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ARTIST IS LOOKING FOR JESUS IN ALL THE WRONG FACES – AND FINDS HIM 


He has that look, that holy look. The flowing hair, the high cheekbones, the white skin. Warner Sallman's well-known image of a very European-looking Jesus Christ, painted in 1940, may be hanging in your grandmother's living room, but it's not hanging in Trent Tomengo's house.

When Tomengo, the 36-year-old Oviedo-based painter, looks at the face of Jesus, he's more likely to see someone who resembles your sister than the traditional hippy-dippy shepherd strolling through the meadow. Tomengo has spent much of his career painting a changing face on a Jesus that he sees reflected in various skin colors, attitudes and genders. For Tomengo's exhibit, Faces of Christ, the artist hopes not just to bend people's notions as to the identity of Jesus; Tomengo also wants viewers to look at Christ as a metaphor.

"I want people to think in a broader context of what a face is ... you can have a face on a situation ... in a physical sense, in a psychological sense, in a social sense," says the artist, whose approach to his art is as intellectual as it is spiritual. Two years ago, Tomengo earned his M.F.A. from the University of South Florida. He currently works part time as an assistant curator at the Zora Neale Hurston Museum in Eatonville and as a full-time professor of humanities at Seminole Community College. Contrary to what some might believe about "those who can't do, teach," Tomengo is branching out as an artist, one who isn't afraid to take risks through his exploration of Christian iconography.

While his first solo exhibition in 2002, At the Cross, flirted with abstract painting, it was more bold about Christ in straight-ahead, albeit unorthodox, portraiture. But many of these new paintings are abstracts. In Tomengo's "My Sustainer," the soul is represented by a silver orb, floating against a black background, a soul in darkness. Tomengo says he created the piece after experiencing a personal crisis. One could call the work a self-portrait in abstract form. The same could be said for "Still Waters," an intact orb painted against the coolest and serenest of blues. The title refers to the peace the artist found after emerging from his crisis.

But Tomengo's brilliance in re-creating the physicality of the human face remains evident. In "Agony in the Garden I," the artist has sketched a woman's face, one eye illuminated while the other remains in unfinished white. Again, it's the face of Christ – one of the many faces of Christ, Tomengo explains. "He's not just a guy with long hair. He's more than that. He's peace."

To those who might not agree with the artist's representations, Tomengo says that his images and ideas come directly from the Bible. "One scripture can have a hundred different paintings and all those paintings can be accurate – all those paintings can be Christ."

If the abstract nature of Tomengo's latest work strikes some as hard to decipher, the artist says not to worry. "You don't need to understand what `the paintings` mean, but you will feel what they do." What they should do is remind you that when it comes to art, Tomengo is one of Orlando's salvations.

(Opening reception 6:30 p.m.-9 p.m. Sept. 14, as part of "Second Tuesdays" on Virginia Drive.)

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