Advent Art Show in the Sanctuary

Stuart Hobbs, one of our curators here at St. Stephen’s, asked me if I would show some of my art during the Advent season, so I find myself writing my own artist statement when I usually just post the statements of others. The paintings on display were created over a period of ten years, and show the development of my style over that time, or at least the way I moved through various stages and interests. Many of them were made as explicit meditations on Mary the Mother of God. Some of them are simply paintings of women that I’m shoe-horning in here to fill out the show, although I hope that you will accept my attempt to make a spiritual point with their inclusion. I’ll comment on all of them below, organizing them by the six sanctuary bays that we display art in.

Bay One: First Eves

In Christian tradition, Mary is sometimes thought of as the “Second Eve,” just as Christ is considered the “Second Adam.” Through their lives and fidelity, both undid the sin of the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve might have grown indifferent to their relationship with God and become self-serving, but Jesus and Mary loved God with all their hearts, minds, and souls, and served others throughout their time on earth. These three paintings were not created as Eve images, but I think they’ll serve in that capacity here.

Bay Two: Mary the Contemplative, 1

I love Marie Howe’s remarkable poems about Mary, which you can read in her book The Kingdom of Ordinary Time. She imagines Mary as a contemplative, someone who is already awake to the great and entrancing mystery of the world. That wakefulness is what allows her to welcome the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation. In this bay, the images on the right were made for a series on Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God. The painting on the left is the most recent piece I’ve made, and is a portrait of Mary. I started by making a brush painting, using Chinese ink. Then I painted over that stark black and white image with gouache. Finally, I created paper mosaic tiles and glued them to the image.

Bay Three: Mary the Contemplative, 2

These are both prints of digital images, “painted” on an iPad and incorporating manipulated photographs. I hope that both of them reflect Mary’s wakefulness.

Bay Four: The Annunciation

The image on the right is the oldest work in this show. It was painted in watercolor a decade ago. I wrote this poem to accompany it:

She Wait with Those Who Wait for God

Leaves are lace on the dawn’s body.
Houses scatter silhouettes at the sky.
All the world waits – for days she’s been waiting.
An angel came in invading
light. An angel called her favored –
she, mystic Mary, who can see –
who languishes in vision, longing
to have no borders, no frontiers to cross –
to be the shadow of a man coming towards her,
and then the man himself,
and then the sunlight in his hair
(she thinks that she might die within his cells –
she thinks that she might flow and stain like sweat) –
to be the green grass and the scalp
of earth beneath it – to ascend
in a yellow pulse along the day –
to balance in the memory
of God – to fall and rise again, like breath.
(Now strong sunlight through the window.
Now a solid brightness to her prayers.
She is an egg of being, a foretaste of delight.
Again, again she absorbs the light
that sunlight shapes against her skin.
Again, again her eyes are laughing sight,
a scatter of air beneath dove’s wings.)

The painting on the left came later. It has a darker understanding of the Annunciation. The son she bears and raises and loves will be crucified and suffer terribly. I believe that Mary’s yes at the Annunciation is an act of free will. God’s hopes for the world find confirmation in this perfect woman. But those hopes are not without a price. Mary is willing to pay it.

Bay Five: The Magnificat

When Mary goes to visit Elizabeth, she sings the Magnificat, her great, revolutionary hymn. In it she gives glory to God, specifically because God is acting on behalf of the poor and dispossessed, and acting against the interests of the wealthy and powerful. The painting on the right is very odd, but conveys, I hope, some of the joy of a liberated world. The painting on the left is more straightforward.

Bay Six: The Crucifixion

These two paintings are, perhaps, a little odd for Advent, which is a season of hope. Why include the misery of the crucifixion? I always feel that the world we hope for has a cost. There are those who will oppose our hopes, often with violence. And the emergence of the new world requires the death of the old. The Christian life can be thought of as a cycle of death and resurrection. Mary is not spared that cycle. Death meets her at the foot of the cross. To remember the crucifixion in this season is to remember that incarnation is not the final word. God became one of use so that we might be resurrected. In the early church, Mary was thought of as the first of the saints to achieve divinization, that is, to become like God. The hope of the cycle of death and resurrection is that with each period of dying we become more sanctified, that we grow as resurrection people. Mary is our model for this.

Leave a Reply