First published: Winter 2007
In common with many people in America's Bible Belt, West is an evangelical Protestant - a religious tradition that emphasises the primacy of the Bible as the Word of God and insists that its contents are fundamentally, if not literally, true. Like a Southern preacher in the pulpit on a Sunday morning, she often takes the Bible, especially its most prophetic books – Ezekiel, Daniel and Revelation – as her text. Instead of preaching the Word, however, she visualises it. At times, the violent colours, vibrant swirls and chaotic compositions of her paintings conjure up the Bible's horrific apocalyptic vision. At other times, she employs a sweeter mode of stable shapes, balanced compositions and delicate pastels to envision the biblical prophecy of God's triumph over evil.
The story of West's synthesis of art and religion into a viable imagery of prophetic power has two points of origin, the first a fervent belief in the Christian faith, marked by her baptism at the age of fourteen, and the second a long-time fascination with picture making. A climactic fusion wedded these two concerns and provoked the artist's creative outpouring: the murder of Martha Jane in 1986 by her former husband, after years of mounting abuse.