Whether you believe in God or not, you have to admit some of it is pretty trippy. Devils, ghosts, people rising from the dead, to believe in the bible to the letter requires a leap of, well, faith. For his latest series of paintings, New York State-based artist Ethan Stuart, who was brought up in the church his grandfather founded but left as a teen, looks back at important moments in his life, inspired by the difference in the conclusions he drew as a god-fearing young adult and now, with a bit distance.
“A lot of my family still follows a non-denominational Christian faith, which looks evangelical in some ways,” Ethan tells It’s Nice That. “A lot of my uncles are pastors of rather big fellowships, so I try to stay away from any negative conversations about it. It’s not for me though. My friend put me onto to [philosopher and Zen enthusiast] Alan Watts when I was 16 and we would smoke pot and listen to his teachings for hours. That’s when I bowed out of Christianity.”
But leaving the church didn’t mean abandoning his curiosity into how this upbringing had shaped him. Now Ethan’s work explores events from his youth, or his family’s history, through the lens of the Christian faith. “It’s a way for me to allow the supernatural in,” he tells It’s Nice That. “I think I still lean on the faith I had when I was younger as a sort of rescue from reality.”
In his autumnal scenes, Ethan explores moments like the two fires that ravaged his family florist – the business that he was set to run. Seeing the fires as an act of God rather than the work of an arsonist put a different perspective on his career as an artist, something he never would have been able to pursue without the fires. “It allowed for my perception of it all to change and let in a narrative of divine intervention – it was all God’s plan,” he says. Other paintings explore the problematic figure of his uncle, who did harmful things to his family, including instances of sexual assault. “It’s a painting of a man who essentially was the devil to me,” he says. “Especially because at the time I believed in the devil and his ability to show himself through the acts of men. When the first fire happened I was told he pulled up in a truck across the street (after having not been seen in years) and got out to watch the fire while laughing aloud. He then became a suspect, but it wasn’t him.”
Ethan creates his works by painting opaque layers of acrylic over opaque layer “looking for something to happen before allowing for the real painting to start,” he says. “It’s both practical and I’m mostly just a gushing nerd for painting so I’m not interested, right now, in getting too far away from the purist form of that.” Featuring geometric landscapes, strange characters and some very lovely animals, there’s a lot to enjoy about Ethan’s work, even if you don’t know the back story. “There definitely is a lot of personal information in these that I don’t expect the viewer to completely understand,” he says. “But it’s a way for me to revisit this time and make paintings that are driven by real feelings.”