Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Praying the Stations: Art to Illuminate the Word

About 18 months ago, I established, with the support of our priest Beth Franklin, an arts ministry for our parish, St. Michael's Episcopal Church, Arlington, Virginia. Currently, we focus on visual art exhibitions and, in addition to group and solo shows, we have meet-the-artist(s) receptions, demonstrations, and artist talks. We list activities under "Arts & Faith" below the heading "Community" on our Website, noted below. Below is an article about our Lent 2020 exhibit "Contemporary Artists Interpret Stations of the Cross". The exhibit is on view until April 3. (Click on each image to enlarge.) We are "Praying the Stations" on two Wednesday evenings (March 4 and 25) and two Friday mornings (March 13 and 20). All locals and visitors from out of town are welcome to view the exhibit and join us in prayer.

Praying the Stations: Art to Illuminate the Word

What’s important is the story, the message, the feeling, the connection.
~ Illustrator Christoph Niemman, “In Abstract: The Art of Design”

Art as creational gift and as means to opening a space for conversation, understanding, and meaningful connection has established a foothold at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Arlington, Virginia. This spring, during our Lenten exhibition “Contemporary Artists Interpret Stations of the Cross,” we are praying the 14 stations of the Via Crucis (“The Way of Sorrows”) — walking the route Jesus took to his crucifixion and burial. The art that guides us also invites us to engage — emotionally, imaginatively, metaphorically — with the story of the Passion, one written in contemporary visual language that challenges our sense of suffering and of injustices both ancient and current.

Using prayers from our Book of Occasional Services, we begin our journey toward Jerusalem with painter Evy Wilkins (Station 1, above), who, in Condemned to Death, renders Jesus’s tragic death sentence with “stormy day”* effects, black crosses, ravens and skulls foreshadowing the yet-to-come. In the midst of that dark scene of symbols, she places a pair of white-roped wrists, white to remind us of Jesus’s purity.

Soon we halt to let pass the cross-bearer urged on by a modern warrior in Roman headdress (2). The scene startles, for photographer Wil Harkins has shot his untitled image at the very moment a blue dump truck has pulled up, its incongruity diverting our attention from the journeyers and a fateful, storm-threatening sky. In Jesus Takes Up His Cross, a second interpretation of the same station, Cindy Warkentin conveys in the Christ figure “the burden of the cross itself, as well as the suffering Jesus experienced, both emotionally and physically.” Her delicate watercolor and charcoal painting’s “bareness” foreshadows the overwhelming loss that awaits the world following Jesus’s death.

Suzanne Stryk embodies in naturalistic imagery Jesus’s apocryphal first fall (3), which she interprets as physical, not spiritual. In her profoundly conceptual painting, Coming Up for Air (Dragonfly), Stryk “contrast[s] the corporeal with the spiritual by juxtaposing the bulky image of a turtle — a blurry shape — with a crisply painted dragonfly hovering above.” Dripping black lines “suggest a bridge between the two” — perhaps earth and heaven?

Emotion charges Jesus’s meeting with Mary (4). As realized by painter Elise Ritter in Jesus Meets His Blessed Mother Mary, the anguished Mary, caught up in circumstances beyond her power to change, can do no more than hold her tortured son close. "Emotions were raw, and the pain was deep for both of them." Similarly, as depicted by mixed media artist Lisa Harkins, the Mary portrayed in The Mother Load of All Sorrows “looks serene and calm” but "must have felt agony"; she is doing “what mothers do: they hide their own pain for the sake of their children.”

The  remarkable detail in Harkins's work of found-objects, many of which could be interpreted as religiously significant, invite viewers to linger and meditate on their meaning(s).

Angela White’s “Support”, an encaustic work, abstracts meaning as Simon of Cyrene takes up the cross on Jesus’s behalf (5). Ideas of community and family, "of all of us banding together to help shoulder each other's burdens when called upon", are represented as circles within circles, the street’s paving stones as squares, and Jesus and Simon as the two outer squares of gold leaf joined to the cross in the painting’s center.

Using “a bit of digital alchemy,” Ann Tracy, in Searching for Compassion, relates dramatically St. Veronica’s compassionate act of wiping Jesus’s face (6). Now imprinted on Veronica’s veil, it is a face of compassion for  “the least of my brethren,” who are represented in the stripped-in photographs of present-day detainees —  “our brothers and sisters” at our border.

In his charcoal and conte drawing, Jesus Falls a Second Time, James B. Janknegt conceives Jesus’s second fall (7) “as a reminder of his humanity (which is the counterpoint to his divinity)”. It is in his falling that “we identify with Jesus. . . as we are all brought down by suffering, loss, and sin but, like Jesus, find the strength through God’s grace and forgiveness to get up again and go on.”

Continuing on the “Way of Sorrows,” we, as did Jesus, encounter the weeping women of Jerusalem (8), depicted in a Terry Peckarsky art quilt, Still Weeping on the Via Dolorosa, that is emblazoned with the word “Sorry.” That word is one so many use off-handedly, meaninglessly, in response to what befalls another, just as these women fail to understand Christ’s sacrifice for what it is. To Page Turner, who created with Zephren Turner an assemblage sculpture titled Sister Circles, Jesus’s words “speak of the importance of sisterhood and holding each other.”

In her acrylic and oil pastel painting Jesus Falls for the Third Time (9), Kathleen Stark portrays Jesus as already naked, “completely stripped of everything He had in human terms, dripping in blood, nothing left but pain, sadness, and humiliation.” Three crosses in the background foreshadow Jesus’s impending death, while “[t]he eerie yellow glow. . . symbolizes the whole world given over to the taint of evil” personified in the looming, spear-carrying Roman soldier. Stark’s vision of this station “made [her] think deeply about the very meaning of the Cross” and left her with the realization that “whatever I am asked to walk through, Jesus is there with me and understands my pain.”

For 10th Station: The Stripping, instead of  “the experience of nudity” resulting from being stripped of clothing (10), Pauline Kusiak focuses us on “the act of stripping,” represented by a contour drawing of her own hand. Like her, we imagine “the aggression” of the act” and “all the ways we sometimes humiliate and are cruel to those already faced with terrible life situations.”  It is “the hand doing the stripping” that “connects the act back to the individual viewer.”

For her painting Jesus Is Nailed to the Cross (11), Robin Maria Pedrero has used a carved linoleum block to print on a black canvas images of three red nails placed where Jesus’s hands and feet would be. (Pedrero found the nail while on a  walk one day, and keeps it in her studio.) At the top of the canvas are fainter pink marks resembling Jesus’s crown of thorns. Neither the cross nor a Christ figure is in the painting, yet we “see” both and, conceiving of Christ’s pain and suffering, we know death is near.

Textile artist Pamela Viola interprets Jesus’s Death on the Cross (12) in overlapping, rectangular pieces of symbolically red cloth she has visibly sewn together, their physical placement recalling the cross-shape of church architecture. In the center, she has twisted into a cross shape very thin ribbons of red and white cloth, three silver tokens from her mother's collection adorning the place of hands and feet. Far down from the top of the cross are tiny stitches of what can be interpreted as Jesus's crowned head. The dozens of small hand stitches in the piece remind us of the steps Jesus took and where they ultimately ended. Everything used in the work is recycled.

We find ourselves in the depths of darkness, lost, when Jesus is taken down from the cross (13). Yet, in the emptiness of this abstract landscape painting, 13 — In the Cave, by Anne Cherubim, a space opens into a spray of light. You have to search for it, but the light is there, leaving us in hope. (This is a gorgeous and subtle painting, images of which do not do it justice.)

Representing the place where Jesus is lain to rest (14), Carol Lukitsch’s mixed media collage on paper, Sophia Icon, merges cross and tomb into a single entity. “Simultaneously, we see the darkness, evil, and fear present in the aftermath of the crucifixion alongside a dawning light and green energy” radiating from the center, “signaling the coming of new life. We also see images of grieving women who have been absorbed into the suffering and pain . . . as yet bereft and unaware of the coming mystery of the resurrection” and, like each of us, still in passage.

* All quoted words are from Artist Statements written for the exhibition. The commentary is otherwise my own.

Christoph Niemann, Illustrator, Graphic Designer, Children's Book Author 

Descriptions of Art Stations (as numbered and in order, above) Most of the artworks are available for purchase.

1 Evy Wilkins, Condemned to Death, Watercolor, Acrylic, Soft Pastel, 18” x 24”

2 Cindy Warkentin, Jesus Takes Up His Cross, Watercolor and Charcoal, 10” x 11”

2 Wil Harkins, Untitled [Good Friday, 29 March 2013), Digital Image, Canon EOS Rebel XT, 8-1/2” x 11” (1790 x 2304 pixels)

3 Suzanne Stryk, Coming Up for Air (Dragonfly), Mixed Media on Wood Panel, 24” x 24”

4 Elise Ritter, Jesus Meets His Blessed Mother Mary, Alcohol Inks and Acrylics, 16” x 20”

4 Lisa Harkins, The Mother Load of All Sorrows, Mixed Media (Found Objects), 30” x 40”

5 Angela White, Support, Encaustic and Gold Leaf on Wood Cradle, 12” x 12”

6 Ann Tracy, Searching for Compassion, Digital Mixed Media Painting on Canvas, Master Print, 1/25 Limited Edition, 30” x 20”

7 James B. Janknegt, Jesus Falls a Second Time, Preparatory Drawing, Charcoal and Conte on Paper, 20” x 26”

8 Terry Peckarsky, Still Weeping on the Via Dolorosa, Quilted Commercial Cotton Fabrics, Digitally Altered Photographs Printed on Fabric, Tsukineko Inks, and Watecolor Paint, 31” x 23”

8 Page Turner and Zephren Turner, Sister Circles, Assemblage Sculpture, 6” x 6” x 3”,
Wooden Bowl Marked with Fire by Zephren), Family Quilt Scrap (Embroidery by Page), Antique Handspun Wood Yarn, Metal Drawer Pull, Assorted Antique Doll Arms, Paper and Acorn Tops (Packed with Plaster, Adorned with Gold and Sacred Tatting Pattern from Altar Cloth, Used Inside Mormon Temples), Braids of Greased Wooded Wool

9 Kathleen Stark, Jesus Falls for the Third Time, Acryclic on Canvas, 18” x 24”

10 Pauline Kusiak, 10th Station: The Stripping, Contour Drawing with Mixed Media, 14” x 14”

11 Robin Maria Pedrero, Jesus Is Nailed to the Cross, Acrylic and Oil Pastel on Canvas, 16” x 12”

12 Pamela Viola, Jesus Dies on the Cross, Textile Art, 12” x 12”

13 Anne Cherubim, 13 — In the Cave, Acrylic on Canvas, 24” x 24”

14 Carol Lukitsch, Sophia Icon, Mixed Media Collage on Paper, 30” x 22” 

Four of the works on view are by St. Michael's artists: Wil Harkins, Lisa Harkins, Pauline Kusiak, and Cindy Warkentin.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Thought for the Day

. . . The earth / said remember //
me.  I am the / earth it said. Re- /
member me.
~ Jorie Graham

Quoted from Jorie Graham, "Poem" in Poetry, January 2020, page 397    

Jorie Graham, Award-Winning American Poet; Bolyston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory, Harvard University; Chancellor, Academy of American Poets, 1997-2003

Jorie Graham Profiles at Academy of American Poets and Poetry Foundation

Thursday, February 20, 2020

New Artist Watch Post at Escape Into Life

Valerie Patterson, Mourning Doves, 2020
Watercolor Painting
27" x 35"

© Valerie Patterson

(Click the image to enlarge it.)

Today's new Artist Watch column at the international online arts magazine Escape Into Life features the highly refined and psychologically resonant watercolor paintings of award-winning artist Valerie Patterson.

Valerie, who holds degrees in art and education, first turned to painting as a child who experienced "excruciating" shyness. Later, finding herself inspired by a junior high school art teacher, she became "the class artist" and, after high school, attended the State University of New York at Potsdam, eventually to embark on a career as a visual art teacher. She credits her "gradually evolved" focus on art to her realization that she "had a voice" she could use to share her strong sense of equality, social justice, and humanitarianism, and her recognition that art has "tremendous power . . . to make people comfortable or uncomfortable, happy or sad, settled or unsettled." Once you see her work, I think you'll agree that Valerie not only leaves an indelible impression, she also makes you think.

This latest Artist Watch column showcases eight images from Valerie's recent series of works. Also included is Valerie's Artist Statement and a biography, as well as links to Valerie's Website and social media.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Thought for the Day

We need to understand the worst-case scenarios and the suffering
 and loss happening now, so we know what we're trying to prevent. 
But we need to imagine the best-case scenarios, so we can reach for 
them too. And we need to imagine our own power in the present to
choose the one over the other. And then we need to act. I believe
that resistance, that standing on principle, that engaging with the
 trouble, is good for the soul, a way to connect, a way to be
 powerful. And get results.
~ Rebecca Solnit

Quoted from Rebecca Solnit, "Letter to a Young Climate Activist on the First Day of the New Decade", Literary Hub, January 1, 2020

Rebecca Solnit, Writer, Historian, Activist

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Thought for the Day

All the spiritual masters agree that if there is a secret to
happiness, it is simple—presence to the moment. The
more present we are to the now, the more grateful we
are for what is, the more we tap into joy. All we have
is the present. This moment, this pain, this joy, this
gratitude, this surrender. And the more moments we
slowly and gratefully turn over to God, the more
we tap into this joy.
~ John Mark Comer

Quoted from John Mark Comer, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: How to Stay Emotionally Healthy and Spiritually Alive in the Chaos of the Modern World (WaterBrook, 2019) (This is also available as an audio book.)

John Mark Comer, Writer and Author; Pastor for Teaching and Vision, Bridgetown Church, Portland, Oregon

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Thought for the Day

. . . If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,/
You are surely lost. . . .
~ David Wagoner

Quoted from David Wagoner, "Lost" in Traveling Light: Collected and New Poems (University of Illinois Press, 1999), page 10

David Wagoner, Award-Winning American Poet and Novelist