The Image: Jerry Spagnoli, from "American Dreaming"

© Jerry Spagnoli, from the series "American Dreaming" 1991

Jerry Spagnoli: I had seen the Carravagio show at the Met. Going through the show I was very impressed by the way he used hand gestures to tell stories. He took these gestures to an extreme as a communication device. They were melodramatic, emphatic, and they compelled the viewers attention. Staging these philosophical and religious tableau in contemporary settings gave them an immediacy for the viewers of his time, giving life to arcane tales. I realized that I was doing the inverse. In a culture devoid of mythological tales I was discovering stories just beneath the surface by using the technology of fact. This subversive use of objectivity gave the images the ring of truth while isolating the subject stripped it free of a larger context.

In looking at books that analyzed the details of great paintings in order to unravel their meaning. I realized that there was a well-developed vocabulary which could be exploited and built upon to tell the tales that interested me. The openness of analyzing the particulars of a scene was very liberating. I decided that I should make the image more illusive so that people were really forced to bring themselves to the work. I wanted to create a puzzle, not to be obscure, but because I was interested in engaging each individual’s personal resources to create meaning in the work.

I have no interest in forcing a particular issue in a very direct way. I want viewers to be able to bring themselves to the work, in their own way and at their own pace.