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Church Interior Drawings: Waiting

By July 21, 2020March 21st, 2024Art and Faith, Drawing, Architecture

Church Interior Drawings

I created these church interior drawings as studies for a previous series of paintings of cathedral architecture. Each intimate drawing explores the space and emotion of the beauty of sacred space.  As a result, they  hold new poignancy during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic.  During this time many of us have been separated from our houses of worship and faith communities due to social distancing regulations. We cannot experience the spaces in person, and are conscious of the fact that “virtual” church falls far short.

Empty Churches

Advent2-ChurchInteriorOilPaintingThe series of church paintings I began in graduate school depicted empty spaces, cavernous structures built for crowds of people and throngs of religious activity. In many places, those “throngs” are largely absent. To me the structures spoke as entities which transcended individual people. The paintings signified permanence of faith, stretching across centuries. Populations ebbed and flowed, economic centers shifted and transformed, and often large cathedrals are now in small towns.

During the pandemic shutdowns I turned on my computer for Sunday morning mass and see an empty church. I hadn’t seen a pandemic before, but the ancient spaces had. The living stones of the Church – the body of Christ – they have seen all this before. They have been tested by fire, revolution, plague, and have continued to inspire us and show us the power of beauty.

Now, the empty churches in that series take on a new significance, as the separation of faithful from the place of worship is even more drastic. But the divine presence remains. Several pieces I had entitled “Waiting”, and now that title, too, takes on new meaning. We wait for healing, we wait for the freedom to gather joyfully together without fear. We wait for hope, and even the waiting for hope IS hope.

Moments of Contemplation

In these drawings I document places of weddings, baptisms, and confirmations. Often people commission me to commemorate those special sacraments with a custom church painting.  I also document the beautiful environment in which the daily miracle of the Mass occurs. Sometimes the drawing is a document of a quiet, cool, rest in the midst of a busy city (in wandering a new place I always check to see if the church doors are open). Drawing counter-acts scattered thoughts and emotions into intense focussed contemplation.

Now these architectural interior drawings become an unexpected documentation of our current moment, as well as a testament to the places and communities we love. My heart has been heavy with the events of the last few weeks, beginning with George Floyd. Seeing how that has stoked flames of division in every area of society, including among Christians has weighed upon me. Years ago, these church interior drawings also originated in moments of darkness.  When my heart was heavy, I went to sit in church. ⁠Quiet, empty church. ⁠

Church Interior Ink Drawing. Cathedral of the Holy Cross Boston.

Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Boston. Ink on Matboard ©Michelle Arnold Paine

The shapes of archways reaching towards heaven inspire a sense of quiet awe and shadowy mystery. The rhythm of dark and light passing through complex spaces are  an evocative metaphor for our own interior lives.