Life smooths us, perfects as does the river the stone, and there is no place our Beloved is not flowing, though the current’s force you may not like. —St. Teresa of Ávila
This rounding roughs us even as it smooths, the force of God’s water strong, tumbles the small stones even as it soothes and carries them lightly along, The rain falls full and fills the streams. The river drinks their love. The trees bend heavy with dreams. There’s nothing that does not move.
Borne along by fire and flood, by wind that tongues and grooves, our bodies brimmed with blood that feeds us as it proves perfection is no steady state. It’s on the way and always late.
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.
Although abstract, Linda McCray's work is rich in symbolism: that of color (the blue-black of the void and the purple of Lent) and of material, with ash and sand from Jerusalem affecting both color and texture. McCray is a painter, designer, art consultant for sacred space, retreat facilitator and adjunct professor who lives in Clancy, Montana. She writes: "Our Lenten journeys are about mortality and transformation. It is a time of spiritual renewal and drawing closer to Jesus. . . . In a universal theological sense, this painting is about kenosis, the emptiness that precedes grace."
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.
In Lent we meet Jesus through stories about his teaching, his radical inclusion of the oppressed and marginalized and his acts of healing. We also meet Jesus in solitude and at prayer. Through color and texture Jan Laurie brings us not only an image of Jesus but also something of the essence of the Christ whom we seek to follow. The hanging is made of layers and layers of fabric, thread and paint—reflecting the depth of the journey into God.
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.
Times of transition, as seen in Brendon Purdy's Arcosanti, are potent times. It's no wonder that dawn and dusk are traditional times of prayer and devotion. Amid the grainy textures of cloud, land and people, the tiny point of the moon sets the cosmological context. Time-lapse photography has captured traces of the movements of the people, expanding our sense of time from "this moment" into "all moments." Based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Purdy travels widely and says his "greatest hope as a photographer is to capture something beneath the obvious, such as grace, nobility, humanity or wonder."
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."
In Daniel Bonnell's Cast Your Net Again the fishing net teems with life and so does the whole image. The strong diagonals played against the organic water forms create a dynamic tension. The drama is heightened by swirling brushstrokes, hot and cool colors, and high contrast. All this activity is set amid the quieter symbols of cross, morning, light and dark, height and depth. The painting (oil on canvas) hangs at Bethlehem Bible College in the Palestinian West Bank.
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?"
Sandra Bowden's art is a meditation on time and eternity based on biblical and archaeological sources. Megiddo (left) and Hazor (right) are two of four images from Bowden's series of intaglio collagraphs titled Israelite Tel Suite. The artist explains, "A tel is a mound covering the site of some ancient settlement, generally consisting of many layers of rubble and artifacts left by succeeding civilizations. Strata accentuated by horizontal lines divide the picture into three levels, forming a cross section of archaeological time. . . . centered in each piece [is] a significant specific object relating to the tel's history." From the creation of the plate through the one-by-one "pulling" of each print, the artist is engaged in an intensive process that exemplifies Marshall McLuhan's adage, "The medium is the message."
The New Mexican artist Vicente Telles stands in a line of Southwest religious workers going back to the 1700s. He mixes classic and contemporary understandings comfortably, working with nontraditional forms—such as painting an image of St. Christopher carrying the Christ child as a comic book cover or an image of Jesus the King in a mirrorlike meeting, as on a set of poker cards. Despite his whimsy, each work is punctuated by surprising reverence. The dynamic combination of faithfulness to convention and experimentation with materials can be seen in Telles's signature piece The Last Supper. The table scene is treated within a larger theological tradition. Yet rather than working on wood, as is customary, Telles paints on cold-rolled steel. A water-based patina creates a light acid effect on the steel (shown in the detail), and through chemical reaction the effect is reminiscent of early frescoes.
Synthia Saint James describes herself as a self-taught artist. She credits the Creator and her ancestry (African American, Native American, Haitian and German Jewish) for her artistic gifts. Her images dance on the edge between image and abstraction, simplicity and sophistication, pattern and picture. She uses color symbolically, with cadmium yellow ("golden healing light and love") at the top and in shining points throughout the cluster of women. Circle of Promise was commissioned by Susan G. Komen for the Cure for the Circle of Promise campaign, for which Saint James is a global ambassador. The painting is meant "to encourage hope, healing, unity and love in our fight against breast cancer."
Working with found objects of metal, stone and glass, Leroy E. Fresquez Jr. finds his materials in wrecking yards and demolition sites. He makes use of old farm equipment, long-abandoned trucks and railroad spikes, building new narrative from these materials while incorporating and acknowledging their original purpose. He calls his work "a recycled art"—the discarded pieces he discovers already hold their own inherent beauty and history. Scrap-heaped materials become dignified through re-visioning, selection, and placement. In Sacred Heart Cross, he combines an exhaust manifold from a 1920s pickup and barbed wire.
Betty LaDuke of Ashland, Oregon, has spent decades traveling through the developing world. She has recently been painting people who have benefited from Heifer International, which donates animals to help families in poor countries become self-sufficient. Coptic Altar derives from her eight trips to Eritrea, a small country in the Horn of Africa. The painting is an aesthetic fusion of cultures, melding a Western genre with a contemporary African visual style. In the center panel Jesus, the Good Shepherd, stands at the threshold with a sheep, surrounded by admirers in various postures of prayer and reverence. In the left panel are more admirers of Christ, surrounded by angels and crosses. The right panel portrays a church leader accompanied by some of the faithful, who are sheltered by the Madonna and child, a crescent moon, saints and crosses.
Video installations at museums and galleries evoke fascination and unease. Often we are torn between our desire for a traditional cinematic experience and curiosity about something deliciously unfamiliar. In Landscapes, Illinois artist L. Ashwyn Collins presents overly amplified sound coupled with spare visual planes. As from a distance, we watch a solitary soul walk across one screen and return back through the other screen in unexpected close-up. The use of slow motion undermines expectation (and increases desire and anxiety). The slower the work becomes, the more viewers become aware of an interior tension. "One of the goals of my work," Collins writes, "is to unsettle the viewer's expectations and visual confidence—to make art that surprises."