Artistic expression has always held an important place throughout history. However, it is the expression of history that holds an important place in the works of Salt Lake City artist Olivia Celine Glascock.
Using gold leaf as her canvas, Glascock creates sublimely exquisite oil paintings that evoke a classical, almost divine sensibility—reminiscent of past artistic movements, but with a decidedly feminist, matriarchal perspective. Mythological symbolism and religious iconography are apparent in her work, from modern day Medusas to angelic nudes with glowing halos.
“I’ve seen both classical and Christian stories painted from the standard patriarchal perspective,” Glascock says. “Because of my thinking towards the contrary, I thought it would be pertinent to paint these stories from an alternate point of view. Because much of the history of the Goddess has been lost, and because the patriarchal perspective is so prevalent in our paradigm, I realized that the matriarchal view isn’t accessible to those who aren’t actively seeking it.”
To the casual observer, the images may seem curious or even controversial perhaps—while also unquestionably profound. Through her chosen subject matter, Glascock strives to encourage a dialogue by shedding new light on age-old cultural perceptions.
“Many [people] don’t realize that there is this lost knowledge, or even stop to consider that things could have ever been any other way,” Glascock explains. “I think it’s important to realize that both religions existed simultaneously, and that the female religion was the victim of ritual persecution and suppression by advocates of the newer religions that revered the male deities, in order to understand why and how women have been ritually marginalized.”
By choosing to challenge these dominantly held beliefs, Glascock has not only found her voice as a visual artist. Her subject matter has also been integral in forming who she’s become as a woman. Raised Catholic, Glascock attended nine years of Catholic school in Utah. While trying to embrace her faith and follow the path set before her, Glascock had more questions than answers.
“From my perception, Christianity seemed to value men, while women were inferior, never regarded as highly as their male counterparts both in the Bible as well as in either institution. We were told that a male deity created the universe, fashioned man in his image, and as an afterthought, formed woman from man to aid him in his endeavors,” Glascock explains.
“I heard what my parents constantly reiterated to me—that there was nothing I couldn’t do … because I was a woman—as I was trying to absorb these thoughts to the contrary. I had the tacit understanding that as women, we were supposed to be secondary, but in my own achievements and talents, as well as those of other women around me, it didn’t seem to hold true.
“The older I became, … the harder it became for me to actively believe in a religion that deemed me less than a man.”
In many ways, Glascock’s work is more of resurgence than a new movement—given that the idea of a great mother goddess, as deity, was once a widely shared view thousands of years ago.
“Ancient figurines [of deities] considered ‘pagan’ were always female, many with distinct exaggerated feminine features celebrating fertility and childbirth. Many were ritualistically destroyed over the past two millennia to promote the Christian agenda and to erase the existence of these earlier religions and mindsets. As a result, much of this record has successfully been erased from history. I would like to see it resurface and see what wisdom we can reap from it.”
Not that Glascock herself has been spared from controversy in contemporary times. “The reaction to my work has been mixed,” she says. “While some find the point of view refreshing and interesting, others find it offensive. With my work, I only wish to create dialogue and discussion about these preconceived notions, and feel it should serve to question and reinforce each person’s belief system and dogma.
“At least if I’m getting a reaction, I’m pushing people to think and question the status quo.”