Innard beauty: artist Deborah Finn Romero
A local artist’s spiritual approach turns painting insides-out
Artist Deborah Finn Romero paints people’s guts. It’s a tough subject for many to swallow, and she acknowledges that most don’t share her fascination with the hidden inner workings of the human body. While on display at the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op, her work stirred up polarized responses.
“The work is not safe because it takes us into the unknown, into where people are afraid to go,” she says. “But when they look at it, they’re inspired.” One of her most popular pieces, titled “Holy Grail,” is a euphorically colorful representation of the small intestines, colon and pelvic cradle.
Sounds tame, but Finn Romero sees the body differently than most.
At her house, she’s standing in front of a series of paintings called “The Pillars,” which portray lateral views of the spinal column. At first glance, one column appears to be awash in blood, the other is engulfed in blue flames. “If you’re just seeing blood and guts, you’re missing something. You have to go deeper,” she says, noting that it’s liquid fire and fiery water, the merging of opposites—innard beauty, so to speak.
Finn Romero began “Anatomy Awake,” a series of anatomically inspired oil paintings, seven years ago as a way of blending spirituality, painting and nursing. While dissecting a sheep’s heart in an anatomy and physiology class, she noticed that the coronary arteries that feed the blood supply to the heart resembled thorns. “This is Christ’s crown of thorns. It’s not on his head; it’s thinking out of the heart,” she thought, awe-struck. The epiphany was a starting point for her recognizing the relationship between the cosmos, mythology and the body. “If you look at Christianity, Hinduism, Kabbalah … all of these speak to certain cultures at certain times as a way to connecting to a divine or greater power. They live in us.”
Her foundation in mystical study and occultism and her experience as a registered nurse allowed Finn Romero to, in her words, “penetrate the spiritual dimensions of physical humanity.” For instance, with her painting “The Garden of Eden,” a cerebellum is transformed into the Tree of Life. “What Do You See?” depicts the brain’s visual pathway as an African tribal mask, exploring the origins of perception.
Finn Romero is inspired by people’s lack of understanding their own physical makeup. “A lot of the work comes out of dealing with people who are completely divorced from their bodies,” she explains. “They have no connection to how they’re made or what’s going on; they pretty much just surrender themselves to a medical institution and say, ‘OK, fix me.’” Her goal is to help people have a better understanding and appreciation for themselves.
“I see the body as a temple. Whether it’s evolution or intellectual design or whatever is irrelevant to me.”
In a culture with highly evolved medical technology but a crippling fear of death, Finn Romero’s goal is to help people see themselves as more than limited physical beings. “We’re multilayered creatures, composed of mind, body and spirit. And in our level of materialism we forget that. We get lost in the density of the flesh, instead of enlivening what we’re made of.”
Standing beside a self-portrait in which her torso is splayed open, revealing the oddly beautiful—and intimate—arrangement of internal organs, Finn Romero laughingly declares herself fully exposed. “I think it’s a big mistake for us to be so afraid of what we are in our culture. We’re absolutely divine and amazing creations.”