For the last few months I’ve been working on a new series rather covertly. It’s one I had been gearing up for since April of 2015, when I went to Israel. I had just been asked to do a bunch of artwork for my church following a renovation, and literally the next day, without my initiation or anticipation, a trip to Israel just dropped into my lap. Is there a more perfect way to gather sources for art for a church? These things happen for a reason, and it was with this in mind alongside my trepidation in leaving my native country for the first time ever (to visit a place which, while immensely inspiring, was also in the news constantly for violence and unrest), that I trusted God’s plan, told my irrational fears to get lost, and accepted the invitation.
Knowing I’d never be able to afford to return in time to gather more material for my commission, I took many thousands of photos while on tour there. I was determined to capture some amazing photos, and luckily I had trained for years to frame a balanced composition in a split second. Being of the philosophy that one has to take a hundred photos to get one really magical one, I took almost 10,000. Yes, you read that right. God bless digital cameras.
Needless to say, it took months to sort through them all, and to identify all the places and rename the better ones appropriately, decide on a theme, pore over fonts, carefully curate between so many good options, and narrow down what I would actually paint for the church (who are giving me a stipend). I also cropped a few reference photos for emphasis or stitched a few photos together, and decided that each painting would contain scripture tying directly to each site being depicted, so there was additional research to be done (hence the font poring). The extent of artistic license and interpretation also had to be determined to some degree. Distractions from this mission were swatted away until I “got it” that this was what I was supposed to do now. Between the epic amount of sorting, the self-doubt, a detour almost getting a really cool job (which had such a horrific commute it would have obliterated any time or energy to paint), and several poignantly-timed illnesses that forced me to stop, think, and re-assess my priorities, it was nearly a year before I actually touched brush to canvas. Luckily my clients were in no rush, and gave me full trust and creative autonomy.
Here I had to face another fear: that I wasn’t good enough for the project. Most artists have this gnawing self-doubt, even when it isn’t earned. Society gives creatives a lot of mixed messages concerning their “worth”, but they aren’t the ultimate measure, nor is money. Don’t get me wrong – funds to afford food, shelter, a studio and art supplies are quite vital, but that isn’t necessarily the purpose for creating; it is essentially a facilitator. Money is a terribly inadequate means of measuring the value of most things that matter, and public response can be swayed by too many fickle factors. Art is nearly as impossible to measure as a feeling or a life. It is more a matter of quality than something quantifiable, and what I mean by quality is how it impacts lives – either that of the artist, or of cultures or sub-cultures, or that of others such as collectors or anyone else who views art with varying purposes. It can calm, inspire, educate – even be a call to action. I have hope with this series that I might inspire viewers to seek relationship with God, if not simply to serve to glorify Him with the passion and skills He graciously and abundantly bestowed on His not-quite-humble-enough servant (hey, I’m a work in progress too). I may never learn what impact anything I do actually occurs, but my knowing is nonessential.
There’s a subconscious meme in our collective awareness that is a picture of the writer facing the blank page – or the artist in front of a blank canvas – that it is the most intimidating thing in the world to pull something from nothing and create something there. This is where I was after all my preparation…preparation that probably took longer than it should as an indirect result of that fear. Eventually I had to face the fact I must do something. Not that I hadn’t been doing something, but I had to get on with the show, so to say. Restlessly wandering around in my mind with a feeling of disquiet, I frankly wasn’t putting the right effort into figuring out what was wrong yet. Then the Spirit hit me with the notion I needed – duh, I needed to pray about it. So I did. I dropped to my knees, and told God I didn’t feel worthy of my commission, and that I probably wasn’t – but that I knew I could do all things through Him Who strengthens me. I asked for divine assistance. Boy, did I get it!
Now…I’m a very analytical person. I know my skills and limitations: where they lie and where they stop. I know when something is happening beyond what I am currently capable of. So I don’t care if anyone thinks I’m delusional. I own what I say here. I know what I have experienced and nobody can take that from me: I did my initial drawing and blocking in of the painting, in the faith that God won’t steer a parked car so I had better drive…and then I felt Him take the wheel. When I got to a place where I didn’t know how I’d place the strokes or what look the painting would have, I paused for a quick prayer, and immediately I felt Him take control of my decisions and my brush, and guide me into my new techniques.
This doesn’t happen every session, or even every painting in such a dramatic way. But I have felt His presence and influence in every stroke since then, even though it thankfully is a logical progression of my style that’s still recognizable as mine. I have also watched my style subtly evolve with each painting. Usually that only happens every few series of paintings. The work I’ve put into this series surpasses anything I’ve ever accomplished – because I didn’t do it by myself. We worked in concert, and continue to (as I’m not half finished with this series, but wanted to let you know I’m still producing, and just what’s going on – quite a lot!)
It has been a labor of love. What a gift that God arranged for me, in answer to my plea to find a way to serve Him that was custom-tailored around the talents He had given me. And to think I almost turned down the trip because of a dumb fear. I actually heard more gunshots in my own neighborhood the first 24 hours after returning home, than I had in eleven days in Israel, including 5 days in Jerusalem! How silly of me to have hesitated, knowing there’s nothing I can really do to alter the number of days He ultimately planned for me to live anyway.
I must say that Israel was far more beautiful than that which is depicted in many movies set in Biblical times generally shows. Much of the land of milk and honey is a varyingly lush, blooming oasis in the Middle East, and my artist’s face was wet with gratitude at being able to witness it, and to walk the steps that Jesus trod, and to be able to witness layers of history excavated before my very eyes. I recommend a visit to the Holy Land for every believer – and even for those who aren’t…and it may just make a believer out of you, if you dare.
When I returned home, I was exhausted but exhilarated, and among ideas for paintings, I started writing a book about my trip, and separately I created a slideshow-video of some of my best photos – played to a background of me reciting a poem I that wrote about the journey. This was an experience that produced a creative tour-de-force.
If that weren’t enough of a present, my methods and techniques began to evolve further as I’ve already mentioned, and I embraced experimentation in a way I hadn’t for years. I’ve progressed so much that I may have to edit my artist statement.
When I embarked into this style, I was acutely aware that matter and light were of a particulate nature: that all things, living and otherwise, are made of atoms with electrons furiously spinning about their respective nuclei, and that light is a blast of speeding photons. I was thinking on an “atomic” level, and was using that microcosm to allude to the parallel that we humans, however different we may seem superficially, are all made of the same stuff – unique yet unified. Now, in the Holy Land series, I have progressed into showing the relationships between these entities, by making my brush strokes and shapes interrelate in a more “molecular” way. It is not enough that we have things in common; it is imperative that we recognize and act on those common bonds by nurturing relationships.
And now my subject matter is sites that were significant in the life of Jesus Christ, He who became the very liaison between the Creator and the created. There is no higher relationship I could portray. I chose not to depict literally the countenances of Father, Son or Holy Spirit; rather to use the light and beauty of nature, another creation, to, appropriately, reflect Them. Then, to reinforce the participation of the Trinity in my visual message, I include the Word, or scripture, within the compositions – scripture that is relevant to the scene illustrated and is relevant to those who read it, regardless of their understanding or even agreeing with it; it is a relationship offered nonetheless, in the context of free will and dependent on one’s voluntary acceptance since, by definition, true love, respect and loyalty can only be given, not taken by force. Similarly, this same push-and-pull tension is also described in the relationship between brush strokes, among which the scriptures are nestled and purposely partially camouflaged, necessarily so one must come closer to read them – just as one must meditate on the Word to absorb its meaning.
The paintings are each two works in one; from afar one sees a realistic scene, but close up one is confronted with intricate patterns and harmonies, creating that Gestalt that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. This echoes the responsibility of all humanity to keep a balance between the big picture and the important details, a dichotomy not unlike that of our calling as believers – to repeatedly attempt to transcend humanity while still shackled to it and all its flaws; to balance self and others; to balance discipline and compassion; to balance life in this realm versus that in the next. Mindfulness in relationships are key, and as one progresses, the journey is every bit as important to consider as the destination.
It bears mentioning that each individual’s act of creating is yet another testimony to the fact that we are made in our own Creator’s image, a divine gift He gave us to feel kinship with Him. I can scarcely wait to finish this series and dive into the next one, since I have several waiting in the wings and my mind is so full of ideas, I wish I didn’t have to sleep (and I really like to sleep). I even have yet another Israel series planned beyond the collection for our particular house of worship.
You may have noticed this post is only illustrated with a few details. I feel it wouldn’t be right to show the finished paintings here before I present them to their ultimate home. Looking forward to the day I can post all the finished works after the unveiling at church!
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