Martin Erspamer’s work is shaped by his life of prayer at St. Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana. “Images,” he says, “are formed through scripture or the chant of a hymn that floats in your head and then comes back visually. My life as an artist is enriched by the monastic life. There are certain times of day for prayer or reflection, so a certain reflective quality is built into this life that helps the process of the artist: examining, seeing things in a lot of different ways.” By cutting into and removing portions of the top layer of a tinted lacquer laminate on acetate, Brother Martin creates delicate graphic lines that are reminiscent of woodcuts. He is influenced by Romanesque art, and also by 20th-century printmakers with religious sensibilities, notably Corita Kent and Eric Gill, as well as German Expressionist printmakers and painters like Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Emil Nolde.
Before it was installed, the cross outside St. Peter's Catholic Church in Manhattan traveled 4,500 miles across the U.S. on the bed of sculptor Jon Krawczyk's pickup truck. Inside the cross are pieces of paper containing prayers of loss and hope written by schoolchildren, firefighters, police officers and religious leaders. St. Peter's had been the home of the WTC Cross, an iconic I-beam from Ground Zero. When the I-beam was transferred to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, the church commissioned a new cross. Says Krawczyk: "The cross will be polished to a mirror finish so each and every onlooker will see himself or herself reflected in it, hopefully thinking about those who sacrificed before them, and then considering what their own sacrifice will be. But before they think, I want people to see the beauty first, the beauty of existence, the beauty of the cross, then remember the destruction and find a better way." For more information visit stpeter9-11cross.blogspot.com.
Through a regional arts grant in 2001, photojournalist Christine Rucker explored Hispanic, African-American and Anglo congregations in the Pentecostal tradition. What Rucker discovered beyond immediate differences of language and ethnicity was that "the power of their faith is identical." Among the images she captured (which can be found at christinerucker.com) is Worship, where the laying on of hands is seen against a streak of fluorescent light.
Wes Sherman's abstract work, inspired in part by Olivier Messiaen's La Nativité du Seigneur (The Nativity of the Lord), is on exhibit at Grace Church in Newark, New Jersey. In January this piece of art was rearticulated musically, as organists Joseph Arndt and Michael Hey played Messiaen's work and invited the audience to engage both visually and musically. Sherman's collaboration with Grace Church is one in a growing number of cross-genre collaborations taking place in arts and faith communities. Sherman's nativity scene is informed by Piero della Francesca's The Nativity (1475) but rendered in an abstract and contemporary vision—something like Messiaen's music, which gives traditional musical forms contemporary and mystical expression.
Passersby linger outside Old South Church in Boston, where the grounds—designed by gardener Jim Hood—offer a visual witness to the life of the church. During the bleak winter months, a stick garden maintains a profound presence. Carpenters create "whips" of spruce, 7 feet tall, covered in shades of red opaque stain, to form an abstract sculpture resembling red osier dogwood, which is common in New England. The shock of color provides a promise that a nearby sign articulates: "The garden is also a proclamation of our faith, that beauty will spring from barrenness and form out of chaos, life out of death. Here in the coldest and darkest time we make bold to proclaim that spring and life are on their way."
When I started the work,” writes video artist/photographer Eija-Liisa Ahtila, “the aim was to do a remake of the annunciation paintings with moving images to see what this powerful image in our culture would turn out to be and what it would mean in present-day Western society.” The result, The Annunciation, is a three-channel multimedia installation exhibited at the Marian Goodman Gallery in New York. A mixture of stills of familiar paintings of the annunciation and acted scenes—with angels, a patron, donkeys, Mary, cultural Christmas snapshots and layers of angel wings—creates a layered narrative. In the 33-minute installation, Ahtila’s work runs through cultural allusions and histories, moving in and through the natural and supernatural.
Melding seriousness with wry joy, Michigan artist Rick Beerhorst creates location out of dislocation, dislocation out of location. His preparatory sketches are artworks in their own right. "When I am working up an idea for a new painting," he writes in his blog, "I am in a very vulnerable place. I don't like it there, but if I don't go there, there are simply no new paintings." In some of his writing, Beerhorst mentions divine appointments, those things we make plans for even as something else shows up that is "infinitely more interesting."
The artwork of Chicago artist Clare Rosean packs a psychological wallop that leaves viewers confused and uneasy. Rosean's ink and pencil works feature images of transportation gone awry, stairways that don't lead anywhere—a dream gone bad. Hers is a world in which narratives are suspended. About her series After the Bomb, she writes, "My original intention was to map out a city devastated after an enormous bomb. I assign no time period to this setting; past, present and future are meshed into one hazy era. It is a gray place, and you cannot trust anyone here. Your neighbor is a wolf in sheep's clothing; behind every mild-mannered gentleman is a salivating dog."
John Freeman, who watched the events of 9/11 from his home in Australia, brings a child's eye to art. It's an approach that he says allows him to display "an honesty and clarity which is often lost in sophisticated Western art." About Impact he writes that he used "a bird as a symbol of 'God' or the Holy Spirit. It is the 'otherness' beyond the human experience that pervades all things. The bird is beautiful, fragile beyond man's control and dominion. It possesses qualities man does not—freedom of flight, and like God, observes all things from a different perspective, seemingly in an impartial and nonintrusive way."
For ten years Minnesota artist Sonja Olson has been building a body of artwork for a fictional character—Buelah Reidun Kelbison, a Midwestern farm woman and midwife. The project began with recurring dreams Olson had of a character working through layers of grief. Beulah's life is witnessed through artifacts: a book of hours, a birthing chair, an examination/funeral/dissection table, an obituary, an altar, prayer cloths. Olson's intention is that these objects be seen not solely as artworks but as remnants of a life. Olson's explorations of Luke's Gospel continually surface, providing commentary on the project.
German painter and sculptor Egino Weinert (b. 1920) began his artistic training after entering the monastery of the Benedictine Missionaries. He left the order before taking final vows. In 1941 he was imprisoned after refusing to utter "Heil Hitler." Several years later he lost his right hand in an accident. He taught himself to work with his opposite hand and began his art career anew. Whether working in cloisonné-style enamel paint with bronze thread details (see above left) or in bronze sculpture (see upper right), Weinert offers luminous images of figures in church history and the Bible.
An outgrowth of New Life Church in Stockholm, Synergy is a network of people interested in connecting Christian faith with the work of musicians, painters, writers, actors and other artists. Members connect with one another via Facebook; they meet in coffee houses and sometimes in desolate urban spaces, such as under bridges, where they seek to engage graffiti artists. The aim is to encourage creative expression and to make public witness to Christian faith. The group receives funding from some community sources (such as a light company and a local newspaper) and is able to offer stipends to some artists.
On March 5, 2007, a car bomb exploded on al-Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad, an area of booksellers that is the literary heart of the city. The bomb killed 30 people and wounded others. In response, a group of U.S. printers and artists formed the Al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition. The coalition honors the dead as well as the role of literature in preserving culture and forming the conscience of a people. The coalition's work is housed at the Arthur and Mata Jaffe Center for Book Arts at Florida Atlantic University. This particular broadside or poster, by Frank Riccio, an illustrator, and Garrett Queen, who typeset and printed the work on letterpress, was produced at the Virginia Arts of the Book Center. It features a text from Akiba ben Joseph, one of the great scholars and founders of rabbinic Judaism.
My expectations only serve me when they are thwarted," says Michelle Mackey about her current work. Mackey, who is based in New York and teaches at Southern Methodist University, says she came to this realization after wondering why she felt "secure with familiarity and insecure with change." Mackey's current series of acrylic paintings in a limited palette explores memory as though memory were fragments of geography. She works with polyurethane and sandpaper. Every small movement on the surface affects the entire work. For someone uneasy about change, she incessantly explores it, even as she explores that to which we are bound: memory. The viewer is given a small segment of a larger whole: a window, a door, a wall, markings. Each work also looks like a storehouse of memory. "If 'through a glass darkly' one can glimpse the whole," writes Mackey, "the portal of these moments must be glowing."
When Boston-area artist Linda Burke first fired a gun, it kicked back, offloading a hot cartridge that went down her shirt. As she scrambled to save herself, she forgot that she was holding a gun with the safety catch off. She had a new sense of lives being "thin and fine as filament." She considered "that whether it's a gun or an act we do, or an illness and how we respond—whatever we do affects another thing." For Untitled 7, she placed a small copy of Leonardo da Vinci's Face of Christ study on top of the "Scoring for Training" box.
How to comprehend the Holy Trinity? Reflecting on her woodblock and linoleum print, Holly Meade writes, "Well, there is no comprehending the Holy Trinity. And picturing the Holy Trinity? That's not to be either. On the other hand, we've all been given imagination, and a sense of wonder and play. And so here they are, as colorful, holy personalities compelled forward on our behalf—lovely, watchful, tireless." Best known for illustrating children's books (she was awarded a Caldecott Honor), Meade has recently turned to printmaking. "Printing with woodblocks is a somewhat indirect path to take to arrive at an image. In spite of this, it frequently results in images of great immediacy." This indirect path and great immediacy meet in Holy Trinity, which unites artistic medium and an energetic sense of spirit, presence, being and the personhood of God.
The dynamic of Elisa D'Arrigo's work seems simple: yellow squares sewn together, with the thread bringing out a sculptural dimension. But a specific memory underlies each piece. Writes D'Arrigo: "These memories are of images I once observed, and then held in mind . . . sometimes for decades, and are the subtext of the work." Sometimes the memory is directly related to a piece of fabric of her past, or the past of friends in her community. A narrative is developed through abstraction. There's something appropriate about meeting D'Arrigo's sculpture during Ordinary Time, for this is a season for building a calendar of squares. In these weeks we understand that formation comes as small threads pull and bind and connect and shape us. This in turn causes planes to pop out or angle in, looking as though they were in a constant dynamic of subtle changes of light. In a season that is about formation and process, D'Arrigo's work extends the spiritual plane through the physical.
The description of Shannon Newby's outdoor installation Incarne reads: "Abandoned refrigerator, light, and sheep casings stuffed with acrylic gel medium and shredded Bible pages set in the forest of Leavenworth, Washington." The sheep casings hold words of scripture, and the surrounding trees make their own dark scribbles against the remaining light in the sky. Newby writes, "The materials are like tactile stand-ins that have the capacity to point to more ethereal, intangible constructs." With Incarne, it's as though we were meeting the New Testament in forested dusk. The eternal dwells in what is broken and temporal.
A series of oil paintings titled Yan' Guan Town, by Chinese artist Liu Xiaodong, explores two families, one Christian and one Muslim, both living in a region of China considered a "crossroads of cultures." At the center of the series are two paintings: large family portraits. The Christian family—"Z's Family"—is shown in their church, while "H's Family," the Muslim family, is seen in the café that the family runs. (Painting was not allowed in their mosque.) The series is filled in by studies of individual family members. Through these studies Xiaodong patiently builds a picture of religious practices and of common and private spaces. He offers reportage, not interpretation. In one interview, Xiaodong said, "The artist has a responsibility to use his critical powers to cut through social issues for a dispassionate standpoint. . . . You don't need to condone or blindly eulogize."
These photos by Tim Lisko bring to mind fields of birch trees, beaches, ocean and skylines—or they may be seen as elements of pure design, strips and strings of light and dark, of shading and repetition. The Indiana-based Lisko took these photos while traveling on a bullet train from Tokyo to Osaka. High train speeds and lengthened exposures create an image so blurred as to produce strong patterns, lines, colors, depths—"something," the photographer notes, that "turned out to be a sense of balance, of simplicity, of stillness." A quote from poet and professor Lionel Basney speaks of the profound reengagement that photographs like these hint toward: "The question is, have you met whatever you take to be nonnegotiable—God, the divine, death, the ultimate ground of being—and held that encounter until the other declared its name?"