still working on that painting?" Then I noticed that the kids’ expressions, weird and alive. The older sister’s impish glance and the boys’ smiles pointed to the two realities within this narrative.
  • Damen_Roll Over, Roll Over and Then There Was One, 58 x 50

    memory and present, religious rite and guilt, receeding space, contrasting hot cool colors
    "Roll Over, Roll Over and Then There Was One….referencing a children’s subtraction rhyme, this painting is imagined from the older sister’s perspective. The room is shaped like an opened book. Hanging above the two girls is a crucifix filled with Last Rites implements. The blue wall is a page with an imagined five-year-old's diary entry. If the older sister could write, would she have confessed, “I was so mad. Mommy didn’t listen to me. I wished Cindy would go away. I wanted her gone and in the morning mommy told me she was dead.” I see an older sister fading away.
  • Damen_Black Forest Creature, 65x35_30x35,OC,06

     fairytale, myth, oil, expressive color, underlying danger
    Fairytales help children cope with painful emotions. “Black Forest Creature”, completed years after the previous works, recognizes darkness, even with those we trust. The naked girl is a pure soul. She seeks comfort from the monk-like man. The canvas is cut just at her knees. Flowers are huge, distorting perspective. Inspired by Grimm's Fairytales, the Black Forest is an apt metaphor for the dark, uncivilized forces lurking behind a sweet smile or candied house. I often turn to fairytales to expose the unbearable.

The Sibling's Pain and Confusion - A Record of Baby's Days

To convey the fragile feelings of a preschooler, I employ an ancient painting style, ink painting using traditional Chinese brushes on transparent oriental papers. I change my focus from mother to the older child, the forgotten one. My experience as a pediatric nurse and studies of families’ emotional stresses associated with the care of disabled children inform my work. I know that healthy siblings of severely disabled children can get “lost in the shuffle,” and even well intentioned parents expect the older sibling to help, often and too much. Those siblings grow up quickly. As an artist, I want to feel the confusion of a four year old eager to please but, incapable of doing what is expected. I find that taking one image and repeating it over and over again encourages spontaneity and free association. I feel empathy with the child pictured in the snapshot. My feelings flow through my brush strokes evoking differing moods.
This series also delves into the psychology of the older sister. I perceive her as the lonely and burdened child, heavy laden with too many responsibilities, guilt and anger. Impasto oil paint and cutting, swift palette knife strokes mirror those feelings.

  • Damen_Holding Baby Valentine I, ink/WC/Mulberry paper 37x16

    ink painting, embracing younger sister, transparency
    Inside the envelope containing a treasure trove of snapshots is an accordion of four snapshots. The sequence of photos shows the older sister doing her best to hold Cynthia. While the older sister's expression is tender, Cindy is not quite in her lap and her arms and legs are akimbo. It is not hard for me to imagine the difficulty of holding her sister's stiff and spastic body. When caring for sick and stiff infants, I also felt anxious and even rejection by their refusal to be calmed. Perhaps this sensitive four year old also felt rejection and resented mommy's displeasure.
  • Damen,_Holding Baby Valentine Bandaid, ink,WC/Mulberry paper_37x16

    ink painting, embracing younger sister, transparency, fragility
    I purposely made the ink blend so that the two sisters faces are joined.
  • Damen_Spastic Holding ink, WC, paper, 30x22",'05

    Expressionist ink brush painting. Two sisters together
    Spastic Holding: Last in the sequence, I imagine even more tension between Cindy’s stiff, spastic body and the older sister’s determined effort to embrace her. Their bodies are indistinguishable. The spirit of the brush strokes convey strong, forceful marks as well as gentle vibrating washes. Cindy is Barbara’s doll, her valentine and her love. She is both loved and resented. A child’s love enveloped with daily resentments.
  • Damen_Thumbsucker I, 36 x 16" WC/ ink/paper

    ink painting with soft washes, child sucking thumb
    Mother photographs her thumb sucking pre-school child. The child’s ankle bandaged. Nothing’s unusual there. All preschool children have a natural concern about their body integrity. The child needs reassurance that her blood will not pour out with every scratch. But this family tension revolved around Cindy’s lack of proper sucking. My mother wrote, “…after (Cindy’s) very bad start she did not suck too well.” I can imagine that every feeding was accompanied with the fear of Cindy’s choking. Certainly, the older sibling absorbed those anxieties.
  • Damen_Thumbsucker II, 37x15" ink&WC/paper, '05

    ink painting with soft washes, child sucking thumb
    Thumb sucker II has entangling bushes encroaching upon the girl, just as the child’s carefree life was entangled by the stress and anguish of having a disabled sibling at home.
  • Damen_Thumbsucker III, inkWC/Mulberry 37x18", '05

    ink painting with soft washes, child sucking thumb
    Thumb sucker III the tummy ink is full of the girl’s plumpness. Her eyes stare out at a world she cannot understand. There is a precarious bridge she will need to cross.
  • Damen_Girl's Holiday, OC, 58x32", '99

    oil painting, school age, shy girl, hot colors, swirling water, beach
    Fast forward four or five years. Barbara poses for a pouty portrait. It’s “A Girl’s Holiday" and she is at the beach. After Cindy’s death the family moved from New Jersey to Queens, NY. Not far from Queens was Jones Beach and I imagine a lazy, fun filled day. True to the original photograph, the older sister is not smiling and she stands ramrod straight. I imagine rage contained within her stiff body. Waves swirl and splash over her creating disorder around the statue, the hurt child.
  • Damen_Say Cheese, OC, 58x50", '00

    Three school girls painted with expressive palatte knife and colors
    In this "Say Cheese" moment are saccharin pink bodies, scowling faces and scrawling figures made with thick, swirling palette knife marks. Look closely at their faces. They are molded like clay. Their heavy lidded eyes and deep furrowed foreheads are old for schoolgirls. This painting is inspired by another black and white Brownie snapshot found within Cynthia’s envelope. Beginning with “Say Cheese” I was exploring the use of the palette knife so that it worked like a well-loaded Chinese brush.
  • Damen_Reaching For Eden, 54x58", OC, '03

    magical realism, green environment, fanciful characters
    "Reaching for Eden" was begun during the summer of 2001. It is one of the last paintings exploring the character of Barbara as an individual. Now she and her playmates are placed inside a completely imaginary environment. She is becoming a symbol, “the guarded one”. The painful past of the lost sister recedes. Now a jungle appears after Joanna, my daughter says, “it’s a jungle out there” about her school’s playground. The colors are verdant and animals swing, slimy and dark things lurk in the stagnant pool and each child is a siren.
  • Damen_Easter Sunday Portrait 67x84 OC, '07

    Family portrait, family facade
    The family is dressed for a special Easter holiday. It is the time for renewal. But, all is not perfect during this "say cheese" moment. This “Easter Sunday Portrait” reveals discord within its saccharin sweet world.

"The Past is never dead. It's not even past." Wm. Faulkner

The photograph, the modern person's means to immortal portrayal is often the source for my work. This portfolio begins with “The Long Immortal Day ”, a portrait of my husband’s daughter, Adriana, who was tragically killed in a car accident. Her photographs and my husband and close family members’ memories are all that remain of her. We soothe mortality’s erasure with the consolation that a life fully lived is sufficient. But when death steals a child’s life, how does one find comfort? A parent, Vincenzo Gulotta, whose son was dying of leukemia, sought comfort from Janet Lewis with a poem request. I happened upon Lewis’ response poem, “For the Father of Sandro Gulotta” before I attempted Adriana’s memorial portrait. I needed the poet’s verse so I could reenter that time of irreplaceable lose. The poem crystalizes Lewis’ preoccupations with time, death and birth using the metaphor of the day lily to capture the simplicity of the child’s life and the recognition that the day lily’s purpose is completed within a day. And while the day lily serves as a “paradigm for the formal organization of time: days, seasons and years” (1)it also is a living thing that;“…drank the sunlit air.
In one long day
All that it needed to do in this world
It did,…” (2)

This portfolio ventures into the realm of juxtaposing past and present. My children are the models and inspired my visual wanderings. As the series progresses they move from being my child to, Child, a universal source for my bemused wonderment. She is an imp, a puck, a whisperer or a seer. Her role and demeanor changes as my interest lead me to and from fairytales and myths. The motif of the day lily frequently returns, reminding me of the immortality of the moment. I paint energetically using both brushes and palette knives as if sculpting forms and carving planes, constantly erasing and re-applying images and lines. The “pentimenti” traces are Time’s marks, which are neither fully hidden nor, revealed.
[1] Lewis, Janet. Poems Old and New, 1918-1978. Swallow Press Books: Ohio University Press, 1982, from Introduction. Helen Trimpi, p.xv
[2] Ibid. p. 77

  • Damen_Long Immortal Day, 60 x 30" OC,'00

    portrait of child, death, immortality, remembrance, memorial
    Originally four-year old Adriana was photographed naked, holding a towel after shedding a sandy, wet bathing suit. Since the day lily represents the immortality of a child’s day, she holds it. Adriana is that sweet child frozen in time. The child herself has a different concept of time. “Who shall say if the day was too brief, For the flower, if time lack? Had it not, like the children, all Time In their long, immortal day? Ibid, p77
  • Damen_Exuberance 30x22" OL '01

    expressionist portrait, child,
    “Exuberance” is based upon a photograph of my daughter, Joanna, then ten years old. She reluctantly modeled holding a day lily. During the photo session, I tickled her and captured her belly laugh. My challenge was to make this static image of a fleeting moment re-energize with paint. Palette knife marks twist and turn with thick paint making the day lily look as if it is flying off the surface. Still, underlying all that exuberantly molded paint, are the knives’ sharp edges. The edges undercut the enthusiasm of “Exuberance”. Unconsciously, grief sneaks in.
  • Damen_Puck 30x22" OL '01

    fairytale, myth, oil, expressive color, child, elf, mischievous
    William Shakespeare’s characterization of Puck is of a mischievous, brownie like fairy. “…Puck boasts of his pranks of changing shapes, misleading travelers at night, spoiling milk, frightening young girls, and tripping venerable old dames.” (1) My characterization obviously changes Puck’s gender. She is a woodland creature surrounded by dense foliage. “Puck’s”, elfish ear, quizzical look and defiant posture is intended to be merely mischievous. (1) Editors of Encyclopaedia. ‘Puck’. Encyclopædia Britannica. January 7, 2017 <Britannica>
  • Damen_Who Are You, Children? 48 x 62" Oil/Canvas 01

    September 11, 2001, painting, poetry, children, archetypes
    "Who are You? Children?" This painting was started during the idyllic summer of 2001 while I basked in the sun drenched days and intellectual bliss of the Fine Arts Work Center, Provincetown, MA residency. It was completed after the horrific events of September 11, 2001 and therefore took a ominous turn. Here are five archetypes: the impish demon, the seer, the male and female hapless witnesses and the fallen doll.
  • Damen_Hanging By A Limb 12x12"OC '01

    childhood trauma, Sept. 11, 2001, psychological reactions, oil paint, narrative
    September 11, 2001 occurred while my daughter was in the fourth grade. Her school, in Montgomery County, MD, about fifteen miles outside of DC was located in an area where parents were told not to pick up their children. Apparently there was concern that the roads would become too congested. Joanna told me that the kids in her class gave each other comfort. One girl's father was an American Airlines pilot and the kids rallied around her. I concentrated on the mutual comfort the children shared while the monkey holding on to the tree limb represents the horrors of the day's events.
  • Damen_Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep 62x34" OC '03

    childhood dreams, sleep anxieties , oil paint, narrative
    "Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep" are lines from an old bedtime prayer. I remember reciting it when I was a child. The skewed perspective reflects a child’s fear that the sky is falling through the skylight. The environment is filled with Christian and contemporary imagery. Goya’s witches cackle and sharks swim in the fish bowl. The pained Madonna glances toward the sleeping child. My friend and collaborating poet, Maj Ragain wrote “A Dreamer Sails into the Land of Nod” in response to this painting.
  • Damen_Bedtime For Raggedy Ann, Isis & Others 44x36" OC,'03

    childhood, nighttime fears, oil painting, ancient Egyptian iconography,
    "Bedtime for Raggedy Ann, Isis and Others" begins with a small found photograph. An unknown child holds a birdcage like an Egyptian princess. It is the time for her to dream new worlds. Maj Ragain’s response poem, “The Blue Eye Blinks Once Every Hundred Years,” ends with a call to move to the unknown.
  • Damen_Jo,Jon,Floating on Jonah's Whale 38x60" OC '03,'14

    childhood, nighttime fears, oil painting, toys and monkeys, magic
    "Jo, Jon Floating on Jonah's Whale" pictures a young girl sleeping atop a young man, who sleeps atop a blue eyed whale. The magical feeling of dreams, and lurking monsters pervades this image. A toy lion lays his clawed paw upon his head, a scary mask emerges from a wall and monkeys swing about. The overall mood is whimsical and forbidding. The children are fast asleep, secured by their closeness and trust. I often find inspiration from Biblical stories such as Jonah and the Whale.
  • Damen_Gifts, 44x72" OL '00

    immortal moment, memory, child psychology, oil painting
    "Gifts"- Three generations are pictured here. In the foreground two sisters have just opened a Christmas gift. The one girl gazes at an unknown sight and her eyes mirror the doll’s. Their mother is the recorder of this still moment in what could have been a frenzied morning. In the sunlit hallway is a blurred painting. Look closely you will see another Christmas morning pictured.
  • Damen_Presient Blue Nose 30x26" OC,'01

    psychological portrait, child, impasto, summer beach
    "Prescient Blue Nose" continues my interest with psychological portraits of children. This school-aged girl is awkwardly sitting under a brilliant summer’s sun. She is caught during a still moment. Her expression seems to reflect an older wisdom than her apparent age. It is, as if, she is a Seer. The surrounding environment of waves and sky are alive with energy. She is a school-aged child at the cusp of a turbulent adolescence. The twisting and turning of her multicolored hair mirrors the psychological turbulence soon to come.

Childhood's Transitions, Kouros, Korai and more

While painting “A Girl’s Holiday” I was impressed with the quality of Barbara’s stiff pose reminding me of ancient Kore or Korai statuary of maiden female figures created during the Archaic Greek period (600-480 BCE). (1) According to Daniel H. Harrison, “ the kore in her solidity is like the kouros, expressing strength as well as beauty and prosperity, but being feminine, she is given an inward quality the male figures generally lack.” (2)

The girl in “My Private Garden” is strong and beautiful even without coiffed hair. Wearing a contemporary richly textured swimsuit she exposes her muscular legs but her expression is private and enigmatic demonstrating that interiority Daniel describes. The painting’s title also references Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel, “My Secret Garden”, recognizing its theme of transition and growth through trauma. It was a favorite novel I shared with my children.
After finishing “My Private Garden” I shifted to the “kouros” motif and the evolving identity of boys and young men beginning with “My Two Selves” ending with “Be Secret and Exult”. The last three paintings are about the young woman as an ingénue and the perils of sexual awakening.

(1) (
(2) Daniel H. Garrison. Sexual Culture in Ancient Greece. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman. 2000. P 196.

  • Damen_My Private Garden, 62x28"OC '00.jpg

    Contemporary korai, enigmatic smile, saturated oil paint
    My youngest daughter modeled for “My Private Garden” one cool early autumn day. Her posture and form were as perfect as the korai she was asked to mimic. Yet, she retained her individuality and the strength of a modern girl. While painting her from the photographs taken that day, I envisioned her bathing suit, as a shield, protecting her from the volcanic eruption of emotions I knew would erupt in a few years. She was transitioning from the impish baby (compliments of Van Gogh) to a girl on the cusp of adolescence.
  • Damen_My Two Selves, 62 x 34" OC '00

    youth identity, psychological conflict, kouros, oil, expressive,
    My kouros address the ambivalent identity of male youths caught between their most elemental needs for security, love and tenderness, and their fear of being labeled effeminate. American youths are not encouraged to live with balance and beauty and therefore my kouros are clothed. Their sexual nature is conflicted. I represented the conflict with two figures, one with his pectoral muscles strong and sure, the palette knife sweeping across his chest. The other molded with a more tentative blade, his glance reticent and his colors softer and more muted.
  • Damen_Kouros:My Two Selves, 24 x 6" OP,'11& '13

    adolescence identity, male identity, oil, expressive, psychological conflict, sexual identity
    "Kouros: My Two Selves" imagines two personages, one pale, blond half and the other darker, forward half. They are one, joined at the shoulder and chest, although they do not make a whole.
  • Damen_Kouros:My Shy Self, 24 x 6" OP,'11&'13

    youth identity, psychological conflict, kouros, oil, expressive, poetry, myth
    "Kouros: My Shy Self" places the boy within a field of flowers. His gaze is searching out and downward while his body is “…frozen in the hard grain of my own doubts, ring after ring bracing me upright.” (1) 1 Maj Ragain, "He Rushed Forth Without Weapons", Catalog Vision to Verse-Verse to Vision: A Visual and Poetic Dialogue, Maj Ragain, Poet and Jessica Damen, Painter, (Champaign, Ill,) Verde Gallery, 2004
  • Damen_ Kouros:My Angry Self 24 x 6" OP,'11&13.jpg

    youth identity, psychological conflict, kouros, oil, expressive,
    "Kouros:My Angry Self" stares straight out, red hot with his barely contained fury.
  • Damen_Little Tyger Burning Bright, 50 x 32" OC '04

    hero's quest, myth, impasto, transition, youth
    "Little Tyger Burning Bright" was painted in response to Maj Ragain’s poem, “Little Tyger Burning Bright/To a New Grandson/ Nov 3, 1995”, a hope filled, commemorative verse. Maj’s poem reminds me of the hero’s quest, the obstacles which he must pass to attain maturity. The cherub points the way forward for the young man. This painting referred to my present, a son who was moving from college to employment. The rich religious and cultural images and myths elucidates the universality of every youth’s quest.
  • Damen_Be Secret and Exult, 88 x 36",OC '03

    hero's quest, myth, impasto, transition, youth, anxiety
    "Be Secret and Exult" was painted in response to Maj Ragain’s poem, “Be Secret and Exult – after a line by Yeats”, narrative verses contemplating a parent's desire to both protect and encourage fearlessness in their child. I have struggled with my son’s interest in rock climbing. This painting seeks to feel his strength through my strokes. My fear hides in the surrounding spaces: Icarus is nose-diving, a kayaker falls off the rapids’ edge and ace pilots dart and dare.
  • Damen_(They're) a Quick River in a Green Time,50 x 74.5, OC '03.

    goddess quest, impasto, oil, three muses, response painting, poem
    A response painting to Maj Ragain’s poem, “For My Daughter Meg, Graduating From Kent Roosevelt High School” also loosely references Sandro Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus”. This “goddess” is a come hither adolescent on top of an upside down seashell. I imagine my goddess evolving from the green sinewy girl and more charming modern girl wearing sport gear. The environment is both verdant and perilous, a creepy Rumpelstiltskin imp lurks and they are surrounded by unnavigable, fast white rapids.
  • Damen_Nibbling 48 x 86" OC '06

    sexual awakening, fairytale, myth, narcissus, expressive oil paint, no face doll
    "Nibbling" concentrates on the beauty of a nubile woman discovering her identity. She is a modern Narcissus, gazing and loving her digital image. Perhaps, she posts it on Facebook? And, just as Ovid’s Narcissus pines for the image found on the surface of the still pool, the “still pools” of cyber space also captivate contemporary youth’s image obsession.
  • Damen_Alluring 32 x 71 oil on canvas 06_13

    sexual awakening, fairytale, myth, narcissus, expressive oil paint, no face doll
    Pictured here are two intimates and a digital camera in the girl’s hand. They have photographed each other and their intimacy is mediated by their focus upon the camera’s viewfinder. Like a contemporary Narcissus they have fallen in love with the camera’s reflected image. Will they be frozen for eternity with their self-gaze? Or will the eyes of the two meet? How does the menagerie of other characters play a part in the unfolding awareness of these two young intimates?

Leda, the Swan and the Original Rape Myth

During the summer of 2001 poet and collaborator, Maj Ragain, introduced to me the Greek myth of Leda and the Swan. I was captivated by the myth for a number of reasons, but not least of all for the fact that my family’s narrative explained my mother’s depression as a response to her sexual molestation by the landlord’s son, when she was a girl. My personal awareness led me to a broader interest in different versions of the myth and the its representation of the myth in Western art.

The later patriarchal Greek myth derives from an even more ancient love chase myth. Prior to patriarchal religions, the goddess, known as Lepta or Lento, pursues a god until she devours him and a swan takes him north to a final resting place. Ironically, the ancient Greeks changed the swan from the symbol of the goddess’ triumph to her downfall and rape. (1) The Hellenistic version has Zeus disguised as a swan, so that he can rape the beautiful Leda without upsetting his goddess wife, Hera.

Visual representations of Leda’s rape from the early Renaissance through the nineteenth century show a compliant, soft and willing Leda. To this day complicity is a frequent rationalization for rape. This series is painted from a Leda’s point of view engaging the viewer into imagined emotional responses. Below is Maj Ragain's response poem to my painting, "Leda and the Angry Swan."

Leda's Voice, Under Sky, Over Water (2)

I lie in the wreckage of my longing
which called him down to me.
I remember myself before Zeus settled
over me, in the guise of a swan,
downy chest against my nipples.
That world is gone.

I have been opened, my thighs spread
by wings beating all around me,
churning my blood into fever.
I am slathered with his god seed,
planted on this tortoise shell bed,
pinned down by clawed feet on bare skin.
His wings, spread across the sky,
eclipse the sun beneath which
all things are his domain.
I was mine. Now, I am his.

I will scissor my hair to the scalp
so he will not desire me if he returns.

Hera, his wife, has found us.
He rises in anger at her meddling.

I am sore.
The milky way swims in my belly.

Wherever you go, my empty eye follows.
- Maj Ragain
Jan. 5, 2004

(1) Graves, Robert. The Greek Myths:Volume I, London, England: Peguin Books, 1960
(2) Maj Ragain, Poet & Jessica Damen, Painter, "Vision to Verse - Verse to Vision : A Visual and Poetic Dialogue, Verde Gallery: Champaign, IL, 2004

  • Leda & the Angry Swan, 72 x 102", OC, '03

    Leda supine, Leda's eye focal point, tortoise shell, angry white swan
    The historical images of the Leda myth, whether pruriently imagined or disguised as “divine” sensual rapture are from a male perspective. My goal when painting this Leda is to make Leda’s eye the focus of the painting. The viewer cannot escape her gaze, the window to her soul. She is overpowered, but not subdued. The Swan-Zeus is not a loving “divine spirit” but rather, a territorial, aggressive being.
  • Damen_ What's This? 60x79,OL, 2016

    Rape of Leda, mythology, oil painting, feminist perspective
    "What's This?" describes the moment just before Leda's violation. It is a response to Ragain's opening lines: " I lie in the wreckage of my longing which called him down to me. I remember myself before Zeus settled over me,..... That world is gone." As a prequel my point is to create ambiguity. What longing? Why the piglet and nest? What does her expression reveal to you?
  • Damen_She Walked Away, 22x30", ink,WC/paper, '10

    ink painting, watercolor, swan and girl
    "She Walked Away" imagines her dissociation from the physical and emotional experience of rape.
  • Damen_Remember Myself, 22x30", ink,WC/paper, '10

    ink, watercolor, swan and fish
    Ragain opening phrase recognizes that one who is rape is never the same. She is gone and can only remember her former self. "I remember myself before Zeus settled over me, in the guise of a swan, downy chest against my nipples. That world is gone."
  • Damen_Leda's Revenge, 11x14, OP, '14

    oil, thick paint, swan, birds, turtle, girl
    Leda’s Revenge is a little revenge fantasy for every woman who wanted to kill her rapist.
  • Damen_What's This III, 20.5x17, ink/wc/paper,'16

    ink brush painting, swan, leda in shadow
    “What’s This III” ink brush painting is part of a series developed after I completed the oil, “What’sThis?” Chinese ink and brush encouraged Leda’s different expressions. Here is the swan overpowering her.
  • Damen_ What's This V, 25x19, ink/wc/paper,'16

    ink painting, watercolor, swan and girl
    “What’s This V” has a lighter brush and the swan’s movement is freer. Leda’s expression is unique with each version.
  • Damen_I Am Mine, WhatsThis VII, 39x20.5, '16

    ink painting, watercolor, swan and girl
    “I Am Mine-What’s This” has powerful brush strokes. The swan is posturing and Leda seems unimpressed.
  • Damen_Leda Dancing I, 30x22",ink,wc/paper,'12

    ink painting, watercolor, swan and girl
    Leda Dancing I and II envisions a transcendent woman, equal to Zeus.
  • Damen_Leda Dancing II, 30 x 22, ink/wc/paper, 2012

    ink painting, watercolor, swan and girl
    Leda Dancing I and II envisions a transcendent woman, equal with Zeus.

The Other Story- Ariadne/ Heroine

The Other Story series re-envisions the mythical story of Ariadne; the forgotten heroine of the Minotaur myth. This fanciful and frightening story may be unfamiliar to today’s viewer and yet, it is a story experienced by many lovers, where one sacrifices to save or support another, and then is betrayed by the one who was helped. I have recast this story of love and betrayal by re-imagining the heroine as a victor in self-realization. She draws strength from her intimate female friends and herself. The women wrestlers’ muscular bodies subvert the notion of femininity. They also personify a seemingly unending competition and internal struggle women that experience with love and lovers. The ancient myth is said to have two endings: one where Ariadne is abandoned by Theseus and subsequently hangs herself, and the other, where after her abandonment, Ariadne is found by the god Bacchus, and becomes his consort. My re-told story is not wrapped up tidily with either a tragic or happy ending. My Ariadne is neither a goddess nor a victim, but rather a fully realized woman, who draws strength from her struggle.

  • Damen_Epic Wrestlers 63 x 127"OC '09

    women wrestling, mythic characters,
    My re-envisioning of this myth sees Ariadne as neither Bacchus’ wife nor the abandoned suicide. She and her counterpart are muscular, wrestling with one another and self. This epic-wrestling match is a quest for life and a struggle for self-identity.
  • Damen_Ariadne's Triumph 21.5 x 28.75" OL '16

    women wrestling, mythic characters, layered, muted figures
    “Ariadne’s Triumph” was completed during 2016. It brings this personal myth narrative to conclusion. The painting field is layered and muted. Within the field are the personages of Ariadne: wrestlers, brave and enduring, muscular women. She is the heroine, who completes her quest by killing the Minotaur.
  • Damen_Hold on Tight 62 x 28", OL,'08

    mythic heroine, warm and cool colors, symbols of the myth
    “Hold on Tight” is Ariadne before she decides her path. Back lit with stark, bright imagery, her facial profile is elegant and regal. Her hair is built with colorful, twisting palette knife marks. She sits within the belly of the bull. Her throne is both her power and nemesis. At her feet is the red thread, Theseus' lifeline and her fate. This Ariadne has muscular legs. She is an athlete, although she holds onto herself because it takes courage to defy. She is the author of her fate. I image her taking a sip of wine before her battle.
  • Damen_Shadows 37 x 29" OL '08

    myth, heroine, Minotauromachy, shadows, red field
    Picasso’s “Minotauromachy” inspired “Shadows”. Where Picasso’s print has a girl holding the lit candle, I have a young woman, Ariadne, her spine exposed, is bathed in red and black shadows. The woman is complex and full fleshed. A sense of quiet unease permeates the atmosphere. While the monster “other” lurks, it is the mature woman who holds the focal point.
  • Damen_Jumping Bulls, 52 x 77" OL 08

    myth, women, heroine
    The Surrealists concentrated on the dual nature of man and beast as personified in the Minotaur. But “Jumping Bulls” directs the viewer’s attention to the relationship of Ariadne and her girlfriends. It is a “what if” story, while recognizing that The Bull is a presence, this story is from the woman’s perspective. In the wall environment are images from Minoan wall mosaics of bare breasted women jumping bulls. Their near nakedness is not for the male gaze. This painting is a counterpoint to hyper-sexualized or helpless images of women.
  • Damen_Strange Guests 70 x 62" OL '07

    Minotaur, Picasso reference, family myth, bacchanian
    “Strange Guests” integrates one of Picasso’s bacchanian prints and two of his early 20th century somber women. I wove into this narrative my own family. The oil painting presents a picture of complementarities in color, line and form. The Minotaur, the projection of human’s dual nature, is also a bit of a fluff with his long eyelashes.
  • Damen_Who Opened the Window 65 x 77", OL,'08

    bacchanian, myth, family, magical realism,
    "Who Opened the Window" places Picasso’s depiction of libidinal and aggressive energies within the context of a family gathering. Here the grotesque double is an intruder at the dinner table and the bacchanian feast is integral to the family’s posturing.
  • Damen_Conundrum 24 x 18" OP,'09

    heroine, blue color field, bull and bull tamer
    "Conundrum” is a simple portrait of a pensive girl.
  • Damen_Touching the Beast 24 x 18" OP, '09

    mythic heroine, warm and cool colors, symbols of the myth
    Once again referencing a print by Picasso, I envision the girl heroine embracing her beast.
  • Damen_ Punch, 16 x 20" OP, '09

    mythic heroine, wrestlers
    Ariadne punches her way out of her conundrum.

Dulce et Decorum est Pro Patria Mori ; The Old Lie Project

Dulce et Decorum est Pro Patria Mori : The Old Lie Project

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori is a line from the Roman lyrical poet Horace’s Odes (III.2.13). It can be roughly translated into English as: “It is sweet and right to die for your country.” (1) Wilfred E.S. Owen (1893-1918), a leading English World War I soldier poet titled one of his most realistic poems describing trench and gas warfare with Horace’s line. Here is the story behind "the old lie".

On November 11, 2004 I signed my painting, "Dulce et Decorum Est..." (1) exactly eighty-six year after Armistice Day. My inspiration for this painting and six ink brush paintings began three years before when I was milling around an antique shop and came across portraits of World War I officers and American foot soldiers, called “Sammies” by the British.
One photo in particular jumped out at me. Five young boys in uniform are posing as solders in what appears to be someone’s side yard. They are holding rifles – some are toys, one or two could be real rifles, I am not sure. The image captivated me when I first saw it in 2001 even though decades and generations of men going off to war separated us. I bought it and stored it away.
The photo collected dust in my file as the world around me changed rapidly. When Operation Iraqi Freedom began in March 2003 I pulled the photo of the boys out of my filing cabinet and stared at it as I contextualized my thoughts about this war and the one these boys were posing for. The messaging used to encourage men to sign up for World War I and the Iraq war was all too similar. The George W. Bush administration’s fear mongering, coupled with the assurance of an easy invasion and high moral purpose, seduced the conflicted American people as effectively as the romantic propaganda from the WW1 era convinced young men to go "Over There" into France’s trenches.
Now we live in a time of perpetual war. But unlike WWI and II, relatively few of us are personally touched by these current wars. Nevertheless, our war weariness induces anxiety and controls our every move. While historians vary as to the many causes of the wars in the Middle East, most agree that the arbitrary dividing of that regions’ boundaries after WWI rather helped to usher that region into perpetual conflict.

William Faulkner once wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” (Requiem for a Nun.) With Faulkner's insightful truth in mind, I mine for found snapshots from forgotten family albums, old dolls and other paraphernalia to inspire me. I imagine the meaning and feelings of those bygone times even as the world thrusts head long into cyber planes of imagery and text that evaporate in a nanosecond.

"Dulce et Decorum est..." first signed on November 11, 2004 was reworked during the spring of 2013, the tenth anniversary of the Second Iraq war. This painting, along with a book and music composed by Robert Hitz honors the powerful poetic words of Wilfred Owen, words that ring as true for the Twenty-first century reader as the Twentieth century reader.


  • Dulce et Decorum est Pro Patria Mori

    A responsive painting to the WWI poet, Wilfred Owen of the same name.
  • Gung Ho, 14 x 11", OC, '04

    Oil study capturing the dis-ease of one of the boy soldiers. This expression is urban slang that began in the 1940s. Origin:Soldier Slang 1940's, which meant you can't wait to rush in and attack with your fellow soldiers.
  • antique photo source early 20th century

    This antique photo is one of the photo sources for the painting "Dulce Et Decorum Est" and the ink brush paintings of the boy soldiers
  • Wilfred Owen's poem, &quot;Dolce Et Decorum Est&quot;

    The last stanza, the one that inspired some many of the drawing of the boy soldiers, "If in some smothering dreams you too could pace Behind the wagon that we flung him in, And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin; If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,-- My friend, you would not tell with such high zest To children ardent for some desperate glory, The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori." Wilfred Owen, March 18, 1893 - November 4, 1918
    Microsoft Office document icon Wilfred Owen's poem, &quot;Dolce Et Decorum Est&quot;
  • Damen_Smash It Baby, 21x17", ink/paper,'05

    boy soldiers, Iraq war, propaganda,
    An ink painting studying the facial expression of one of the boys from the source photo.
  • Damen_ No Eye Baby, 28x24",ink/paper,'05

    boy soldiers, Iraq war, propaganda,
    Another example of a ink brush painting studying the expressions of the boys from the antique source photo.
  • Response piano solo by Robert Hitz - Dolce et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori

    In my opinion this beautiful piece of music perfectly captures the innocence and hopefulness of the young boy soldiers pictured in my painting, "Dolce et Decorum est..." The music ends on a pensive note. Softly these young boys fade away. When the music had finished, I wondered if those boys had lived full lives. Did they die in the next war?

Bad Education

William Faulkner once wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” (Requiem for a Nun) Today’s conflicts and thorny issues are revealed through an understanding of the past. Meaning can be sought through text and identification. During the slow, physical process of painting my mind wanders. I imagine I am that child. Static image and yet it is full of potential associations based upon my research. That said I choose subjects that explore today’s issues: racial tension, gun violence, and war in the Middle East.

“Touch Me Not”, is a response painting to the horrific massacre of nine African-American parishioners at the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17, 2015. The symbolism of the Confederate flag, which was so hotly contested in the aftermath of the confessed murderer’s embrace of it is central to the theme of this painting. While the title of the painting, a motto from a post Civil War Alabama state flag, implies that the state is impervious to outside forces and cannot be conquered, my placement of the red cross in the very center of the painting proposes a different interpretation.

The red cross both intersects and interconnects the three characters in this montage. The two young African-American children who are picking cotton express a multitude of emotions: anguish, fortitude, yearning and attentive calm. They are too young to be laborers. The expression of the younger of the two is much older than his years. His eyes penetrate the viewer. I imagine his orange hair is a result of Kwashiorkor, a severe protein deficiency. The older one is touching a cotton flower as if he is seeking beauty amongst thorns and bolls.

Many years prior to this painting I purchased an antique photograph of the southern schoolboy depicted in this painting. The inscription written in old cursive is, “Rivers B. Merriwether, 10 years old. Taken at Marion, Alabama 1869.” In the tradition of the time he is posed in such a way as to convey leadership, or even conquest reminiscent of Napoleon. Staring directly into the camera, his eyes were painted blue and his relaxed left hand rested on a plush armchair. Although his people were vanquished, the photograph seems to say; he will not know defeat. He is clad for command. Future generations will not forget his name.

Burdened. These children were burdened. They were bound by an abusive, exploitative order and the Dixie flag is its symbol. Tragically, it took the slaughter of nine worshipers to starkly expose the lie that the Confederate flag is a benign, cultural symbol.

The paintings in the "Bad Education" series touch upon the ways children are mis-educated.

  • Bad Education / Raised With Walls, 76.25 x 47.5, oil on linen, 2014

    boy soldiers, contemporary issues, oil painting
    Several antique photographs were sources for "Bad Education/Raised With Walls". I identify with boys of an era. I feel their desire to please. They are not yet formed, but are boys molded within a field of red blood. They are caught in an endless chain of mis-education, taught to be soldiers: a rock throwing youngster of the Palestinian Intifada, Japanese boys of the early twentieth century marching in military formation, an Israeli child holding a lethal knife and an American boy proud to pose at attention.
  • Damen_Slogging Thru the Lotus Swamp,30x28",OC,12/16

    swamp imagery, Buddhist mythology,
    “Slogging Thru the Lotus Swamp”, my last painting of 2016 borrows from Chinese Buddhist mythology. The lotus is the symbol of the Bodhisattva and surrounding the young woman runner are hungry ghosts created by “… evil deeds …killing, stealing and sexual misconduct. Desire, greed, anger and ignorance….”(1) The results of presidential election instigated this image of endurance. I feel that women now are especially threatened and like a Bodhisattva will jog through this latest messy swamp. (1)
  • Damen_Touch Me, Not, Oil on canvas, 60 x 48"'15

    boy soldier, slave children, confederate flag, massacre
    “Touch Me Not”, is a response painting to the horrific massacre of nine African-American parishioners at the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17, 2015. The symbolism of the Confederate flag, which was so hotly contested in the aftermath of the confessed murderer’s embrace of it, is central to the theme of this painting.
  • detail of "Touch Me Not"

    detail, lower left corner
  • Damen_It's In Our Hands, 26 x 13", OL, 2014

    A small black and white snapshot, taken around 1948 inspires "It’s In Our Hands". The photograph is both disturbing and provocative. The girl, barely beyond toddlerhood, is holding a rifle. That’s disturbing enough, but there are adults around her, laughing as she struggles to hold it. My imagination wandered and I saw those adults as apparitions representing teachers of death and of unthinking callousness. My subtle use of red forebodes the loss of blood. Over the ensuing five decades, American society has witnessed an alarming rate of child deaths due to rifles and handguns.1.
  • Damen_Dulce et Decorum est Pro Patria Mori, 71 x 78", oil on linen, 2004 & 2014

    Dolce et Decorum est, Pro Patria Mori is a line from the Roman lyrical poet Horace’s Odes (III.2.13). The line can be roughly translated into English as: “It is sweet and right to die for your country.” Wilfred Edward Salter Owen (1893-1918) used Horace’s line in his famous WWI poem of the same title.
  • Damen_Down Them Sammy, 63 x 69",OC, '05 & "13

    Sammies, young soldiers, American Eagle, oil painting
    "Down Them Sammy" refers to a caption found on an antique cartoon from the First World War. " Sammy" was the name given to American soldiers by the British. Those "Sammies”, young, brash men who engaged in that “war to end all wars" arrived with enthusiasm and even arrogance. But instead, it was a total war that scarred generations. An argument can be made that the wars we live with today can be traced to the politically motivated Middle East territory partitions that were established by the western victors.
  • Damen_Baby Boy Soldier/ Good Eye Baby, 21 x17, ink/wc/paper,'05

    boy soldier, ink drawing
    I paint this character with Chinese brush and ink. I imagined that the child lost his eye, and his sight. So many Tommies lost their sight from gas.
  • Damen_Baby Boy Soldier/ Over There Baby, 21 x 17", Chinese ink on Hsuan paper, 2005

    boy soldier, ink drawing
    I paint this character with Chinese brush and ink. Working with this media frees me to express different moods and perspectives with characters. This phrase is from a song for the WWI period.
  • Baby Boy Soldier/ Not I Baby, 21x17.5",ink/paper,'05

    boy soldier, ink drawing
    I paint this character with Chinese brush and ink. These phrases represent a thought I had while studying their expressions.

It Is Rumored

The “It is Rumored” project began with a question. “Why is this beautiful place in the Chesapeake Bay called Bloody Point?” The answers to that question led me to paint a 84 x 48" free hanging scroll on Mulberry paper using ink, watercolor, acrylic and gouache paints. The stories associated with this Point are unquestionably bloody. This scroll suspended by an American Eagle door knocker is inspired by mysteries that are legendary surrounding Bloody Point: the site of many horrific documented and rumored events. It was rumored that dead and dying slaves were tossed from ships at this deepest point of The Bay after the Middle Passage. Unquestionably many thousands of enslaved men and women were transported through these waters. Time is painted as “all over” flowing stories. The length of the scroll suggests the mysteries hidden by the water’s depth and obscured by time. A hung pirate is left to rot surrounded by the abundant beauty and bounty of The Bay even as Native Americans are slaughtered. To convey the idea that rumors and time obscure facts and sow confusion, the two paintings are mounted back-to-back. Consequently, while looking at one side, one can see the muted impressions of the other narrative image. Even though this is one painting, there is neither a front nor back. The image can be seen from both sides, encouraging many perspectives.

  • It is Rumored side A

    84 x 40" Chinese ink, watercolor, acrylic, gouache on Mulberry paper, suspended from a wood dowel and an American Eagle door knocker. I imagined side A of “It is Rumored” as a remembrance of murdered slaves who were cruelly tossed from ships. There is no documentation from insurance claims to support the practice of disposal of dead or near dying slaves at Bloody Point. But it is documented at other sites off the coast of Africa. (1) Although it does seem possible that if one wanted to hide nefarious deeds, the deepest part of the Chesapeake Bay would hide the evidence.
  • It is Rumored Side B

    84 x 40" (image size) Chinese ink, watercolor, acrylic, gouache on Mulberry paper, suspended from a wood dowel and an American Eagle door knocker. I imagined the B-side of “It is Rumored” as a remembrance of massacred Native Americans who unwittingly arrived for an "interview” only to be killed by colonists. There is a court record documenting the trial of a pirate who murdered four seamen. The pirate was tried, condemned to death by hanging and his body was left to rot at Bloody Point. I imagined the bounty of The Bay and its surrounding land.
  • detail upper A side of It is Rumored- Bloody Point

    Water fowl feed as bodies struggle to survive.
  • detail middle A of It is Rumored

    One is able to see the muted image of the hung pirate, as fish swim by and falling figures descend to the abyss.
  • detail of lower A side of It is Rumored

    Side A lower section is dense with black ink and saturated color creating a more chaotic scene.
  • detail of upper B side of It is Rumored

    Side B upper section: A ship under sail, one that brought slaves across the ocean is reflected in the water. Bubbles of expelled air are released. Elegant Blue Herons are reflected as other waterfowl dip into the Bay searching for food. One can see through to the other side, the falling side. Beauty and dread are combined within each frame.
  • detail of lower B side of It is Rumored

    The veins of the tobacco leaf are juxtaposed with falling figures.
  • Installation of It is Rumored

    Installation shot of Side A of "It is Rumored" from "Altered Truths - Fractured Myths" two person show with Oletha DeVane, at City Arts Gallery, Baltimore MD, Nov 2011- Jan 2012
  • Installation of It is Rumored- Bloody Point

    Installation shot of Side B of "It is Rumored" from "Altered Truths - Fractured Myths" two person show with Oletha DeVane, at City Arts Gallery, Baltimore MD, Nov 2011- Jan 2012

Verse to Vision - A visual Response to Poems

Two poets inspire my latest series of paintings: Maj Ragain (1940-) and Janet Lewis (1899-1998.) My affinity to these poets comes from their embrace of the quotidian, Ragain through his relationships with family, store clerks, drunks, jockeys and other sundry characters of Midwestern towns; Lewis through her love of the North Woods, seasons and American Indian lore. Their verse stirs my vision with powerful and expressive images, sometimes whimsical and magical, other times, dark and foreboding. I have collaborated with Ragain on and off for more than a decade. I know Janet Lewis only through her verse in Poems Old and New 1918-19781. (1) Both poets are broadly categorized within the free verse and imagist traditions, but their individual voices strike very different emotional cords. It is their unique cadences and rhythms I wish to translate into paintings that take the “…elements of (their) constructed words into a momentary standstill allowing the viewer a glimpse into what is ultimately too large to see in a single glance”(2 )or, a single reading, I might add. This project, which is in progress, juxtaposes selections of Ragain's and Lewis’ personal poetical “cords” and interweaves them with my personal visual vocabulary.

1. Janet Lewis. Poems Old and New 1918-1978. Swallow Press, Ohio University Press, Chicago, IL p 72
2 William Tucker, Catalog Introduction: Verse to Vision- Vision to Verse, Verde Gallery, 2004

  • Damen_ Boyhood Coat of Mail, 18x38",OL, '15

    responsive painting to Ragain poem, baseball, identity,
    Verse from "An Old Man Lies Down with the Lion, which inspired my painting, "Boyhood Coat of Mail." The dragon is bitter disappointment. Maj says "I have felt its hunger since boyhood. One midnight it (the dragon) moved its lair, to the lower bitter regions of my soul. It began to feed on what I feared and prayed against....It is prisoner to the heavy coat of mail."
  • Damen_Reborned Old Man, 17 x38", OL, 2015

    responsive painting to Ragain poem, baseball, identity,
    Verse from "An Old Man Lies Down with the Lion, which inspired my painting, "Reborned Old Man". I imagine myself the old man questioning my source for bitterness and I celebrate the old man’s realization that, “the dragon’s death marks my birthday. I do not wish to be a child again. Thou shall lie down with the lion. Thou shall be reborn as an old man." --Maj Ragain
  • Damen_I Am Here, 37x27", OL,'15

    daughter, father, dyad, oil painting, dolphins, dead fish
    Inspired by Maj Ragain’s poem, “Let the Dolphin Dance – A note to my daughter Megan”, I focus my imagery upon his words:“Hineni, in Hebrew, I am here. The words of Abraham, (spoken) long ago, to the same father.” My girl’s solid presence seems to bewilder the father. She stands upon the striped bass "...its wild life”, captured. From- Ragain, Maj, A Hungry Ghost Surrenders His Tacklebox. Pavement Saw Press, Ohio, 2006 pp.137-139
  • Damen_Jesus Jockey,12x12",OP ,'16

    quest, conflict, pollution, identity,
    Ragain's poem "The Procedure is Called Limited Containment”, is the inspiration for “Jesus Jockey”. Ragain’s verse describes the conundrum of his young geologist son. He is assigned to contain “(a) pool of bone eating doomsday toothpaste…lined with layer after layer of Hefty bags…expected to last no more than thirty years." The son is caught in a toxic swamp. An image appears of a jockey pulling off each layer of his muddied goggles. The son’s conflict has a path, "remember that Jesus was a jockey, blind and skinny and devout." Clear your eyes.
  • Damen_Clouds- A Fisherman's Aurora Borealis,12x12",OP, '12

    responsive painting to poem, memory, ants, teaching
    The following three small paintings are inspired by Maj Ragain's epic poem, "The Clouds Pile Up North". A lazy afternoon is described. Children flock to Maj for popsicles and advice. He teaches them. I imagine Maj, like a distant Taoist fisherman, under Northern Lights. "I tell them stories, how Jesus once rode a walrus down the middle of the lake. I saw it one midnight under the Aurora Borealis...Where’d the walrus come from? frowns little thumb sucking Clint." The story of Clint continues.
  • Damen_Clouds- Worker Ants,12x12", OP, '16

    responsive painting to poem, memory, ants, teaching
    Continuing Ragain's "The Clouds Pile Up North" Maj tells the children "... not to kill the ants... because these tiny creatures are all God’s children, like us, and they are my friends. I know their names, every ant on the hill. The worker ants are scurrying home to play with their kids." Clint asks the name of one, Brave Benny is the response. The boy squashes the ant. I wonder what made Clint do it? I picture Clint jumping and stamping while the other children observe and learn.
  • Damen_Clouds,The Demise Of Benny the Brave,12x12",OP,'16

    responsive painting to poem, memory, ants, teaching
    The ant is killed and Ragain responds, "One day your heart Of compassion will open. Everything will change. Clint: You’re a fat ass." I empathize with Clint. He must hurt a lot and feel stranded. No lecturing will change him. His only hope is love. "Summer is old. The lake has turned over, a murky, pungent green. Clarity is nothing I want any more. Let our closeness be such, when you weep I taste salt."
  • Damen_Lacing LIfe & Death, 81x13", OL,'15

    responsive poem, mortality, rebirth, healing
    Most of the image is underground. When I read Janet Lewis' poem " Meadow Turf" I could smell fresh dirt. Here are some inspiring phrases: ".... knife-bladed grasses, lacing their roots, lacing The life of the meadow into a deep embrace far underground, .... Springing out of a mould years old; Leaves, living and dead, whose stealing Odors on the cold bright air shed healing- Oh, heart, here is your healing, here among The fragrant living and dead." Poems Old and New: 1918-1978. Swallow Press, Ohio University Press, Chicago, IL. 1982
  • Damen_Wishful Vow_18x46",oil/linen,'14

    dreams, responsive poem, landscape metaphors, child on plank
    Janet Lewis' poem "Winter Garden" inspired this fantastic landscape and a child's perilous walk along an unsecured plank. Lewis recalls a child in a beautiful garden with calendulas, pomegranate tree and twisted vines. Then, like so many fairy princesses, she pricks her finger, but is not cursed. Instead Lewis makes a vow, "Now that you sleep your joy to replenish, Each branch, each varied lifting bough, That not a leaf in your garden perish." It IS a “Wishful Vow”. Janet Lewis. Poems Old and New 1918-1978.
  • Damen_East of the Sun West of the Moon, 14x30",OC,'14

    nature, children, landscape as rebirth, children on planks, discovery, quest
    "The Indians in the Woods" and "The Wife of Manibozho Sings" contributed toward the inspiration of my painting "East of the Sun, West of the Moon". Lewis’ poems remind me of the intimacy between nature and children, their wonder at every new thing, “distinct and visible”. To them, the smallness of things, like the berry leaf, is admired and remembered. This painting captures a moment, which is expectant with the coming and going of children. The children and the woods are treasures, each part of a whole. Poems Old and New 1918-1978.

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