American Fundamentalists
(Christ's Entry into Washington in 2008)
by Joel Pelletier
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Completed AMERICAN FUNDAMENTALISTS painting with artist Joel Pelletier, 5/17/04
Completed AMERICAN FUNDAMENTALISTS painting with artist Joel Pelletier, 5/17/04

Joel playing clarinet in band Joel painting dog Joel signing AMERICAN FUNDAMENTALISTS canvas, 5/17/04
My face in the band, painting the mystery doggie & signing canvas.

I began this painting on 1/7/04 (go to Artist for more on the thought behind the work). After buying a large, heavy-weight piece of canvas from a theatrical supply company, I laid it out on the floor of a large stage, primed it with acrylic gesso with a roller, and nailed it to a theatre backdrop rack on the wall of a local community college theatre department (the only place I knew large enough to accomodate the project). A projected slide, purchased from The Getty Museum, enabled me to do a rough outline tracing of the original painting for the layout and composition. In many ways the layout and composition is the hardest part of any painting, and I am grateful to Ensor for doing this part for me (this is the first and only painting I have done this way - I am a ghreat believer in working freehand, from scratch, "without a net").

I spent a few months researching first the history of James Ensor, his work, and the original painting "Christ's Entry into Brussels in 1889," including a few trips back to The Getty to photograph, study and generally "absorb" the work (and continue to return to it while working on my version). I am not interested in copying Ensor's style, although I have included a few figures and techniques from the original, including a few areas of heavy paint application (and even pallete knife application, something I have never done before). I fixated briefly about color values vs. the original, but realized there is no way to properly match the original because it is in a somewhat dark room at the Getty with no direct light, so how can enyone really tell? Also, although the original, like all major paintings at the time, was done in oils, I long ago abandoned oils for acrylics, a modern medium with superior flexability and ease of use (including fast dry time and no oil smell).

Getting started can be the hardest part (Elton John song, isn't it?). I began with the "Drum Major" at the lower center of the photo - at least mine would be the drum major, based on research and photos I downloaded featuring uniformed musicians from the Marine Band ("The President's Own"), the guys I would expect would lead the parade celebrating Jesus's triumphant return to Washington, the New Jarusalem (a few of the current actual members are featured in the likenesses of a couple of the musicians). I eventually covered this figure, which represented the first 2 full days of painting, after discovering in further reading that the figure portrayed there by Ensor was actually a local politician dressed as a fat "Bishop."

Progress continues at a daily rate. The source photos were mostly found using Google Image search, including photos of Washington DC, soldiers, swat teams, military aircraft, news vans, and all of the many faces (some very attractive and/or interesting). At first I printed them out, but I realized that I could just view them on my Powerbook onsite (so instead of looking back and forth like a tenmnis match, I justy glance up and down). I have only sketched a head twice so far with a marker before actually starting with the paint - I usually just throw the paint up, push it around, then start adding dark or light to build contrast (mixing on the canvas). I have gone through appx. $250 in acrylics so far (as of 4/23/04), and expect antoher $100 or so before finishing (some colors and/or brands are pretty pricey). I try to get to the studio 5-6 days a week, and usually have 4-5 hours in me before I tire and pack up. I go back to areas completed to touch up, add some extra detail, or (when necessary) replace something all together, but most of the work I do (including 1-2 hours per head) is a "keeper", needing only occaisional highlights or toning down of shadows as I move along.

I have been concerned about the number of people I planned on putting on the canvas, and if I had enough. But as I am progressing I find that I not only have enough names, but I keep coming up with more (the research continued as the work progressed). Unlike Ensor, I have not sketched out precisely what I will paint before starting, and except for the original outlines and a few general ideas about who or what I want in what areas, I have kind of "made it up as I go." This way, while trusting my eye, I allow myself to be as suprised by the results as anyone. Only difference between myself and the viewer is that I had an idea of where it would go, but not exactly how it would look when completed.

Special thanks to: Pete Parkin, Art Brickman & Judy Ashton for use of the studio (and the company); The Getty in Los Angeles for buying, restoring and displaying Ensor's original; Ian Masters for keeping this on my mind for the last year; Jerry Sloan, Frederick Clarkeson, Katherine Yurika, Max Blumenthal and all the authors, researchers, journalists and organizations who's work has educated and informed the work; Louis Vandengerg and Max for their invaluable encouragement; Heather Harris for the final photography. (Joel, 5/21/04)

Order a signed poster (click here).

2004 Joel Pelletier,, email:, web design: the Way Home media

Original text & images protected by copyright law; reproduction without consent prohibited.

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