Artist Uses Blood as a Medium to Find Connection between Body and Spirit; His Exhibit at SLU's Religious Art Museum Shows Arresting Work

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What darts like flame but is not a flame, that grows cold with death yet blazes with dreams of conquest? The riddle is from Giacomo Puccinis opera Turandot; the answer is blood.

Blood is artist Jordan Eagles chosen medium, and through it he strives to express both the energy and the spiritual symbolism of blood, of the flame and its meanings.

Blood/Spirit, an exhibit of Eagles work, is on display at St. Louis Universitys Museum of Contemporary Religious Art. Eagles, 36, thinks the former chapel is a good fit for his oeuvre: My work has a philosophical component, the native New Yorker said in a telephone interview. Im very interested in the connection between body and spirit.

Eagles work is abstract; his pieces could be anything from images of volcanoes seen from the inside to new galaxies a-borning. He mixes blood and resin, the latter to preserve the former, and to allow it to be three-dimensional. Sometimes he adds copper, for its brilliance, or soaks gauze with blood, adding texture and meaning. Sometimes he adds dried, preserved blood blood dust for texture, color and added symbolism.

Its very strong work, said the Rev. Terrence E. Dempsey, MOCRAs founder and director. He first encountered it at a New York art fair and was immediately drawn to it. Its very stark, dramatic, beautiful, and I think its evocative. Ive never seen anybody deal with blood like this before. Dempsey likes the way it explores themes of mortality, death versus regeneration, all the things that blood evokes.

Eagles, raised a secular Jew whose parents filled the house with religious art from all traditions, isnt religious, but he talks often about spirituality. The viewers own background will influence interpretation.

Eagles started using animal blood when he found it more effective than red paint in a project. But preserving the blood presented challenges. Over a year, the pieces turned from red to brown, he said. How can I prevent organic material from changing colors? Preservation raised more philosophical questions. In many cultures, people believe that the body and soul are connected. If you preserve the body, are you also preserving the spirit?

He gets the blood from a slaughterhouse, mixing it with resin in his studio. Both substances, he says, are highly temperamental. Blood, unlike most other mediums, has to be preserved right away. You cant start a piece and decide, Ill get back to it in a couple of weeks. I will actually mix the two up; blood interacting with resin. The challenges are what makes it so exciting. My practice is almost an alchemy of sorts, trying to make magic happen.

Drips from the resin are allowed to protrude beyond the base of the pieces, allowing them to seem to float from the wall, and aiding in the passage of light through the works. (Thats another theological implication, noted Dempsey.)

In MOCRAs main gallery, the exhibitions largest group is lined up against a wall. …