“Motet” in Process

I’ve been spending most of my time in the studio, working on “Motet.”  Here is the progress so far.


“Motet” by Lynda McClanahan: Full Board in Process

Some of the tableaus are finished, but many are not.


Lotus Radha & Krishna

The lotus-covered figures of Radha and Krishna are pretty much done, but I might add something to either side of them.  A painting often works differently at the end of the process than it does in the middle, so I’ll probably wait until the last minute to decide.



This little scene of lovers flanked by flower-offering maidens is in the bag.  I adore the “S” curve of the attendants.  This was a common style of depicting the female form in the middle ages and it’s an elegant one.


Reclining Lady

The reclining lady will get a delicate lace curtain and trees in the background.


Pin Up

“Pin Up” is done, although I might do a bit more outlining on the roses.


Nursing Baby Krishna

“Baby Krishna” will get some frame details, but I’m not sure what.  Ideas always waft into range as needed.

Lovers detail


“Lovers” looks complete, but a final decision will wait until the end.


Tree With Snakes

The psychedelic tree with snakes is all the way there.  The design is taken from Indian folk art, which I look at a lot.  I adore the tension between simplicity of form and eye-opening detail.  Of all the tableaus so far, this has been the easiest and most fun to work on.



The angel is halfway there.   Maintaining a balance of skin tones for the figures complements the balance of sacred and secular which permeates the piece and forms its real theme.


Lady With Snake

“Lady With Snake” is done too.  I could probably do some detail on the snake, but also might just leave it alone.  It tires the eye and bores the mind if detail is too ubiquitous.   Throwing in some strong, simple shapes tricks viewers into looking longer than they otherwise might.


Golden Throne With Virgin and Jazz Band

I’ve just started working on the center panel.  It’s a big job but at least there’s some forward movement.

Other pieces yet to go:



I’m consciously going to do the serenading cowboy last.  Don’t know why.  I’ll save the Christ mudra until the end too.


Virgin’s Band, Ziegfeld Girls and Christ Mudra

I’ve been working on this piece every day, stopping only to eat and process the harvest.  The deeper I sink into it, the stranger and more delightful it becomes.

I’m reminded of an old gospel song which says, “God may not come when you want him but he’s right on time.”  Linda Blaine, local musician, artist and God-mad-matron-about-town stopped by for a studio visit yesterday, bringing with her a sweet, healing presence which was most welcome.  Sometimes the world offers up encouragement just when you need it most.  Thanks, Linda!


Taking a Chance & Thinking Big


I live a life full of modest domestic pleasures balanced by creative pursuits accomplished in the world’s tiniest studio space.   Knees routinely knock over paint pots, brushes fly off in all directions and paintings come to rest face down on the floor more often than a 50/50 chance would suggest.   The easiest course is to stick to works of manageable size, i.e., anything which doesn’t put dents in the drywall.

Small really is beautiful and has led to an intensity of style which I like.  However, a recent trip to an opening at the Mansfield Art Center in Mansfield, Ohio has convinced me that perhaps the recent spate of rejections is a signal to become more ambitious, not less.

Thomas Arlen Wagner Collection Mansfield Show

“Visions and Dreams” by Matt Sesow (2004) mixed media on paper

Thomas Arlen Wagner is a well-respected, longtime collector of outsider art who bought one of my first paintings at the old Acme Art Gallery in the Short North back in 1991.  I’ve no memory of that early effort but after seeing all the large, well-developed pieces filling the Mansfield gallery, it was clear why mine wasn’t included.   Not only have my paintings become small, my mind seems to be shrinking too.   Perhaps it’s time to start thinking big.

The sketch for the next project is complete and provisionally entitled “Motet.”


Initial Sketch for “Motet” by Lynda McClanahan

The surface is an old luan closet door cut down to 31″ x  36″.  This is large for me but workable.    The piece is a visual interpretation of a medieval choral form called a motet, something I learned about and even performed at music school in the 1970’s.  Motets varied widely but the ones I’m interested in had a bottom line consisting of a snippet of Gregorian chant (an ancient version of sampling), a second line of vaguely spiritual poetry, and then a 3rd or 4th line with frankly romantic and often overtly sexy lyrics.  All the lines could be in different languages so lord knows how these things sounded in performance, but what an idea: sacred and secular all mixed up and happening at the same time, just like real life!


Carpet Page: Lindisfarne



The overall visual design is loosely inspired by the format of illuminated manuscripts.  The monks mostly restricted themselves to fancy cameos placed at the beginning of a text, but gave themselves creative room to roam with the addition of “carpet pages.”   These were whole pages devoted to painting whatever they liked using textile patterns as a guide.


Similar ideas can be seen in this tapestry-like Hindu story painting of a goddess.   I looked at a lot of these wall hangings for inspiration as well.


Initial Sketch for “Motet” by Lynda McClanahan

I’ve had a lot of fun laying things out.   Like a motet’s bottom voice, the lower panel literally grounds the piece in Latin chant with the depiction of monks singing.   The hand gestures in the center are taken from an ancient Christian mudra indicating the Greek word for Christ.   Higher up, I’ve kept the sacred going with an angel in orans prayer position on one side and black gospel singers on the other, but things start to get interesting with the Ziegfeld nudes in the center.    The large central image is inspired by icons of the Blessed Mother enthroned in majesty and attended by angels, another homage to the on-again/off-again generally sacred orientation of the motet.  The four evangelists beneath her feet have been transformed into bearded musicians with maracas, concertina, sax and tambourine.  The rest of the frames are filled with a variety of the moods of love, reflecting what one might hear in medieval songs of courtly and not-so-courtly love.

There’s no way of knowing if submitting such a geeky, strange show stopper for the “Sight of Music” is good strategy or just plain craziness, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.    Thinking big might win a place in the show or just add to the clutter in the garage but I feel like taking chances.   I’m at the height of my powers and now is the time to use them.