November 1st marked one year since receiving the news of NED (no evidence of disease) status after treatment for ovarian cancer. I decided to celebrate by making a three-panel altarpiece to praise God for my health and his tender care. Each panel is 16 x 20".
Hezekiah, a king of ancient Judah, became dear to me during treatment thanks to my nephew. I was diagnosed during surgery. Before I was awake, my mother texted my sister, "It's cancer." My nephew saw the text first and said, "Tante's going to die." My totes brill sister simply said, "Some people do die from from cancer like your Opa, but not everybody does." "Okay," he said, "then I pray God gives her 15 more years of life like King Hezekiah." And he sent the Scripture passage from II Kings 20 about Hezekiah's illness and recovery. Did I mention he was about 11 years old at the time? Our dear Bible scholar.
When I was lucid in recovery, my mother read the account aloud. As she started, the woman on the other side of the curtain in recovery asked to hear as well. Mom moved between us, and read with a strong voice and teary eyes. The prophet Isaiah told Hezekiah to get his house in order because he was going to die. Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and cried out to the Lord. And the Lord was moved. He sent Isaiah back to say that he had heard Hezekiah's prayer and had seen his tears. Seen his tears! The Lord was granting him 15 more years of life. We joked about the 15 for me being "on the top" or "at least".
A couple weeks later I decided to see if there were more to the story in the book of Isaiah. Jackpot. In chapter 38 there is a bit of a recap as well as Hezekiah's response in a lovely psalm or poem of praise. First he goes on a bit about how awful it was that he almost died. Lays it on pretty thick. Then he shifts to the impact of the anguish, knowing that it is for his benefit. My tears turned to sobs as I read this aloud. Hezekiah, flawed but faithful, rejoices in God's forgiveness with an image of his sins being cast behind God's back. God's forgiveness, spiritual restoration, is so complete our sins are unreachable to him. Those were healing words. While I know I'm forgiven in Christ, this was a reminder to truly feel forgiven, feel released from shame. Hezekiah closes with an eagerness to worship. All he wanted to do when healed was "sing with stringed instruments all the days of our lives in the temple of the Lord." (v 20)
I read Hezekiah's psalm every day for months. Sometimes with tears, sometimes with dancing. Always with an eagerness to praise God for his loving-kindness. He hears our prayers, sees our tears. Sometimes the Lord heals us by bringing us to heaven, sometimes he heals us here on Earth. Likewise, there are times when he heals miraculously, others when he uses earthy means. In Hezekiah's case, it was a poultice of figs, mine surgery and chemo. Hezekiah also asked for a visible sign that God would heal him. Who among us hasn't asked for such assurance at one time or another?
For this commemorative work, I wanted to focus on praise and worship. An altarpiece was the way to go. I had the three blank canvases on hand, sourced at a favorite rehab store. My mosaic technique with strips of dried paint reminded me of strings on instruments, strummed and plucked to make colorful music. I spent more than a month building it up, striving for a semblance of symmetry and a dance of light to move the eye. I still need to decide on framing but will likely add hinges for displaying like a traditional altarpiece. Handles or a case of some sort could keep it portable for pop up worship spaces. Whatever the final finish or destination, I pray the altarpiece lifts eyes to God - our Creator, Savior, Healer, and Comforter. The One who gave his Son in atonement for us and who sees our tears.
Less than 3 weeks to show time at Zella's Pizzeria near downtown Baltimore Nov 6 - 30. SoWeBo Arts paired me with fellow artist Bridget Cimino, talented MICA grad known for her murals around Baltimore. Check out her work. Join us opening night Nov 6 from 5 to 8p.
Right now I'm debating which works to take. Most will be small works, ready to hang. Here are the first nine to make the cut. Lotsa gray and black with pops of gold foil. Full list with special holiday prices coming soon. If you can't make it to Zella's but have your eye on a piece, just let me know.
12 x 36" mosaic on canvas with gold foil "Milestones"
12 x 12" mosaic on wood with gold foil "Gold & Gray"
12 x 12" mosaic on canvas "Mauve On"
Mosaic in a 10 x 10 ish wood box "Prayer Box"
"Make Known In The Morning," a 16 x 40" commissioned work, now has pride of place in the client's master bath. You know your art is beloved when it's not just for showing off, it's for bringing joy to everyday moments. Art where you brush your teeth? Nothing finer.
The brief was to create a piece this size favoring a warm autumn palette and the theme of spiritual strength that comes from trusting God. I started with cool undertones, building layer upon layer of texture with brushes, stamping, hand prints, and pieces of "palette trash." Brilliant gold Fall foliage was a guiding image, as was hands-the-air-shout-for-joy movement. Gold foil, but of course.
Working on a piece for a specific person gives you time to think about them, pray for them, imagine how the piece will bring pleasure. This wonderful client loves God, makes him the center of life, and trusts God boldly in any circumstance. The title is drawn from Psalm 143 which includes beautiful language about trusting God in the worst of times.
King David wrote Psalm 143 when on the run for his life. He was hiding, waiting, frustrated. He expresses his discouragement in verse 4, "my spirit faints within me". There are times when our spirits faint even without armed soldiers stalking us. We can be crushed by broken relationships, life struggles, diagnoses, dreams that seem like they will never be realized. David doesn't wallow; he turns to the Lord. "I meditate on all you have done; I ponder the work of your hands. I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like parched land" (v 5, 6). Focusing on God instead of the problem changes everything. David knows God is more than able to rescue him because of what God has already done-- creating the universe, freeing the slaves from Egypt, blessing himself in the defeat of Goliath-- to name a few.
The part of this Psalm that makes my heart sing is how David expresses his trust in verse 8: "Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul." The title "Make Known In The Morning" refers to God making known his unfailing love to us, making known his direction for our lives, and that when we lift up our souls to him we are making known our trust and praise. All this I pray for the client.
Thanks to the happy kittens at Kapwing, a buncha humble photos are now a montage. Watch my basic process on a 6 x 6" mosaic.
Working non-objectively is freeing-- subject to no, er, subject. Like the abstract expressionists of the last century (Helen Frankenthaler, Joan Mitchell), my decisions flow organically and the outcome is more a record of the action than a fulfillment of a plan. I am influenced and inspired by what I observe visually and conceptually but rarely show it more tangibly than a juxtaposition of colors or a suggestion of a form. When I do work to a plan it is enjoyable and stretches me. The painting below, "Coloratura," reflects something in between planned and unplanned, non-objective and representational.
After a few months of building up this 3 x 3 ft mosaic, there was a period when it became a bit of a chore. It swallowed up endless strips of paint with little impact. But then a poem I wrote for my mother gave me a new perspective on it, and a clear point of view for finishing it.
He paces on the porch
cocking his head left and right,
straining to see her through the window.
In a flash of feathered finery
he retreats to the crepe myrtle,
more brilliant than the blossoms to come.
She takes up her perch
scanning porch and garden,
searching for him through the window.
In a streak of red flirtation
he gives her his famous fly by,
more blessing for the day to come.
True story! Cardinals have a thing for my mother. I don't believe cardinals are passed loved ones; heaven wouldn't be heaven if we looked back. Angels? Nah. In the Bible they appear as seeeriously buff men. But the point is, after observing the phenomenon for years, I think cardinals have a thing for my mother. Keeping pace with her on walks, fly bys galore, and, on one lovely day in June, looking for her through the window by her favorite chair. When I see a cardinal my heart leaps and I think of my beautiful mother. The day after the cardinal paced in front of the window and gave her the fly by, I wrote the poem above in minutes. Then Mom and I talked once more of cardinals and angels and blessings. Within a couple days I hit the studio to bring this mosaic to the birds. A tiny cardinal is tucked in safe, hints of birds filling the skies as they have since Creation, their morning chorale coming from all directions. Singers seen and unseen, full of color and decorating the air with extravagant music. Coloratura.
The goal to create 50 works in 50 days accomplished more than expected. First of all, it was a blast. Going for quantity freed me from being too precious about working, freed me to experiment. Since my mosaic technique with "palette trash" and glue is pretty clean, I worked even when traveling. Art was produced in four states, two airbnbs, my best friend's kitchen, and almost every room of my home. Thanks to an online writing group during the month of May, I also wrote a great deal in the same spirit of simply producing.
There were days I made multiple works in rapid succession, days I rested, and days I approached every endeavor as a work of art. The compound effect was in full display: creative initiative overflowed. My basement received a complete makeover, including a fairy bed in time for a visit from Mom. I took on an enormous landscaping project I've been dreading. I might be more proud of that project, conquering bamboo, than any other. I even cooked more than I have in years. My other goals- prayer, Scripture study, and long walks provided additional focus and creative impeti. The fifth goal of 50 blog posts...not so much. But if something had to give, that was the one.
The total acts pf creation -- works of visual art, writing, plus furniture/home/landscaping makeovers -- completed between April 21 and June 9 is a whopping 78. Here are my favorites.
Above: This 12 x 12" mosaic may be my all time favorite of the bunch. "Spring Wind" is delightfully cool, stirring tender new branches and scattering blossoms. It demonstrates how my style developed during the intense production period, allowing more of the painted under layers to show and the addition of open, organic shapes. Below: A slideshow of additional favs not yet posted including poems.
These mini mosaics (# 21 and 22 in the press for 50 works by June 9) and several others are officially for sale online.