Some scholars have argued that all artistic expression is simply humanity’s attempt to understand the divine: that sense of connectedness with something bigger that’s nearly impossible to articulate with words. After a severe tremor forced her to abandon the brush 25 years ago, artist Mary Jane Q Cross now uses her fingers to fulfill her life’s desire to paint and become closer to God.
Whether one identifies with religion or not, it’s impossible to deny that the paintings by Mary Jane Q Cross (b. 1951) capture a powerful spirit that is absolutely hypnotic. “I look for subjects that are going to carry me through weeks of painting,” Cross says. “It has to be captivating, with nobility and underlying narrative beauty.” Frequently choosing female subjects arrested in thought or prayer, Cross’s paintings evoke a quiet stillness and peace that encourages viewers to sense both divine and visual spirituality. Cross suggests, “My viewers uncover, discover, and find it in my paintings. Whether they are spiritual or secular, the impact is the same.”
Mary Jane Q Cross, “Study for the Queen of Sheba, I Serve the God of Solomon,” oil on panel, 22 x 28 in.
(c) Mary Jane Q Cross 2016
Cross’ work also has a special touch, literally. About 25 years ago, the artist began to suffer from a severe tremor, which forced her to abandon the brush. Since then, Cross employs her fingers to impart paint onto the canvas. The tranquility of her subjects seems to echo the artist’s inner peace and faith. “Knowing exactly where to place paint has been vital,” she says. “I cannot ‘load a brush’ nor move it around much once it’s applied. The right amount of paint for the strokes, color, and value is deliberate. If a situation forces you to abandon your tools, find a way to fall on your knees and ask how to continue. Life is not so much a snapshot as it is a video. It took 5 1/2 years to relearn my craft as a ‘living/dead’ artist. There was always a sense of how to reinvent and how to get the work done. Spiritually and physically, there was an answer. Finding the right path to accomplish this was more of a larger-than-life movie than a video.”
Mary Jane Q Cross, “Grace Wrapper in this Life of Many Colors,” oil on panel, 30 x 26 in. (c) Mary Jane Q Cross 2016
Recalling the realization and process behind her tremendous “I Have the Perfect Lamb, Lord,” Cross explains, “Usually there is something pivotal that sets off actual inspiration, and in this case, I had a local farmer unexpectedly call and say, ‘MJ, lambs have been born, you only have a few days before they’re too feisty for an 8-year-old.’ I jumped and began to assemble costumes and props and think of ways to keep my model warm! On a personal note, my close friend’s husband was losing a battle for his life. The emotional response to my friend’s impending loss was painted with every fingerprint I pressed, every prayer we prayed, and every tear spent. He passed while I was working on this piece. My response to nearly all things is to pray and paint. The quiet seriousness of those days is tender in this earnest, narrative work.”
Mary Jane Q Cross, “The Contemplative,” oil on panel, 30 x 40 in. (c) Mary Jane Q Cross 2016
Mary Jane Q Cross, “The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth,” oil on panel, 20 x 16 in. (c) Mary Jane Q Cross 2016
In addition to her visual endeavors, Cross is also a published poet. Her book, Poems of a Painter, Paintings of a Prayer”, is now in its third printing. The next edition will include 40 additional poems along with paintings that have accompanying essays.
Mary Jane Q Cross, “Tender Hands in Trying Times,” oil on panel, 40 x 26 in. (c) Mary Jane Q Cross 2016
At 64, Cross understands that her time to paint won’t last forever. “I’ve always said — and believed — that I would need three lifetimes to paint half of the paintings I envision. Choosing paintings that are worthy to be painted is a new and softly nagging consideration,” the artist says. “Speaking engagements are ever increasing, and making time for those has been a strong way to give back to the industry. Also, national and international competitions still hold great joy for me and allow me to work with larger formats that galleries are not always comfortable with. My personal and direct contact with viewers has been very successful, and it’s always about relationships.”
Mary Jane Q Cross, “Blood Moon Rising,” oil on panel, 40 x 30 in. (c) Mary Jane Q Cross 2016