The critic Robert Hughes once said that while America is a deeply religious nation, Americans have “produced very little in the way of original religious art.” The schism between fundamentalist Christianity’s conservative politics and a secular media-scape that kneels before no god is somewhat bridged in Deborah Grant’s heartfelt visions, including a portrayal of hefty transvestite Divine as “Our Lady of the Flowers.”
Grant grew up in Coney Island in the 1970s, and one of her collages on birch panels features a young African-American girl walking with a rabbi. Twisting the title of a 1974 Richard Dreyfuss comedy, The Apprenticeship of Debbie Kravitz recalls Grant’s fascination with a Hassidic rabbi who showed copies of the Torah to neighborhood children.
In the 6 x 16 foot Crowning the Lion and the Lamb (2013), Grant envisions — in bold black, white, and red — Henri Matisse meeting Mary A. Bell (1873–1941), a self-taught African-American artist enthralled by movies, who made colored-pencil drawings of beautiful women and saw herself as an instrument of God. Grant’s engrossing, multifaceted collage imagery — Matisse’s abstracted figures, movie clapboards, magazines, Bell’s portraits — is encapsulated in a dialogue balloon emanating from a photo of Gertrude Stein: “Art isn’t everything. It’s just about everything.”