published Sunday, November 4th, 2012

'Sacred and Profane': Cessna Decosimo explores the intersection within human experience

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    "Athena Fragmented" was painted after the artist spent hours studying an Athena statue at the Louvre in Paris.

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    Cessna Decosimo's sculpture "Hullahoop Cherub" is meant to be entertaining and whimsical.


* ATHENS ARTS CENTER -- 320 N. White St., Athens, Tenn. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays. Free admission. 423-745-8781,

"The Art of Still Life," a juried art competition/exhibition of two- and three-dimensional still life compositions by residents of Bradley, McMinn, Meigs, Monroe and Polk counties, opens Tuesday and runs through Jan. 4. A reception is Tuesday, Nov. 13, at 6 p.m.

* CIVIC ARTS LEAGUE -- 7825 Nashville St., Ringgold, Ga. (Ringgold Art & Frame Gallery). Hours: 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday. 706-935-2844.

"Heritage," an exhibit with the theme of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Ringgold, closes Friday.

* PLANET ALTERED -- 48 E. Main St. 400-4100, Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday.

"Visual Odyssey," an exhibit of recent paintings and assemblages by Sandra Paynter Washburn, opens Tuesday and runs through Dec. 22.

* REFLECTIONS GALLERY -- 6922 Brainerd Road (Eastgate Town Center). Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday. 892-3074.

"Meet & Greet," an exhibition of 60 local artists and nearly 300 pieces, has receptions 4-6 p.m. Thursday and Dec. 13.

As much as people may want to, said Chattanooga artist Cessna Decosimo, they can't escape the profane elements of their nature.

"You never will," he said. "It's part of the human experience. If you learn to anticipate it, you can learn to be comfortable in your skin."

Decosimo's upcoming exhibit, "Sacred and Profane," which opens Friday, Nov. 16, at the Tanner/Hill Gallery, will deal with the intersection of the two terms.

"It's the dual nature of people being spiritual and carnal," he said in his Williams Street studio last week as his tiny, gray-brown corn snake crawled between his fingers. "[They're] made up of both."

The two naturally cross in his work, Decosimo said.

"I'm so steeped in spirituality and religious imagery," he said. "I love the Bible. I also love the human body. When they merge, when they unite, it's a collision."

In Western culture, Decosimo said, people de-emphasize their carnal nature to their detriment.

"When we sublimate it," he said, "it comes out in unsavory ways."

Among the pieces in Decosimo's upcoming exhibit where the sacred and profane merge, for instance, are acrylic washes of nudes on weathered pages of an oversize Episcopal Book of Common Prayer.

Elsewhere, the image of the ecstasy of St. Thomas produced a middle-of-the-night vision he later painted of a woman in ecstasy titled "Ecstasy of Sacred Heart."

"Sometimes, I found I was shocking myself," Decosimo said of his work. "Then I thought, 'Why am I shocked?' "

Among the sculptures -- mostly bronze -- planned for the exhibit is a scrapped metal sign of a local church, New Mount Carmel Missionary Baptist. Lashed to both sides of the sign are figures of the crucified Christ. Around the neck of the Christ, twines a snake -- his snake served as a model.

The work, Decosimo said, pays homage to his mother and father, who have Protestant and Catholic backgrounds, respectively. The snake, he said, represents the profane, which is ever present in life.

"It fascinating to play with that," he said.

While many of the works in the exhibit deal with the intersection of the sacred and the profane, "I'm addressing a lot of different things," said Decosimo, who studied figurative art at Studio Cecil-Graves in Florence, Italy, and received a Master of Fine Arts degree from the New York Academy of Art.

One of the things he addresses is his simple admiration of art. His large acrylic washes, "Athena Fragmented" and "Athena," are examples.

"They are the result of standing in front of the Athena statue in the Louvre," Decosimo said. "I spent hours in front of it drawing and studying."

In those washes, he said, "I just wanted to re-create that experience of awe -- the experience of studying something so beautiful and moving."

However, in the sculpture "Hullahoop Cherub," which portrays a small angel using a Hula Hoop, "I just wanted to entertain," Decosimo said.

"There was something about movement -- or the anticipation of movement -- in a static medium that interests me," he said.

Tanner/Hill Gallery, 3069 S. Broad St., will host the exhibit of Decosimo's mostly new work through Jan. 11. An opening reception is Nov. 16 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. An artist's talk is at 6 p.m.

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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