Falling “Deep Below Heaven”

Some people know exactly what they want to do with their lives at a young age. These people commit to a path – whether it be going to med school, becoming a software engineer, or moving to LA to pursue acting – and go about converting their dreams into realities with peace of mind that they’re doing what they were born to do. I am not one of these people, and I appreciate that my good friend, Christine Hostetler, is not one of these people, either.

Christine has various interests and talents. She’s a phenomenal technical artist; a talented writer; and an effective communicator who loves working collaboratively with others. Christine will be successful in any career path she chooses, but the choosing is oh so difficult when you have so many interests but don’t necessarily feel “called” to a singular career. In the face of uncertainty, sometimes it just makes sense to see where life takes you.

Christine explores the acceptance of life path uncertainty and ceding control in “Falling ‘Deep Below Heaven’”, her series of life-sized self-portraits that are currently on display at Arc Gallery in San Francisco as part of the Spotlight Feature exhibition.

Christine first heard the phrase “deep below heaven” while listening to a song by Melaena Cadiz. The phrase resonated, so she explored it and learned that Cadiz borrowed these words from a short story written by Sam Shepard.

The story describes a man tumbling from his Kawasaki motorcycle toward the cement. The man is looking up at the sky, and he’s in this weird in-between state of being that’s beautiful because he can see life all around him but is also terrifying because he knows he’s hurdling toward imminent pain and unknown forces that could shred him to bits. As he looks up at the sky, he thinks he’s “deep below heaven.”

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This concept of falling deep below heaven is an apt analogy for the sudden and unplanned trajectory life sometimes takes. “There’s this wonderful excitement in the unknown, but it’s also really scary because you might fall and not be OK,” Christine says.

Christine uses watercolor on very large rolls of paper to depict three nude images of herself: Early Morning Fall, Deep Below Heaven, and By Evening. While watercolor is a finicky type of paint to work with, it’s Christine’s favorite medium. It also embodies the “loss of control” concept she’s exploring.

Watercolors interact with water and with each other in interesting and unpredictable ways. Painting with watercolors requires quick, decisive work, especially when you’re painting over large surfaces because the paint is constantly dripping, changing colors quickly, and drying fast. “When you upscale a small watercolor piece to 100” x 44”, you really get to work fast and you’re kind of half in control of the piece; you’re sort of wrangling it, and there’s very little margin for error,” she explains.

To me, watercolors feel whimsical and airy; dream-like and lighthearted. How fitting, then, for them to be the medium for a contemplative illustration of falling into an inquisitive abyss laden with opportunities and uncertainties; possibilities and fears; aspirations and doubts.

Early Morning Fall, the first painting in the series, shows the subject with L-shaped arms and bent knees suspended in the air, falling gracefully downwards. Robert Longo’s “Men in the Cities” – a series of images of businesspeople in strained, exaggerated, unstable positions who appear to be buffeted by unknown forces – inspired this piece.

Early Morning Fall
Early Morning Fall

Deep Below Heaven shows the subject falling head first with slightly bent legs and resigned arms down, down, down, completely exposed.

Deep Below Heaven
Deep Below Heaven

The third and final image, By Evening, illustrates the calmness after the fall. The subject sits cross-legged with her head pointed down and drawn inward. She’s looking introspectively within herself; perhaps reflecting on her day, purposefully considering a major life decision, or examining who she has become.

By Evening
By Evening

Christine may not be able to pinpoint her dream job with certainty, but one thing is for sure: she loves making art. “Whenever I pick up a brush and am painting, I’m reminded yet again that I’m happiest with a paintbrush in my hand,” she says.

Spotlight Feature, the exhibit that includes Christine’s “Falling ‘Deep Below Heaven’” series, is open through Saturday, April 25 at Arc Gallery in Soma.

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2 thoughts on “Falling “Deep Below Heaven”

  1. I love how you expressed the exposed beauty of Christine’s Deep Below Heaven watercolor’s. She is a talented artist who shares her vulnerability on paper whereas many keep it hidden deep inside. I would to see her work in person to completely appreciate the magnitude of her life size impression of feelings. Perhaps in June when I visit? Thank you.

  2. Hi Laura, Thank you for your incredibly kind words! I would love to show you the series. The paintings are no longer on display in the gallery; however I will be able to give you a mini-tour of them in my studio if you’d like!

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