“Everywhere were bluets and Spanish bayonets, goosefoot, morning glories and day lilies, the hairy-fruited bean, purslane and clotbur and sesame and panic grass and feverfew.”
While this may sound like a description of a magical garden, it’s actually Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist John Hersey’s account of Hiroshima residents discovering that the bombing that leveled their city and killed as many as 140,000 people had stimulated the underground organs of plants. Miami artist Christina Pettersson has been haunted by this story since she first heard it years ago. She often thought about it while she created the video, sculpture and large-scale graphite drawings that appear in Resurrection, a solo exhibition that recently opened at Spinello Gallery in Miami.
“The thing you bring back is never what you lost,” the Swedish-born artist notes in the invitation to her show. “When beauty is the aftermath of terrible violence, it is an aching reminder of what a fearful thing it is to love what death can touch. A resurrection is like a foreboding, a song that never rises from anywhere but the grave.”
In keeping with the resurrection theme, “Ophelia at Fourteen” and “Desdemona Sleeping Beside Death” are about resurrecting Shakespeare’s murdered women. The latter drawing depicts a dead Desdemona lying beside a sleeping Desdemona. “Desdemona was Othello’s wife, whom he murdered, a kind of resurrection in action,” Pettersson says. “Between [the Desdemonas] is a mink with a toad in its mouth, a reference to a line in the play when Othello declares he’d rather be a toad in the mink’s mouth than see her live, believing she has betrayed him.”
“Eudora Welty’s Grave” and another drawing titled “Zora Neal Hurston’s Grave” depict trees from the cemeteries of two Southern writers Pettersson adores. She made a road trip to both of their graves. The tree trunk in “Eudora Welty’s Grave” is two feet across, like the tree that inspired it.
“I traveled over the summer specifically to visit Welty’s grave in Jackson, Miss., finding one of the most beautiful cemeteries I have ever been in,” Pettersson recalls. “It had the same Southern forgotten elegance found in the rest of the city. In this sense, it’s very much a self-portrait — more than the portraits are — because it is a record of a specific experience in my life. It’s a juniper tree, full of life, strong, beautiful.”
The Spinello Gallery is located at 155 N.E. 38th St., in Miami. Call 786-271-4223 or visit Spinellogallery.com.
Contact Colleen Dougher at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story was originally published Jan. 20, 2010.