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The Barga shrine paintings

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Keane – The Barga shrine paintings

It is sometimes very difficult to explain the reason behind making a particular series of paintings as the actual original reasons can be many and varied. Such is the case with the latest work – the Barga shrine paintings, but basically there were probably three main inputs to start this particular work.


Number one

In July of 2014, a young motorcyclist, Fabio Aprili from Pieve Fosciana (LU), lost his life after losing control of his Ducati motorcycle on a bend of the main road at the bottom of the valley at Acquabona.

Ever since then there has been a bunch of plastic flowers attached to the guard rail by the side of the road to mark the spot. More plastic flowers have been added over the years since.

I have been a keen motorcyclist for the last 45 years and each time I pass those plastic flowers on that bend I cannot help but notice them and give a thought for the young man in his twenties who lost his life there.

These “temporary shrines” have started to appear in various places in this area when an accidental death takes place and somebody, usually relatives and family, wish to mark spot. In nearby Lucca, some have even started to appear close to zebra crossings, ironically statistically one of the most dangerous places to cross the road as giving way to pedestrians on zebra crossings does not seem to be a widespread concept.

Number two

These artificial flowers are also now widely seen in many of the churches and maestaine, the roadside shrines in Garfagnana.

I also recently spent sometime in a number of hospitals in the area and noted how many times I saw religious statues, more often than not Madonnas and all with multiple crucifixes and rosaries around their necks .The arrival of images, crosses and crucifixes featuring Lourdes,  Padre Pio and the “new entry” –   Medjugorje, also has the feel of some serious new marketing or branding taking place. 

Number Three

A new phenomenon in this area was most readily seen after a recent trip to Lago Santo . A lakeside crucifix had been adorned with it not just religious icons, crucifixes and rosaries but also numerous hair clips, adornments, bracelets and even spoons. It had moved from what was a religious position to an almost fetishist situation. It reminds me of the padlocks now adorning many bridges in Paris and makes me think that the internet and selfies photographs has something to do with this situation.  The idea of participation and proof that “I was here” … bordering on what could be called a kind of “object graffiti” .

Each final painting has been given multiple coats of transparent varnish in an attempt to make any viewer who stands in front of the painting see their reflection inside the pictorial space. In the sense they have entered and become part of the image.

B.- Projects not yet Exhibited/Premiered

The main work:  The Barga Shrine paintings  – an installation 

An installation of 10 large oil paintings featuring Chinese plastic flowers and religious icons – 80 cm by 100 cm each with handbuilt frames featuring a lower shelf and protective roof based on the maestaine – the roadside shrines in Garfagnana 

Some of the roofs of the maestaine will be covered in thin sheets of tin- again another familiar sight in Garfagnana, often seen on old decaying wooden doors to barns to keep the weather out.

On the shelves will be a series of religious icons which can be found on most maestaine and also in many houses.

Candles or even strips of tiny electric lights could also be added.

Secondary work in progress

The bunches of plastic flowers were all pulled apart once the 10 paintings were finished and were mounted on large canvases (again 80 kms x 100cm ) and then covered with sheets of plexiglass flexible plastic sheeting. Religious icons were then painted directly on the plastic sheeting.

Since then more layers have been added , this time using clear plastic wrap and once again religious icons painted across them.

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