By Tara Bennett
For the first time ever, mixed medium digital works have been accepted into the permanent collection by the Museo Francescano in Rome. But these artworks were not created in the Vatican, nor in Italy, nor in Europe. They were created in the studio of Carl Jacobson, a visual artist based in Baton Rouge, who embarked on a journey to Rome this past April to personally hand-deliver his work to the museum.
“My first reaction was that it didn’t seem real to me,” said Jacobson. “I mean, here was an email from a museum director in Rome. I’d had some cool gallery showings before, but nothing on that scale.”
As an artist, Jacobson has received much acclaim, including Semifinalist for RAW New Orleans Visual Artist of the Year, and Finalist in PhotoNOLA Week’s 2013 Magdalena Exhibition. In 2014, Jacobson was accepted to the Walls Project, with a significant public artwork under development, and his work has hung twice at Baton Rouge Gallery for Surreal Salon, and was recently on display at the Healthcare Gallery as part of the Prospect 3 Biennial. However, Jacobson admitted that up until the moment his work was revealed in the director’s office, he was afraid the director would change his mind.
“Being a digital artist, you sometimes worry that your work will not be taken seriously by people who might be biased toward the old way of doing things. But he was positively exuberant when he saw it in person. And then when we walked into the museum, the gravity of this placement set in. The first painting he brought me to was dated 1250, and was created in Assisi. He said there was a real possibility that the artist may have known Saint Francis. Now my art is also contributing to this legacy. I still pinch myself wondering if this is just a really long crazy dream.”
The Museo is one of the world’s leading collections of religious artwork, which has been in existence since the late 1800s, chronicling the history of the Franciscan order with artwork that spans from the 13th century through modern day. The two works accepted feature Franciscan saints with “At One with the Mysteries” featuring Padre Pio, and “Grace and Grit” featuring Saint Francis.
“We found Carl’s artwork to be spiritually significant and very beautiful,” said Fr. Yohannes Teklemariam Bache, director of Museo Francescano in a press release. “It is an important addition to Museo Francescano and will enrich our permanent collection.”
The creation of his artwork is done through a unique, three stage process that begins with photography taken on his mobile phone.
“It may sound surprising that my art starts with pictures on my phone, but the quality of the photograph isn’t a concern, as I solely use it as subject matter for the piece and as a springboard for the composition.”
Jacobson then transfers the photography to his Android tablet or computer where he digitally manipulates and paint over the photos using a stylus. When completed, he sends the artwork off to an industrial printer who applies the images to aluminum through a heat transfer process. The printer applies a polymer ribbon over the metal sheet, saturates the ribbon with ink, and then heats the polymer and metal, so that the two are bonded together.
“I was very fortunate to find a printer who could do this, as the metal medium is what gives my art its unique luminosity, something that is lost when digital art is applied to paper,” said Jacobson.
Grace and Grit was the first work in a series of artworks that bears the same name and was inspired while Jacobson meditated by a statue of Saint Francis in the courtyard of Trinity Church in Boston.
“It was a dark fall day, which kind of captured my mood in the moment, when all of sudden a shaft of pure sunlight shone down upon the statue,” said Jacobson. “Leaves were falling; it was one of those idyllic scenes where time stopped and everything was beautiful. It dawned on me in that moment that spiritual and heroic figures in our society are often portrayed in pristine environments that are contradictory to the reality they experienced when doing whatever makes them revered today…”
One of Jacobson’s favorite moments during the trip to Rome, aside from delivering the artwork and having it well received, was his stay with the Cappuchin monks and friars.
“It was so quiet, so serene and peaceful,” said Jacobson. “We ate together, prayed, and meditated. The director also gave me a personal tour of the museum and helped me understand the spiritual significance of much of the symbolism found in the art, which in turn will help my art in the future.”
Beyond delivering the artwork, the trip was mind expanding for Jacobson as he was able to see the works of old masters Bernini and Caravaggio in person, and had his “breath taken away by looking anywhere in the Vatican.”
“Aside from the pure talent involved, I feel that the masterpieces of renaissance art were effective in communicating meaning and giving viewers something to grasp onto in the realm of truths of the human condition,” said Jacobson. “For all the freedom that deconstructivism provided us in the 20th century, which I have enjoyed and take advantage of in my own works, I feel that some modern art has become sterile and can lose its connection with the viewer.”
Having his work accepted into the permanent collection is a huge honor for Jacobson, and one that he hopes will also help bridge the gap between the generations.
“It’s no secret that Christianity has been struggling against the tides of modern times, but it still has something of great significance to offer the world,” said Jacobson. “We shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water. I think the new Pope, Papa Franco has done much to help people see that the church can change and continue to be relevant. At the very least, perhaps my little contribution can help people remember that there is something more to it all, and get them to reflect on their own beliefs.”