Encaustic—the use of heated beeswax and pigment—is a traditional technique that is enjoying something of a renaissance. It’s both highly tactile (with its often thick-textured surfaces) and wonderfully organic both in surface and in fragrance. The earthiness of it makes a great medium for Grace Carol Bomer’s In the House of My Pilgrimage. The artist notes that a line from Psalm 119:54, “Your laws are my songs in the house of my pilgrimage,” has been partially carved into the wax-covered Hebrew text. “Jesus, the Word Incarnate, gives us life and words to live by,” says Bomer. The work is in a traveling exhibition organized by Christians in the Visual Arts.
Rod Sawatsky uses calligraphy to illuminate a faith story. The artist’s eight-year-old daughter Tallie makes Saturday trips with her grandfather to downtown Portland, Oregon, where they feed and talk to people who are homeless. One day Tallie’s mom commented on her relationship with a homeless man named Spider. “It really makes Spider feel special when you make things for him and take time to visit him.” Without any hesitation Tallie responded, “Well, he is special. He’s one of my best friends.” The artist writes: “Tallie could see character qualities in Spider that had endeared him to her. . . . Once we care about people personally and see their incredible value, it is natural then for us to act in a way that supports restoration in their world.”
An epiphany breaks us out of our former mind-set. Jeremy Botts’s The Sun Speaks/The Stars Teach is expansiveness made visible. Energetic red brushwork is laid over a grid structure of circles, stars and crosses. This image evokes for me the term creative disequilibrium—the dynamic that makes evolution possible. Is it not the same dynamic that is still transforming the world through Jesus’ radical teachings of love, inclusion and justice for all?
The seasons of Advent and Christmas offer a spiritual oasis in the desert of our hunger for justice, peace, refuge and meaning. Through her illustrated calligraphy, Tatiana Nikolova-Houston illuminates prayers in the Christian tradition, joining words of comfort and inspiration to sumptuous color and image.
Fiber artist Margie Davidson embarked on a project to mark a year in her life. From birthday to birthday she knitted a stitch to represent every minute of every day. Tags with the date are tied in to mark each day’s progress. She was influenced by the color and texture of the seasons—the cycle of budding, blooming, fruiting, harvest and fallow—which can be tracked in the fabric. Despite its heroic scale, the piece has the intimacy of handiwork and is at once a meditation, a prayer and a celebration of life in all its seasons.
The familiar loaf and common cup of the Eucharist are partnered here with a second image of food meant to be shared. The everyday and the sacred rituals around the blessing of food meet in this diptych where the holy becomes everyday and the everyday becomes holy. The meticulous style of Steve Turner’s work has the pacing of a prayer itself. Turner, who directs the food outreach ministry of Trinity Episcopal Church in St. Louis, says, “Food is a basic need for all of us—whether we have sufficient or are hungry. . . . We give thanks for both our daily provisions and for spiritual nourishment.” Give Us Today Our Daily Bread is oil on canvas with two 12'' x 12'' panels in a shadow box.
In the foreground of Eugène Delacroix’s classic The Entombment of Christ is a poignant image of the disciple John sitting, bent forward, contemplating the crown of thorns. By painting John and the crown alone, Ebenezer Sunder Singh shines a spotlight on this pregnant moment, offering a chance to ponder the wisdom of God which seems like folly to human beings. “The image of the thorn crown is a recurring phenomenon in my works over many years,” says the artist. “I use it as a compulsive pictorial symbol, and at the same time I revere it as the symbol of pain, shame and hope. I think John in Delacroix’s painting knows this secret, so he is contemplating this symbol of recreation and regeneration.” Singh’s work is shown frequently in galleries in the U.S. and India.
Jesus said to the disciples, “The truth is, it is difficult for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. I’ll say it again—it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of heaven.” —Matthew 19:23–24
Using the medium of baked clay and a style akin to political satire, Charles McCollough offers a humorous and somewhat biting image of trying to have it both ways. The men are “dressed like rich men in a Monopoly game,” says artist McCollough. They are caricatures of our stubborn drive to hold on to possessions and power—even while we attempt to show ourselves to be faithful. It’s as true of nations and individuals now as it was in Jesus’ day. “Of course, the camel is leery of the project of getting pulled and pushed through the needle’s eye,” says McCollough. Perhaps this is the part of us that knows our allegiances are divided. A Camel through the Eye of a Needle appears in McCollough’s latest book, The Non-Violent Radical: Seeing and Living the Wisdom of Jesus.
Through the juxtaposition of a dry autumn leaf and the cheery blue of the symbols for love and peace, photographer Carmen Phillipe-Welton suggests an encounter of hope with the reality of war. While this might be considered graffiti or even vandalism, the light-blue paint seems lighthearted, optimistic, even innocent. It’s brilliant that the painter didn’t finish the word PEACE. We aren’t there yet. “My most treasured values are peace and justice through radical faith,” writes the photographer. This image “speaks to me of hope for a peaceable kingdom.”
Hillsides are shaped by the etched lines showing the wind blowing around them and through the trees. Below the surface, red-brown roots anchor the trees into the solid ground. In the season of Pentecost, the longest of the Christian year, we recount God’s spirit coming to people dramatically in wind and fire. This is the helper Jesus promised, the presence we are called still to embody as we become Jesus’ hands and feet in the world. The Hebrew word Ruach, which means wind, breath and spirit, is a form of onomatopoeia. Artist Julie Elliot says this mixed-media work on paper “celebrates God as the one who is close as our breath—intimate, essential and everywhere. I imagine this holy wind moving throughout the world.”
Sometimes graffiti artists transcend the mere impulse to “make their mark.” In this case, a damaged wall is transformed from a derelict facade into a simple but striking statement. While not everyone would call this art, it is an example of how human creativity can transform what is already there (a broken wall) into something surprising, delightful and even inspiring. By its anonymity, its use of a “found” surface and the triumphant gesture of the figure, “Rising” can be taken as an urban and contemporary image of resurrection.
Here is a worship space that never forgets the miracle, blessings and joy of resurrected life. If architecture could sing, the Baroque church of Santuario de Guadelupe in the Mexican city of Morelia would sing Easter alleluias. As one travel writer remarks, the pink and white walls “bloom with white flowers and glisten with an abundance of gold leaf.” The church was constructed between 1708 and 1716, and the interior decoration was done in 1915.
In Mexico's ancient city of Pátzcuaro, researchers unearthed a wall with a history dating from pre-Hispanic times (as early as 1350 AD). The markings go back to the arrival of Europeans, when the wall functioned as a calendar. Each "regular" day is indicated by a dot bored into the surface of the wall. Each week (six dots in a string) is bookended by Sundays, symbolized by the etched shape of a cross. This practice of observing time within the frame of the Christian weekly holy day is a strong statement of faith, belief and practice. The archaeological site is at the Museo de Artes e Industrias Populares.
Bertha Servín Barriga hand draws her images onto fabric for embroidering, using traditional colors of the Purépecha people of central Mexico. While some of her work depicts the church's liturgical cycle, this one presents the stages of life. She is president of a cooperative of textile workers. Her award-winning works, along with those of other members of the cooperative, are featured in the book Life Around the Lake: Embroideries by the Women of Lake Pátzcuaro, by Maricel E. Presilla and Gloria Soto (Henry Holt).
Brooklyn-based painter Wayne Adams's large canvas (48"x 60") explores the theme of Christian community. Vibrantly colored triangles float over an ethereal surface that seems to be undulating in the background. The sharp geometric shapes emit a soft glow and stretch toward each other across the muted ground, as if to suggest the necessity for and power of community amid such a vast space.
These six banners from St. Matthew's Lutheran Church in Fort Worth, Texas, preview the Christian year. Gjelten Stone says, "I paint canvas with acrylic washes and add image transfer, drawing, and painting. I often cut and piece the canvas, and finish with more handwork and collage."
"For I know who guides my steps." Patricia Baldwin Seggebruch (www.pbsartist.com) gives credit to her faith as the inspiration for her art. Lifted High is an encaustic painting (using a specialized wax and pigment process) with an image transfer. She handles this traditional medium in a contemporary style. The lightness and open space of the picture plane and the loose (almost playful) repetition of the musical notes create a sense of lightness—and the whole piece becomes a visual equivalent to the experience of feeling spiritually lifted.
Artists and photographers—like prophets—have the ability to see what's around us with a particular depth of vision. As part of a series of photographs of Paris street scenes, Robert Vignola's Vanishing Point offers steel girders and rail lines as a means to meditate on space, time and eternity. The photographer's refinement of the digital image reflects a postmodern aesthetic and spirituality that can see beauty even within elements of industrial design and practical functionality.
Each blade of grass, ev'ry wing that soars, the waves that sweep across a distant shore, make full the circle of God. —Keri Wehlander
Inspired by this text, the artist imparts a sense of reverence to a clump of natural grasses. Margaret Kyle's grasses wave and dance as much through her skillful coloration (which causes the surface to pull forward and recede visually) as through her expressive brushwork. The sense of motion created by the tops of the waving grasses, paired with the stillness of the stems below, imbues the image with a sense of the holiness of each created thing.
These rocks stand in a river in a remote valley in the Pacific Northwest. No plaque records the names of the artists who spent hours in icy water selecting, lifting and carefully balancing rocks. No museum houses these assemblies, preserving them for future generations to ponder. They will stand balanced only until high water or ice tumbles them back into centuries of river flow. They are art nonetheless, silent sentinels that mark (for a time) the collaboration of human effort and imagination with the wonder of river-worn rocks in a stunning gallery of moving water, standing trees and changing skies.