Julia Fast-Grass reimagines the past—with solo cups

Student artist’s renaissance-inspired contemporary work explores campus life

"The intoxication of Mary Magdalin," hanging in the Union Gallery.
Credit: 
Photo provided by Julia Fast-Grass.

Picture this: the Bible on a modern day university campus, heavily plagued by a binge-drinking culture. Julia Fast-Grass is creating that.

A Fine Arts major and an Art History minor, Fast-Grass, ArtSci ’20, uses her academic knowledge to tackle religious paintings in her work.

In her painting, "The Intoxication of Mary Magdalin," Fast-Grass uses Renaissance, Baroque, and Mannerist styles to create a contemporary version of the piece that inspired her: "Mary Magdalin in Ecstasy" by Caravaggio.

Much of the artwork from these styles focuses on a religious subject matter. Fast-Grass said preoccupations with faith were popular in the 17th century, but the art world isn’t the same anymore.

“It doesn’t resonate or relate as much to people now, it doesn’t relate to me either. I spun it to have a more contemporary vibe so it’s more relatable,” Fast-Grass told The Journal.

In the original piece by Caravaggio, Mary Magdalin is overcome with ecstasy for her love of God. The ecstasy stems from her religious devotion, but in our society, Fast-Grass hasn’t seen religion as cause for ecstasy. Instead, she sees joy in her social circles when people drink; she sees it in bars and at parties.

“I thought, being a university student, when we’re having a good time, we get that feeling of ecstasy and intoxication from partying. So, bringing these religious figures together, it really plays on that subject matter that was very important and not secular at all,” Fast-Grass said.

In Fast-Grass’ painting, three figures lay in limp positions. One woman, based on Mary Magdalin, lies on the ground, propped up on her arm. Her robe has slipped off her shoulders and her breasts are exposed.

Above this figure are two angels. One is smoking and the other is gazing at the woman on the floor. Around them lie empty wine bottles, red solo cups, beer pong balls, and pizza.

It’s a stark contrast from the original image, which featured musical instruments and was set outdoors.

Fast-Grass chose to change this image because she wanted to play with the classical role of women in religious stories and imagery. Painting her figures in a setting that’s more “house party” than holy place, she challenges the typically chaste and pure representation of women in art.

“I wanted to have them look like they’re having a good time, doing what they want. They’re being their own person,” Fast-Grass said.

While she said this playful approach to remaking and repurposing religious figures and artwork wasn’t a critique of religion, she’s commenting on historically famous art.

Her piece forces viewers to acknowledge the manipulation of women throughout art’s history. When women were painted chaste, it was to promote an enforced standard, Fast-Grass said.

“I’m totally up for people to interpret it however they want, but I hope they see some humour in it and recognize that it’s more than classical art history brought into a contemporary setting. I hope they can relate to it,” she said.  

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