(Art) 'How to Express the Divine Feminine?' by Elaine Drew

Theotokas by Elaine Drew

About 16 years ago I began working to master painting techniques that I hoped to use to express the divine feminine. The first step was to figure out which particular technique to use. My family was Russian Orthodox, and this exposed me to the beauty of traditional icons. I had worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and there saw examples of every sort of art, but the art that seemed most suited to express divinity resided in the medieval and Renaissance galleries, so I began to experiment with the techniques these early artists used. From books — especially Daniel V. Thompson’s The Practice of Tempera Painting: Materials and Methods  — I learned enough to get started with egg tempera painting. This involved learning how to make glue gesso and apply it to a panel and how to make egg tempera paint by grinding pigments and tempering them with egg yolk.

I’ve chosen three paintings to show some of the different ways I’ve attempted to depict divinity. My task in these paintings was to portray the sacred quality of the Mother as well as the combined joy and pain that lies at the heart of motherhood. So, in a sense, the paintings are meant to be a tribute to our earthly mothers as well as a meditative object that gives us a window through which we can contemplate the Divine Mother. I started with a traditional model: the first painting, Theotokas and Child, is a traditional Orthodox icon. In order to understand both the techniques and the theology of icon painting I studied with the Prosopon School.

St. Anne by Elaine Drew

The second painting in the series is St. Anne. She is the Virgin Mary’s mother. I created this painting in order to show a mother with a female child, since it seemed to me that we women had been denied a sacred image of a mother devoted to her daughter. My personal reason for creating the image was to “give” a mother to my mother-in-law who, being adopted, had a deep longing for her birth mother. I modeled the infant on my mother-in-law’s baby picture, and I modeled St. Anne on her daughter — reversing the mother / daughter order, but keeping the family relationship. Stylistically this image is based on Renaissance models.

Egg Mother by Elaine Drew

In the final image, Egg Mother, I present the sacred mother symbolically. All shapes in the painting are based on eggs, and the decoration is based on Ukrainian Easter eggs.