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The Spirit Artist: Andre Ferella
 
By Teresa Peneguy Paprock
 

What lies beyond?

 

It’s been a matter of speculation for theologians, philosophers and poets across the ages. But no one can say for certain. The spirit and the soul, heaven and the afterlife – our own experiences and our own words simply can’t approach ultimate truths.

 

But a Madison artist may be able to capture a taste of the other world, expressing it in mediums for all to see and ponder. For all of his life, Andre Ferrella has seen spiritual visions; as “The Artist of the Spirit,” he shares what he sees.

 

Ferrella, 55, began having spiritual experiences as a young boy in Detroit. An altar boy at the local Catholic church, he’d always had spiritual experiences but didn’t realize there was anything unique about what was happening to him. Seers told him “it was a natural thing, but that each of our frequencies is slightly different.”

 

He began to devour writings about a wide variety of spiritual practices. But on a family trip to a museum, he saw paintings by Rembrandt, and shortly thereafter became convinced he was destined to become a great artist. “I thought, oh my God, I’ve got to get busy,” he says.

 

And he did get busy – teaching himself artistic techniques by studying the great works. By 12, his painting was already evocative of the Dutch Masters. Ferrella became fascinated by light, which he sees as a reflection of both spiritual and scientific truths: “Even our dreams are full of light. And it’s eternal energy.”

 

Ferrella moved from Detroit to Toledo (like moving from hell to purgatory, he says) and then from Toledo to Madison (like moving from purgatory to heaven). Attracted to the University of Wisconsin in the late 1970s to study art, Ferrella was welcomed to the community by the simultaneous sights of the Barnum & Bailey Circus Train and a flock of Monarch butterflies. “I’ve had some magical experiences here,” he says.

 

Ferrella supported himself painting houses during the summers, saving money and working on his art for the rest of the year. “There were some lean times,” he admits. “I was living on bread and tea; I wore gloves, socks and a hat to bed. But it didn’t matter as long as I could create.”

 

Ferrella also became a world traveler, visiting art museums in Europe, Thailand, Indonesia, and Mexico, learning “from the artists themselves.”

 

The sheer breadth of Ferrella’s artistic repertoire is difficult to overstate. His work encompasses so many mediums and techniques, it seems Ferrella represents a dozen different artists, all in one body.

 

Early on, he developed a large photographic processing system that would allow him to “paint with light.” Over the years he continued to invent, develop and perfect a variety of artistic techniques from watercolor to acrylic to digital, and sometimes unique combinations of more than one. To Ferrella, each technique is simply a different vehicle to transfer divine images, to say something about the universe and the place of people – and God – within it.

 

Serendipity played a role in the early 1990s when he discovered water and mold damage to some negatives stored in his basement; when he developed them, he was amazed to see images that could have been taken by an electron microscope – or the Hubble telescope. The “Living Pictures,” Ferrella says, show the similarity between the microcosm and the macrocosm. “What happens here, happens there,” he says. “It’s the Alpha and the Omega.”

 

Starting in 1999, Ferrella began to produce “Soul Portraits,” each a unique photograph of a person that has been digitally remapped ad infinitum until it becomes a fractal – symbolizing the eternal soul.

 

As if to thank the art masters from which he learned, Ferrella’s “Master Works” series, begun in 2002, feature a photo of a masterpiece that has been digitally altered, combining the elements with new eyes – similar to the concept of “sampling” within the music industry.

 

But the most breathtaking of Ferrella’s current works are in boxes. “Spirit Boxes” are life-sized images of faces, or whole bodies, inside Plexiglas; to gaze into them feels like peering through the veil that separates the material world from the spiritual realm. Ferrella is hoping to incorporate the boxes into a commemoration for Iraq war soldiers. 

 

One of those captivated by Ferrella’s depiction of faces is Dr. Richard Parfitt, a facial cosmetic surgeon who’s put many of Ferrella’s works on permanent display in his clinic on Deming Way in Middleton. “His art struck me emotionally,” he says. “I actually got goosebumps when I saw them. I bought six of his art pieces and have been collecting them ever since.”

 

Ferrella expects to grow even more creative in his later years. In the meantime he expects to stay in Madison with his wife, Linda, and daughter Cyra who has recently come from Berlin. “The energy is here,” Ferrella says of Madison. “I’ve been depressed, I’ve hit rock bottom, but there was a reason for that. Now I know what true joy is.”

Teresa Peneguy Paprock

This article originally appeared in Mature Lifestyles. Teresa Peneguy Paprock / words & stuff freelancing retains the copyright to this article and it may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, without express permission. For reprint rights, contact Teresa Peneguy Paprock at words@chorus.net or P.O. Box 5207, Madison, WI, 53705.

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