Rudy Shepherd’s “Machu Picchu” puts sacred space in perspective.
Unsatisfied wanderlust might feel low on the priority list right now, but there’s truth to the perspective-shifting potential of some thoughtful travel. Since we’re not hopping on an international flight anytime soon, we’re turning to the next best thing: journey by way of outlook-altering artwork. This limited-edition print of Rudy Shepherd’s richly hued painting Machu Picchu, Holy Mountain series not only transports its viewer to Peru’s most popular tourist destination, but provides an entry point from which to ponder the power of sacred spaces, and how they fit into a world so often suffused with what the artist calls negative energy.
Perched on a ridge of the Andes Mountains over 7,000 feet above sea level, Machu Picchu is more than a stunning sight to behold or a symbol of the Incan empire. It’s a deeply sacred space, a uniquely preserved astronomical observatory with temples dedicated to the highest Incan deity. It’s also home to the Intihuatana ritual stone, arranged to coincide with the Incan astronomical clock and one of the few sacred rocks that escaped defacement during Spanish conquest—conquistadors destroyed many Incan sites, but Machu Picchu was well-hidden, making it a rare archeological treasure. The fact alone that Machu Picchu eluded Spanish destruction adds to its sacrosanctity.
Shepherd’s Machu Picchu captures this hallowed land on a clear, bright day. His lush greens and vivid blues render the place gemlike, a proud and precious jewel. Huayna peak looks positively regal poised at center, the deep shadow on its left face like a royal mantle. The shadows on the structures in the fore have also been paid special attention—crisp, poppy and painted with precision. While unornamented, all these treatments emphasize Machu Picchu’s positive power. Shepherd’s long been interested in exploring the nature of evil through his work, and in a natural progression, possible solutions to “overwhelming forces of negative energy.” His Holy Mountain series approaches this same ongoing exploration by focusing on mountains with profound spiritual or cultural significance. What do these powerful entities have in common? How does their portraitization deepen our understanding of each?
This isn’t the first time Shepherd’s reached for portraiture to access deeper understanding. His debut 20x200 edition did exactly that. His new show at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Somebody’s Child, includes twenty-five watercolors from his continuous series of portraits depicting victims of police violence and other racially-fueled incidents. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Michael Brown, Ahmaud Arbery, and other people whose names are perhaps not as recognizable to most Americans appear in the collection. The museum’s senior curator has described the portraits as Shepherd’s effort “to understand who these people were before these incidents and present them as human beings.”
If you're in the CT area, check out Somebody’s Child, up now through November 29th. (The Aldrich is open for in-person visits by advanced timed tickets only and with required masks and social distancing.) And if you’re anywhere at all, set your sails for Machu Picchu, Holy Mountain series. Whether you see the sacred space in a new light or satiate and urge to get away from it all, the trip’s yours to take.
With art for everyone,