Andres Serrano was born in 1950 in New York from a half-Honduran, half-Cuban family. Growing up as a Roman Catholic, he brought the visual culture of his religious upbringing into his own production as a photographer. In this post, I will delve into some of Serrano’s iconic works, showing how they succeed in distilling the bodily language of Catholic imagery, emphasising its most gory and visceral aspects. The result is bold, somewhat gruesome, and yet powerfully attractive.
Blood Madonna – Andres Serrano
Blood Madonna, one of Serrano’s large Cibachrome prints, displays various references to traditional religious iconography. The image depicts a veiled woman looking upwards with a suffering expression, further emphasised by a single blood tear running down her left cheek. The overall composition reminds us of many figures of saints from the Renaissance period onwards. The reference to blood and the pathos evoked by the picture’s aura of anguish are typical of Baroque art, especially given its focus on the empathetic power of images. Using a term dear to Fredric Jameson, Serrano’s piece is a pastiche of different visual influences which come together into a new original work.
Piss Christ – Andres Serrano
Body fluids such as blood, urine, or semen are often featured in Serrano’s work. There is a dirty component about these elements, although they also express a visceral dimension, related to the most basic functions of our own body. In Blood Madonna, the blood tear is used to express the extreme heights of suffering, typical of religious narratives, to a point where it becomes almost parodistic. Another famous work by Serrano along these lines is obviously Piss Christ, one of his most controversial creations. It is a photograph of a plastic crucifix in a container filled with the artist’s own urine. The object, which was made in 1987, was considered shocking and offensive by the public. In the following years, when the picture was occasionally displayed in a given gallery or museum, it caused protests and the artist became a figure of hate. The visceral content of his pictures was indeed matched with a visceral response.
Madonna and Child II – Andres Serrano
Serrano reinterprets his own Catholic culture through the bodily aspects which define the Christian faith. The intrinsic violence of the crucifixion as the core of the religious experience, the frequent references in liturgy and popular devotions to the tears of Mary, the blood of the martyrs and so on… Serrano condenses these influences into images which have the power to impress the viewer. His creations reflect on the meaning of religion and its connection to a pre-rational dimension, rooted in our relationship with the body.