The Slutty Eye: Crush on You

Steve Heilmer at the Chapel of St. Ignatius.

In the tastefully restrained confines of the Chapel of St. Ignatius at Seattle University, a marble sculpture of Mary next to the altar strikes a jarring note. Representing Mary as a stream of milk spilling out of a bowl onto a craggy rock, the sculpture is a hulking, magnificently bizarre presence amid the chapel's fussy little alcoves and high-class knickknackery. I always thought the upturned bowl represented Mary's head, but creator Steve Heilmer says it's more common to see the bowl's gold rim as a halo for the Lady-of-Guadalupe outline that emerges in the milk as it flattens against the rock. Speaking from his home in Greenville, Ill., Heilmer downplays technique (the spilling milk is carved with show-stopping hyper-realism), preferring to talk about the ideas in the piece, installed in 2001, whose official title is Gratia Plena ("Plentiful Grace"). "Horizontals are usually considered feminine," he says, "but the piece is almost a phallic symbol in terms of its verticality." In which case the milk could be an ejaculation? "Sure," says Heilmer, who quickly adds that his view is in no way the authorized one. Also unlikely to be mentioned in the visitor's brochure is Heilmer's interest in the paradoxical violence of Christian imagery (he is himself a Christian). But that might explain why, if you approach this eight-foot, 2,300-pound Mary from the side, she appears to be slightly off-balance, as if she might just crush you to death. Chapel of St. Ignatius, Seattle University campus, 901 12th Ave. E., 296-6000, www.seattleu.edu.

 
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