In his new show, The Reckoning, Christopher Ulrich’s paintings function as doorways that lead through him and out into the expanse of the universe. The seeming paradox of delving into the deepest, darkest reaches of the soul of the artist, contending with all the layers and monsters therein, just to work one’s way out into the light is the lesson of The Reckoning. Only through surrender and death can we be reborn.
The Reckoning is the third part of an epic series by Christopher entitled The Christ Chronocator. Part One, Demoneater, first showed at the Bergamot Station on the Day of the Dead (November 2), 2007. Part Two, Illuminator: The Royal Wedding, debuted at La Luz de Jesus on August 6, 2010.
The work in this installment is simultaneously acutely personal and not at all concerned with him. Christopher’s image is found on the far right of the Last Supper. Enrobed in antique garb, with his back turned to the other characters, he exits the scene. The likeness reflected in the mirror he holds is perfection. Yet he is simply a stand-in for the archetype of the classical artist. He is there in spirit, but mortal, and he cannot stay.
At the same time, his essence is divided amongst each face in The Last Supper. They are all elements of his personality and humanity.
There are myriad interpretations of the gathering, but one, that each person is a facet of Christ, is intimately tied to another painting in the series, Crucifixion. In Crucifixion, the greying flesh of the Christ figure is pierced by the sharp beak of a greedy vulture. At the top of the cross a sign reads: U.R.I.T. Christopher explained this should be read, “you are it.” The traditional inscription, “INRI,” “Here is Hung The King of the Jews,” is meaningless. The truer significance of this icon is that we are all Christ. We are all mortal and we are all to be sacrificed.
Another insight into Christopher’s Last Supper is that it functions as a map of the stars. Everyone seated at the table is a planet divinity such as Jupiter, Neptune, and Uranus. All converge at the Moon, Mother Mary, and the Sun, Jesus Christ. Surrounding these central figures, further indicating their importance, is a large heart. If you look behind them at the two arches and then follow the curves down to the point of the dragon, you’ll see it.
According to Christopher the myth of Christianity is the myth of the rise and fall of the Sun. The light of the moon, or the sacred feminine, and the sun, the hot-tempered masculine, is imbued in every painting of the series.
Furthermore, according to Linette Martin’s book, The Sacred Doorways, “In Alchemists’ books the Philosopher’s Stone was pictured as a small child or new born baby; he was the Royal child born of Mother Mercury who was of the Moon.” Both the baby representing this elixir of life, and the Holy Grail from which it can be consumed, are found within the heart. Love is a force as strong as immortality.
Those characters in The Last Supper who are not seated at the table, the red-haired, impish slave; the white-bearded fatherly representation of the artist Leonardo DaVinci; the rocking dragon with his soothing cherub attendants; and the artist, each have a meaning as well. Christopher described them as the embodiment of Spirit, Wisdom, Awareness and Vision.
The Last Supper is the beating heart of the series and the most tranquil. The image demonstrates the peace that is achieved through Atonement and self-awareness.
The other eleven images in the series all illustrate more violent and primal forces of humanity.
One gets the sense that painting the series was an eviscerating experience. The artist martyrs himself to realize the vision. Christopher is a vessel that has been cracked open and spilled onto the work. His passion for mythology, alchemy, mysticism, and all of the fantastic images that he has accumulated and filed away in cluttered corners of his mind, are evident in every painting. He dances dangerously with his estrangement from the controlling force of Catholicism, which was key to his upbringing, challenging established notions of the Christ story.
Each painting was rendered in oil paint on wood panel and then covered with resin. The high-gloss resin coating gives the work a luminous, vibrant quality as though each piece was painted on a star. Though he uses non-traditional techniques, the effects he achieves are reminiscent of the masters of the Renaissance, the Late Gothic period and the Baroque period and the icons he draws from are obviously much older.
As grand as the subject matter, so is the scale of the paintings. Framed, eleven of the images are nearly four feet wide and seven feet high. The twelfth painting, The Last Supper, fills a gallery wall, stretching sixteen and five sixths feet wide and eight and five sixths feet high. It’s composed of four wood panels and I was told it weighs four hundred pounds.
Because of their size, the paintings really do invite the viewer to step into Christopher’s world. Each painting is detailed with little dramas, characters and even symbols of the zodiac so that on each viewing, more intentions are revealed.
A thousand words could easily be written about each of these pictures, such is the depth of their construction. It’s hard to describe the feeling I had in the pit of my stomach when entering the gallery and seeing the series for the first time. There’s awe, of course. But it was also something more physical and at the verge of uncomfortable or unsettling. I’ve been wrestling with the meanings and emotions in the show since I saw it and it merits extended study.
“I believe this thing is divinely inspired,” Christopher said, “because it’s too complex for me.”
The show is a wondrous achievement. Christopher deserves to be hailed as one of the greatest artists of his generation. The series, especially The Last Supper, belongs in a museum. It would be a great loss were this work to be hidden from sight in storage after the show closes.
The Reckoning’s opening reception was held at La Luz de Jesus Gallery in Los Angeles on Friday December 7. The show was packed with stars of the Southern California art world including Myron Conan Dyal, Chet Zar, Clint Carney, David Van Gough, Tatomir Pitariu, Cam Rackam, Krystopher Sapp, Vega, Jennifer Jelenski, and Jeremy Cross. The night was a celebration of the work, the arts and the privilege of being together. Though many of us had very high expectations, I think it’s fair to say that they were all exceeded.
La Luz de Jesus publicist Lee Joseph posted photos of the opening reception as well as some excellent detailed views of the paintings in his Flickr stream. Lisa Derrick wrote about the lecture Myron Conan Dyal and Christopher Ulrich gave about the show last Sunday night (which I also attended and found edifying) on Cartwheel.
I never would have been able to decipher certain aspects of this show without the help of my friends, artist David Van Gough and Hyaena Gallery owner Bill Shafer, and I greatly appreciate their patience.
The lustre and size of each painting can only be experienced in person so I urge you to make the trip if you’re around Los Angeles. For enhanced appreciation, I recommend headphones and classical music. the gallery is tucked inside a colorful and vibrant retail space that plays a mix of contemporary music, which is suited for shopping, but not for spiritual reflection. The show will be up through December 30. For more information about the artist and the show, visit Christopher’s website and the La Luz de Jesus website.