Painted between November 3rd and 28th, 2020
Oil on canvas; over 10 feet wide, over 8 feet high
In the Old Testament of the Bible of the Christian religion, there is a chapter of the Book of Exodus called “The Burning Bush.” The chapter describes how the Hebrew prophet Moses encounters a bush that is burning without being consumed. Moses then hears the voice of God emerge from this singular shrubbery, delivering unto Moses a mission to return to the land he fled from in order to lead his people out of oppression and into freedom.
This is quite a famous story in Christian teaching, and it has been told and illustrated in many ways and over many centuries.
I have had an uncomfortable amount of time to think in solitary silence during the quarantine of 2020, and in the vacuum of sound and fury, I find myself even more inclined than usual to become very curious about very odd things – such as the strange conundrum of a bush which burns yet is not consumed.
I was snagged on strange details of this old story, and questions began to burn in my mind, questions which yielded no answers to consume in exchange.
For instance, why do no translations of Exodus ever mention any smoke? (Could this lack of output/smoke prove in a scientific sense that the fire really was not consuming any input/fuel?)
Why is God so cryptic – “I Am Who Am?” (That’s a nametag label which would give me pause in any circumstance, and I can’t imagine it offered Moses any clarification at the time.)
Why did God feel it necessary to call upon the services of an aging shepherd who had just abandoned the very people he was supposed to now save, to slavery in Egypt, in order to flee a murder charge (of which he really was guilty)?
Why did God abandon the very people He was now handing off to Moses to go save?
Why did He permit the act of slavery in the first place?
Why does He ever let anything bad happen?
Why is He letting 2020 happen?
I might still be happily locked in the cycle of asking unanswerable questions if I hadn’t begun to turn my line of questioning inward:
Is there an analog for the “burning bush” in my life?
What is it which sustains my will to work, even during the 21st century ice age which COVID-19 has triggered?
Whose voice is it which is still giving me purpose and mission as I sit alone in four cold, empty walls?
I sat and thought quite a lot.
Then, the sky opened up (with the aid of a little caffeine), and an answer finally plopped down.
The people in my life are my burning bush.
The people in my life sustain my will to work.
The people in my life are my purpose.
As it was in my beginning, is now, and ever shall be –
Even as the world as I know it comes to an end.
I set to work, using the new fuel of my realization to push through COVID-prompted artistic inertia. For a little less than one full month of great intensity subsequent to my moment of clarity, I drew out the vision. I painted. I fought. I produced.
No smoke – just a Burning Bush.
During the act of creating this painting, I pushed myself more than I ever have before and climbed to higher heights than I had ever anticipated reaching. I made copious use of old family records, scaldingly hot chocolate, the score of the ballet Giselle, the work of the rap maestro known as Logic, all-natural vegan chewing gum, and the patience of my amazing mother, father, and brother. I sang beyond the standards of sanity, I got paint on every surface in my bedroom, and what I lost in sleep, I more than made up for in thought.
My guidebook was a copy of the Bible which had belonged to my Lolo – my father’s father, who survived World War II in the Philippines, worked to pay for even so much as a “public” high school education, immigrated to the United States, became an incredible doctor, married an incredible doctor, raised four beautiful sons, and practiced medicine in Queens until he contracted COVID-19 from a patient in March. His handwritten notes spurred my progress. Now, he lives on exclusively in these notes, in the people whose lives he has protected, in our memory, in our photos, and in my paint. See him for yourself next to his wife in the far-right of this canvas – my father grinning below.
I gave myself to this piece irresponsibly. I cut it pretty close, living and breathing my medium in a new way. My living situation entails that my studio setup is a turned-over toy chest with a bulletin board laid flat on it, with an empty plastic picture frame as my big fancy painter’s palette, in between my bed and my room’s largest wall – where I hung as large an expanse of canvas cloth as I could fit. This was the station at which I worked, and I couldn’t possibly be more grateful for it – for the ability to continue my work at all.
I did many things which I had never intended to do. In order to portray the figure on the left, I revisited the most painful form of entrapment which I have ever personally experienced – my scoliosis brace. I wore this plastic corset for sixteen hours a day for every day for over ten years of my life in order to prevent a back surgery which would forcibly straighten my S-shaped spine by fusing it into place with titanium rods and screws. (You can see the scar from that very surgery in the painting, denoted with a ray of vivid yellow light – which was all I could process when I emerged from the anesthetized fog of fifteen hours of back surgery. Just an overwhelming yellow light.)
The brace fit as though I had taken it off the day before, instead of some eight years before. It felt just as painful, too. I wore it for a while before taking any reference photos in it, so that I could catch just the right expression of pain and desperation. I painted my arms as they were in that moment – as I moved frantically to undo those three old straps, with the muscle memory of doing so thousands of times still remaining from years ago. I hope never to need to put my brace back on again.
This was a start – but after obtaining this image and painting myself into the piece, things took a wild turn.
Ask anyone who knows me, and they will tell you that my modus operandi as an artist is to plan out elaborate, enormous compositions, replete with hidden symbols and painstakingly-encoded messages. This is the way my prior two large pieces came into being.
However, I didn’t do that with this third large composition. I tried trusting my instincts, and praying fervently for the grace and the power to paint an impactful work. With minimal planning, I proceeded to work with a rigor which I have never been able to muster before.
I still don’t understand, looking back after emerging from my month-long feverous haze, where the fervor came from. It’s easy to attribute a night of inspired work to a sad news article and some extra-potent coffee, but this was a marathon – not a sprint. I sustained my pace for the duration of this piece, and every night, I laid in bed five feet away from an entirely new image. This was the nature of my urgency – a fire.
I had the global pandemic at the forefront of my mind, and I was not fully conscious of recreating the flag of the Free Hong Kong pro-democracy movement. I was not fully conscious of mimicking that movement’s imagery and even the color scheme. I did not even realize the association until a few nights before Burning Bush was done. However, my support of Hong Kong is critical to my mission beyond even painting, and my heart constantly feels as though it is breaking for the people of Hong Kong during these times – so it makes absolute sense to me that even without intentionally recalling the visual themes of the movement, that even after not being directly exposed to them for months, they were at the forefront of my mind, and of course, my paints. When the memory resurfaced from some subconscious but obviously yet active part of myself, it hit me with the force of a column of wind and fire. I can only interpret this as one of many signs that my prayers for artistic guidance were heard.
Now, as I try to do what I can to draw out Burning Bush from my bedroom and to show it to as many eyes as I can, I still burn with questions, but also now with a new prayer.
I pray to meet you.
Every single one of you.
Everyone else, too – especially the ones who don’t have the patience to read this far!
I pray to the One who Is, Whoever They may Be, that when we are delivered from this 21st-century plague, that I get to meet you –
In person –
To shake your hand –
To thank you for your time –
And to pass you the torch…
For your Burning Bush.
Please take your time to process and enjoy Burning Bush. If you or any others have any questions or would like to speak to me for any reason, please call or text me at (732) 991-9799 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. To view more of my work, please visit the rest of my website at michaelalozada.net.
I invite and encourage you to show my work to anyone whom you would like to share it with. All I ask is that you do not use any of my work to promote violence in any context, and that you credit the creator – Michaela Jane Lozada.