An American, In Paris

An American, In Paris
acrylic on canvas
36 x 30 inches
Jim Sweazy, 2008
When I first saw this French wire-service image, I was caught by the combination of symbols. Why is this Arapahoe chief wearing a war bonnet, standing in front of a Roman temple which has a Catholic saint carved in stone looking over the chief's shoulder?
Translating the photo caption and researching the location given helped explain why Chief Big Black Elk looks so lost. He was a Native American minister who had just finished assisting with a Catholic Mass at the Church of The Madeleine, in Paris. The temple was constructed by Napoleon to honor the soldiers of his Grande Armee. Once Napoleon fell out of favor, King Louis XVIII decided the temple should become a Catholic church. It was consecrated in 1842.
For one final twist I painted the image in the style of a movie poster, using type styles and text from the French release of the Gene Kelly classic.