I linked up Daniel Martin Diaz’s wonderful work a couple of days before Christmas 2004 after he had completed a project called Thirty-One Drawings – Thirty-One Days, which was “collection of Christian iconography thatâ€™s been reworked with his dark, unusual and dream-like style” (my words back then by the way!). A book of this work was published and celebrated and I eventually picked up a copy to cherish myself. I was imediatelly drawn to the way he portrayed the subject and found his drawings very moving.
When you look at a book like this you just know it’s going to be a winner without seeing inside. The silver coloured letter-pressed decoration surrounds a cut out Diaz image that adorns the black cloth covered cover gives it all away. A book of his work wouldn’t be right without such luxurious binding I suppose so it doesn’t seem over-done at all. His paintings are truly grand; not necessarily in size but in style and emotion. There are many repeated themes in the majority of his paintings. I’m not talking about the fact that they are all so obviously religious and that there is obviously much suffering involved in the Catholic belief of salvation but that there are repeated components in his work. The orthodox religious imagery often gives way to other kinds of mythological styles where alchemy and other kinds of worship are noted. Numbers and symbols play a huge part in the pieces too. 13 in particular comes up again and again (particularly on human skulls) and I can’t help thinking that there’s also some kind of divination references coming through too. The suffering comes in many forms. Often it is simply implied in the saddened faces of the key players; Jesus and Mary. Perhaps the most distressing part is the how they are often bound or dismembered. I wouldn’t say any of it gory due to Diaz’s painting style. What I mean to say is that none of the paintings are photo-realistic as such. They are very stylised in a very 2 dimensional way that also makes me think they are really old paintings. His distressed style really makes the paintings look like they come from another time altogether. This is probably due to many reasons. He paints on old wood and makes his own frames and also a limited palate of warm ancient tones painted with egg tempera and resin oil. These paints were commonly used in the middle ages by the painters of the time who were also predominantly painting religious pieces.
Because I have no understanding of the Latin text that accompanies the majority of Diaz’s pieces I am left with just the imagery to tell the stories. This isn’t really a stumbling block though as it just adds to the mystery that his paintings convey. It’s not easy looking at Diaz’s work and not just because of the Latin text or the dark way in which he portrays the subject matter. They are complex paintings full of hints and clues to their real meanings.
I don’t think for a minute that every painting doesn’t mean something quite finite. While we may make up our own mind what each represents, the true meaning has been skilfully bound with Diaz’s brush. Maybe we’ll work it out and maybe we won’t. Does this complicate things? Not at all. It’s part of the enjoyment of reading such paintings. They are almost encrypted and only by looking deep into them will we be likely to decipher them.
Dead trees, skulls on barren landscapes and fiery holes in the ground all add to the semi-discomfort of viewing his work. Here’s the thing – I was brought up a Catholic and I’ve always shared a love or Christian imagery. I have also always found it difficult to look at, especially since becoming an atheist. Perhaps it’s so deep-rooted in me that I feel that I shouldn’t really be enjoying it for such a simple pleasure? If you search the archives on Ektopia you’ll see no end of this kind of iconography. None of it like Diaz’s of course but plenty of crucifixes etc. I have a feeling that even though these images are very dark that perhaps true Catholics would find more comfort in them than I do. It still leaves me wondering if Catholics would view some of the pieces as blasphemous. I guess that this isn’t an issue and that they have a deeper understanding of the imagery than I do because it seems that his work is more than accepted by the Catholics; not only are many of the pieces in permanent situ in nine art museums but he also has also painted to large-scale alter-pieces in a Catholic church in Mexico. You can’t argue with that kind of acceptance can you.
It’s rare to find work that you can say is emotive for a Christian or an atheist. It fills me with sadness but at the same time exhilarates me for some reason. Maybe it takes me back to a time when I had faith or maybe it’s just that Diaz is such a fine painter and that he’s discovered a way to transcend his ideas from the canvas into peoples hearts and minds.
Diaz himself says –
I am most influenced by the great amount of human suffering that has occurred throughout history and oneâ€™s undying faith in the after life.
I think this is the try answer to the mystery that is woven into his work. Faith – what a wonderful thing to have and to be able to paint about. Of course, I wish I had the art history knowledge to be able to reference his work but I don’t. For me it’s unique. It’s a signature style unlike anyone else. Mysterium Fidei weighs in at 128 pages and is a cloth-covered hardback 10″ x 10″ edition. It’s available direct from Daniel Martin Diaz, La Luz De Jesus, Last Gasp and from all the usual places AmazonUK. Oh, he’s an great musician too…talented bugger!