Delmas Howe's Passion doesn't look a thing like Mel Gibson's. Howe's painting series, Stations, is loosely inspired by the Catholic Stations of the Cross, a series of 14 iconic images commemorating the final events in the life of Jesus Christ. Howe's artistic vision, though, is set in the '70s on the piers of New York City and depicts a very different kind of passion.
"Stations was precipitated by my partner dying of AIDS in 1993," says the 70-year-old Truth or Consequences-based artist. "At the time, I was very angry with organized Christianity, especially with the Christian right's attitude toward gays and the AIDS crisis."
During the '90s, Howe took a trip to Europe during which he visited over 100 churches. "I soon realized that the walls were filled with literally hundreds of images of tortured male flesh," he says.
This direct experience with some of the masterpieces of Catholic art provided the seed for his ambitious project. On his way home, Howe stopped in New York, a city in which he'd spent his formative years as an artist. In New York, he came to the conclusion that the city's piers as they existed in the '70s would provide a perfect setting for his artistic vision.
"After the beginning of the gay liberation movement in 1968," says Howe, "the piers in New York became an incredible arena for sexual theater, which in itself was a political statement."
Graphic and turbulent, Stations is more than just a twist on traditional Christian iconography. "It's about how we have moments throughout our lives," says Howe, "where we have to reflect on our grief or triumph."
The first paintings in this ongoing series debuted in San Francisco on Sept. 7, 2001. "Due to 9-11," he says, "it only ran for four days because everything closed down after that. Very few people have seen the actual paintings."
Since that time, Howe has completed several more Stations paintings. During an exhibit presented as part of the Albuquerque Pride celebration this weekend, the series as it exists today will be on display. Howe is excited.
"I can't judge them, but I do know I've seen people fall on their knees and cry in front of them. Others have had other remarkable moving experiences in front of them. It's especially moving, I think, for people who have been devastated in their own lives by the AIDS experience."
In that regard, there will be an altar at the show where people can leave names of friends and family who have died of AIDS. "I want there to be this reverent aspect to the exhibit," says Howe.