Last summer, Baltimore-based artist Gil Jawetz proposed to his girlfriend, Tracey Middlekauff, on bended knee in the middle of Royal Street in the heart of New Orleans. That, in itself, might not be terribly unusual, but the wedding ceremony a few days later certainly was - and colorful enough to generate a vivid, engaging series of paintings on view at the Yellow Dog Tavern.
The marriage took place in the Voodoo Spiritual Temple of Priestess Miriam Chamani, Servant of Ayizan, on North Rampart Street.
"We're not voodoo practitioners," Jawetz says. "Priestess Miriam's only requirement was that we bring an offering for the temple. When we asked her what should be in it, she said, 'What's in your heart?' We thought we would make it a mix of things from different cultures."
That included the skeletal figurine of a Mexican "Day of the Dead" wedding couple, a Maneki Neko statue (the "lucky cat" in Japanese tradition), Chinese long noodles (symbolizing long life) and pieces of fruit for the spirits at the temple.
It was when he and Middlekauff made a first-anniversary visit to New Orleans in June that Jawetz produced the bulk of the work in the "Voodoo Wedding" collection, which includes portraits of the priestess, images of the basket items, details of the altar and scenes of the city, all in his vibrant, directly communicative manner.
"The style I feel most connected to is Impressionism," says Jawetz. "But, being kind of self-taught, I don't have a lot of self-awareness. I just keep it kind of loose. I let the colors and light lead me where they want to." In the case of his "Voodoo Wedding" series, Jawetz had remarkable memories to guide him as well.
"Describing the wedding is like trying to remember a dream," he says. "The priestess came out into the courtyard singing and beckoning with her hands for us to follow inside, where there were candles and incense. It was a very dark atmosphere. The paintings help me in some way to communicate that atmosphere."
The two-hour ceremony contained the recitation of various prayers and poems.
"It was not like having Elvis marry you in Las Vegas or something," Jawetz says. "There were a lot of chill-inducing moments."
One was a sprinkling of water that the priestess described as "a blessing with the tears of the mother" - the recent death of Middlekauff's mother had been much on the couple's minds. "We nearly lost it," the artist says. "That seemed to connect everything together. It was so unexpected."
So was the arrival of a family of tourists checking out the temple and being invited by the priestess to serve as witnesses.
"After it was over, we chatted with them," Jawetz says, "and they turned out to be from Baltimore. When we asked what part, they said Govans, which is where we live. I'm not particularly spooky, but that was strange. Now we see them all the time here at the Giant. They came to the opening of the show, and that was so cool."
Born in New York, Jawetz, 34, has been drawing since he was a kid. He majored in psychology at the Johns Hopkins University, but while living in New York after college, he took a painting class and became "super-duper hooked on it."
Since moving back to Baltimore in 2006, he has produced art steadily, much of it on commission (especially for dog paintings). "I am able to do this for a living - sometimes," he says. "I also work as a Web designer and I do some video production. I would love to do painting full time."
Jawetz has been pleased with the reactions he has received to his current exhibit, and not just because several pieces have been sold. "I think for any artist it's not all about selling the work," he says. "It's about people connecting to it. And I feel this show has done that."
"Voodoo Wedding" is on display through Sunday at the Yellow Dog Tavern, 700 S. Potomac St. Call 410-342-0280 or go to yellowdogtavern.biz.
'Barber' in the outfield
Washington National Opera will offer a simulcast at Nationals Park of Rossini's comic gem "The Barber of Seville," which WNO general director Placido Domingo calls "undoubtedly one of the very best operas for young people, families and first-time opera-goers."
The "Barber" performance, which opens WNO's 2009-2010 season, features the terrific tenor Lawrence Brownlee (he just might be America's answer to Juan Diego Florez) as Almaviva, Simone Alberghini as Figaro and Silvia Tro Santaf? as Rosina.
The opera will be transmitted to the 4,811-square-foot high-definition scoreboard at 7 p.m. Sept. 12 at the park, 1500 S. Capitol St. S.E., Washington. The park will open at 5:30 for what WNO is calling "pregame" activities. Admission is free. Admission to "VIP seating sections" is also free, with advance reservations. Call 202-572-3057 or go to WNOsimulcast.org.