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.
Proper big. Big space, big project, and big big blessing. Big thanks go to Rashad Polk, totes brill event photographer. Makes me feel like a rock star to work with him.
The big story. Earlier this year I received a commission for a worship space. The space is a multipurpose room at the headquarters of a national faith-based organization. The first step was to spend time in the space as well as dream-storming with the organization's chaplain. The primary wall to be addressed is 24 feet wide. The brief is to bring impact through color and theme that enhance the chapel experience while not being so churchy-churchy that the space doesn't work for other purposes. The space includes tables for eating / meeting and comfy lounge areas. In terms of theme, it is important to the chaplain that the piece brings encouragement to the staff. Their mission is to be a blessing to others and that flows from knowledge of being blessed, being loved, by God.
After the dream-storming session, the chaplain proposed a theme drawn from Scripture and I proposed design options. The theme is "God Has Poured His Love Into Our Hearts" from Romans chapter 5, verses 1 -5 which read:
"Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." (ESV)
This is an action packed passage. The Apostle Paul is the author, teaching and encouraging the Christ-followers in Rome. He reminds them that peace with God, a peace that needed to be restored because Adam & Eve shattered it, comes not through our own actions but through Jesus. The promised Messiah Jesus took our all our shattered-ness, brokenness, shamefulness with him to the cross as the final atoning sacrifice in order to restore peace with God the Father. Eternal life of our soul, sorted. But he doesn't stop there. He goes on to encourage the Romans in earthly life. Following Christ is not a cake walk. Suffering ranges from being fed to the lions to being thought a fool, and myriad ways in between. But God didn't just redeem and run. Paul reminds the Romans, and us, that God also poured his love into our hearts by sending his Holy Spirit, member of the Trinity #3. He poured out, and pours out, his tender, personal love into our hearts. Into the very core of our being. This outpouring fuels, fortifies, and equips us to mature spiritually in all circumstances. Being reminded of that, knowing that God is actively working in us, is tremendous encouragement to serve others. We can pour into others because God has poured his love into us.
The chaplain has more insights into this passage which I'll share later in the process. From today through installation day in November, I'll be posting images as it all comes together. You might expect to see a heart or two. You'd be right.
4 x 4" palette trash mosaic "TEAL #5" Lustrous teal and blue streams end in a raw fabric edge. $75.00. Includes display easel. When purchased by 9/26, 50% will be donated to NOCC's Together in TEAL campaign to support ovarian cancer awareness.
During Artscape's live chat August 23rd, I made this teeny tiny triptych. Each piece is 2.5" square. Color inspiration came from cancer awareness colors near and dear to my heart: teal for ovarian as well as cervical cancer, peach for uterine & endometrial cancer, and purple which encompasses all gynecologic cancers. There is no part of the body cancer can't hit, even the ones we don't talk about so much. I added the lime green because it looks good with purple. Turns out lime green is the awareness color for Non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Good to know.
This morning I titled it: Sky, Eggplant, Basil, Peach. Colors often make me think of tastes. From Sara Waters at Texas Tech I learned the term "licky" for vibrant colors, coined by her daughter as a child. What better compliment? I also wanted a title about anything BUT cancer. When cancer touches your life it's a huge, rock-your-world kinda thing. AND it's not your whole life. The world continues to spin, there is delight to be had, love to be shared, nourishment to take, and beauty to see everywhere from God. Look around, look up.
Blessed to be one of 75 artists chosen for the 2020 online marketplace version of Artscape August 21 - 30. I'm excited to showcase new palette trash mosaics and demo my process via live video chat. The Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts (BoPA) is providing the online marketplace at no cost to artists. Incredible! To be a blessing in turn, I will donate 10% of proceeds to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition's Together in Teal event September 26, a cause near and dear to my heart.