The artist presents ‘Break of Day,’ an exhibition of portraits that redefine the genre of religious art

For Genesis Tramaine, portraiture is spiritual. “I call myself a devotional painter,” the artist once said. “All of [my work] is derived from the presence that I feel in prayer.”

Tramaine was born in Brooklyn, and raised in the borough’s churches; she takes inspiration from Bible verses, parables, gospel hymns, and lessons from her grandmother. Her practice is a new paradigm for religious art, simply put. It’s designed around Traimaine’s community: intergenerational, Black, and queer, rather than untouchable or gilded. Real people are imbued with divinity in the artist’s works. Tramaine’s God lives inside the individuals she paints.

The artist’s latest solo show, called Break of Day, is currently on display at Almine Rech Gallery: richly colored abstractions of Black faces, rendered with oil sticks, oil pastels, acrylic paint, rainwater, and salt. Always, the Holy Spirit is listed as a medium. The works’ titles are religious references, or adaptations of them: Blessed are you Among Women, Jesus had a Nana too, Saint Luke Bears Fruit.

Left: Saint Mother Elizabeth, 2022. Center: Saint Jericho, 2022. Right: Jesus had a Nana too, 2022. All photos courtesy Almine Rech and Genesis Tramaine.

The subjects’ features are distorted—they might have many eyes, or a mouth that takes up half their face. Such a style is a testament to freedom and spirit, and a means of drawing attention to secondary detail: In Feast of the Annunciation, for instance, the Virgin Mary takes up one figure’s forehead. In Feast of the Holy Spouses, she’s channeled through a sitter’s blue veil.

Beyond anyone’s view of spirituality or religion, the show is a testament to creating art with purpose—to devoting oneself fully to a craft. Tramaine’s art is art that’s free from ego, and therefore, it’s fairly revolutionary. “I’m a Black woman artist, and I’ve got to do what I got to do to not just keep up, but to build for the next generation,” she says. “To build and inspire for those who may not know a lot of these tunnels don’t exist, and there’s just no light. I praise and thank God for being the artist who is put in position to create, and to shed that light.”

Genesis Tramaines Break of Day is on view at Almine Rech through April 23.