" Your servant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil," replied the widow when the prophet Elisha asked her what she had in her house. Immediately Elisha told her to borrow jars from her neighbors, "and not too few," then continued his brief, clear instructions that led to a big, big miracle. I've known this narrative since childhood. It's in 2 Kings chapter 4, the first seven verses. God provides for a woman so in debt her sons are about to be taken as slaves by the creditor. God provides even more than she needs to save her sons.
Labor Day weekend 2020, the miracle took on new meaning. I heard a message unpacking it in detail and drawing insights for today. The account is lean so every detail is significant. During the message the details became clear and sharp in my mind, replacing vague images probably based on illustrations in a Sunday School book. Now could see the olive oil sparkle as the woman poured from her jar into the many borrowed vessels. I could smell it, taste it. I imagined the stone ground oil to be a rich green-gold, deeper than the poshest of today's EVOO. I wondered what shade of blue her dress was, the age of her boys, the sizes and colors of the jars. I knew art in some form would result.
Almost a year later, I started an ambitious 36 x 36" mosaic attempting to capture the luscious, luminous pour of the oil. The colors were exciting- pale gold, olive green, bronze, purple. But the composition...was awful. Olive oil left out in the sun to spoil awful. I dismantled the piece, saving some of the "palette trash" material. I was disappointed, even frustrated, but undaunted. The time simply wasn't right; I would wait for focus. Within couple weeks I tried again, a small piece, 4 x 4 inches. It turned out well but was a bit more of an intellectual exercise than a full-bodied expression.
For several months after the fail and the not-quite win, I posted the passage where I would see it a lot. I read it, marked up the phrases that leapt off the page, asked God to keep my mind open. Eventually, I thought, I'd be able to see what I needed to create. Nope. I reflected on it less and less until it was almost invisible. So I let it go. Took the passage off the wall. Trusted God to bring it all together if/when he wanted. Plenty of other art to make.
And it has come together! Came together during prayer and song and then out through my hands like I knew exactly what I was doing. Still in progress, the series of visual meditations on the passage will be on display for a couple weeks in September. Deets here.
Several new works going to the Clio Art Fair in NYC September 9 - 12 are abstracted landscapes. Inspired by drives through green canopied roads, past hillside farms, and under massive stretches of blue sky. The route to my day job over Maryland country roads sets me dreaming and I'm kinda obsessed with capturing what I see in abstracted form. A total of 50 works of a variety of inspirations, are NYC bound. Most are 4 x 4 inch like the nine below.
Three mosaic minis made it into a show! From June 11 through August 29, three works will be on display in the juried show, SHINE, at the Annmarie Sculpture Garden & Arts Center in Solomons Island, Maryland. Juried by Erika Wright of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Laboratory, the show is all about light as a subject, as a concept, and as an element of the physical work itself. 2D and 3D work will be on display. Reception June 11th from 5:00 - 7:00pm.
The three mosaics, part of a series of 5, were inspired during road trips last November. Dramatic skies viewed through the bold verticals of bare trees sent me running to the studio. Read about them in the SHINE virtual booklet pages 61 - 63.
Lazarus Light, 4 x 4 inch palette trash mosaic on wood
This little number started as a sketch during a spiritual retreat with poet Kathy Staudt offered by Bon Secours Retreat & Conference Center. The Center, where I have the most wonderful day job, hosts a variety of in-person and virtual retreats that speak to mind, body, and spirit. Kathy Staudt's retreat was inspired by a painting that hangs at the Center, a tender scene of Jesus with the famous sisters, Martha and Mary.
The retreat was entitled, "A Sojourn at Bethany" and incorporated Scripture, poetry, and purposeful silences as well as art. In terms of Scripture, Kathy dove into all we know of Bethany including the account of Jesus calling Lazarus from the grave. I had not connected this story to Lent previously but learned it is commonly read the Sunday before Easter in some churches in preparation for recounting Christ's own resurrection. It was a line from a poem of Kathy's that set my mind and spirit working, soon followed by my hands. Imagining what it might have been like for Lazarus to be raised from the dead, she identified a tension between hearing a trusted voice while being uncertain what was happening. But in a literal step of faith, Lazarus moves forward anyway, "Blind and bound, I hobble toward the light."
During a time of silence following Kathy's reading of the poem, I imagined looking through strips of cloth. Historically speaking, I think Lazarus' head was more likely covered in a single piece of cloth (did I hear that in a sermon once?) but the idea of being "bound" sent me sketching horizontal bands. Strips of cloth, layers of strips. Golden light penetrating just a bit where layers were thinner. A hint of blue for sky behind the light streaming in where the stone had been rolled away. And maybe the strips of cloth were a bit, um, crusty? Dark remains of decay. I gathered palette trash - btw this was a virtual retreat so I was in my studio - in golds, whites, grays. A bit of gauze added a textural element.
First I applied a piece of pale iridescent blue with gold streaks to be the light Lazarus moved toward. Then horizonal bands of white and gold. A few I roughed up a bit to reveal grey cloth under the paint. If a literal interpretation was my aim, I would have used fewer, wider, strips to reflect the proportions of the eyes. But on a 4 x 4 inch square, I thought the nod to reality might have been lost. So I let the dimensions of the square in front of me be my guide. The result of using so many strips was a reminder that many things bind us. While I know I'm free through Christ's death and resurrection, following him can be hobbled by the invisible bonds of dark doubt, layer after layer of self-centeredness, and good old-fashioned crusty rebellion. A friend who was also part of the retreat said the piece made her think of light coming through stone of the tomb, of Christ's resurrection. Hearing that made me want to touch the stones and feel their sun-warmed chalkiness.
Working horizontally was a nice change as well. I'll meditate a bit more on scenes from Bethany and see what other inspirations set my hands moving. That will be a fitting tribute to the fact that the answer to the Mary / Martha dilemma is always... both /and.
With Every Christmas Card I Write, Part 2
(Originally published on the Bon Secours Retreat & Conference Center Blog 12/23/2020)
Back in September of this strange and difficult year, I starting researching Scripture passages to inspire my 2020 Christmas card. I had so much fun making cards last year, using the same mosaic method I use to make art, that I was excited to get started. I looked for verses pointing to Jesus with key words lending themselves to visuals: star, light, heart, etc. Straight lines, like the ones in the crosses I made for 2019, are more practical for mosaics but I wanted to push myself. Hearts.
Zeroing in on the passage from about five options was fun. I read the verses in different translations of the Bible, seeking context and nuance. Reading the verses aloud helps too – tasting the words, hearing their music. In end, and confirmed by my mother’s instant positive reaction, I landed on Titus 3: 4 – 5. “Ooo, that’s good,” she said. “Titus doesn’t get quoted enough.” She would know! My mom reads the Bible every day. She’s read the entire Bible through nine or ten times in the past 20 years, finding fresh insights and deepening her relationship with God each time. But back to Titus. It’s a letter the Apostle Paul wrote to Titus. It’s full of instructions, notes on leadership qualifications, reminders to do good. After a list of ways life was hopeless before Jesus, Paul says:
“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy…”
The word “appeared” popped out to me. It took me right to Christmas and Epiphany with the appearance of the angels and the star announcing that the Savior had come as promised. Kindness and love…heart-tastic. The reminder about receiving love and being saved not because of anything I have done was the clincher. It’s easy to be caught up in the cosmic scorecard, focusing on what I do, which is a recipe for false pride and depression in my case. God our Savior appeared and laid down his life despite whatever I have done or fail to do. He appeared out of perfect love and kindness for imperfect me. We are urged to do good as a way of sharing undeserved love, not to earn it. That’s what I’m celebrating this Christmas.
For the mosaics, zeroing in on a “look” came next. Working small affords me the opportunity to play and experiment, so I’ve learned to let the first few be bad until I find my stride. The first was so bad, however, that I almost gave up. Maybe last year’s cards were a one hit wonder? This is COVID-Christmas so no obligatory anything, right? But willing to fail, I made another. And another. I’m on a roll again, praise God, and need to buy more stamps.
Christmas 2020 Hearts: palette trash on paper, most approximately 2.5 inches square-ish.
Feeling landscapy the last several days. Inspiration started on the roadtrip to St. Louis for the mural installation -- the staccato of bare trees against the hum of late autumn hues.
Each has proved good mental exercise as I puzzle and experiment my way through fields, trees, sky. I can see progress in this mini series, each one more refined. #5 is my favorite. #6 is, er, growing on me. On wood, 6 x 6 inches.
BEFORE: "The Lunchroom"
DURING: the fun!
AFTER: "The Atrium"
SPECIAL THANKS to Bart Day, Ron Roma, & Bryan O'Donnell of LCEF as well as Neil and Mike of ISC Contracting // Bon Secours Retreat & Conference Center and staff // Mom! // Rashad Polk
And big fun. Now that the panels have more strips of palette trash than blank wood, precision is the name of the game. Precise cuts to fill in gaps, precise color choices to create balance and movement.