Ascent/Descent is a contemporary interpretation of the Virgin Mary as Jacob’s Ladder. This reading of Genesis 28 views Jacob’s vision of the stairway ascending to heaven as a pre-figuration of the Virgin Birth. Mary was the fulfillment of the LORD’s promise in this passage “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Through Jesus’ salvation (brought forth by Mary) we are able to ascend to heaven, and through Mary, Jesus descended to earth. Mary was the vehicle, the connection between heaven and earth which allowed salvation to come.
The complex architectural space of St. Matthew’s Cathedral was particularly challenging. For instance, a variety of materials (mosaics, marble, plaster, gilding, wood) cover Historic St. Matthew’s Cathedral in DC. How do I paint each element in a way that contributes to the whole painting? How do I communicate the shimmering array of textures and colors within this beautiful cathedral?
My newest Marian painting “Interrogatio: Inquiry” depicts that moment of questioning “How can this be?” when the angel announced the Christ’s coming to Mary at the Annunciation. Mary’s vulnerability before God is represented here by the nude female figure. The grand space of the architecture represents God’s overpowering presence. The architecture also becomes a metaphor for Mary herself, often referred to in medieval texts as the Temple or dwelling place of the Lord because of her role in the Incarnation.
The arch in this painting is called the “Porta Postierla”, which leads out of the clifftop town of Orvieto, Italy and down towards the train station. The road criss-crosses the path of the funicular which is the way most tourists arrive in Orvieto. But when I lived there I loved to use the slower, medieval path.
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.
My newest series of Gold Silhouette paintings are meant to be contemporary icons, modern interpretations of traditional icons. Whether architecture or figure, even landscape, my work has always centered on a theme of convergence between heaven and earth. Similarly, these new mixed media pieces juxtapose the expressive minimalist quality of my figure drawings with the other-worldly materials of metal leaf and paint inspired by iconography.
After I painted the Historic Church of Saint Rose in Perrysburg last year, a local family suggested a painting of Saint Joseph Parish across the river as a special anniversary gift. Her parents were married at St. Joseph Parish in Maumee, Ohio. Since they are still parishioners there, she thought a painting of the historic church would be a memorable gift to celebrate their years together. The architecture of churches communicates the eternal, where God comes to earth…
The figure in the mirror is attentive, ready, waiting, poised in the act of creating. Her world is not limited to the objects before her – the mirror, the window, the branch. Within them, through them, she sees more: she sees deeper into a physical world than would be considered possible at first glance
A few days before Easter we all watched in shock as fire enveloped a great monument of Christian architecture, Notre Dame Cathedral of Paris. Just a few days before I had discussed with my two homeschool co-op classes about Pope Benedict XVI’s charge to be “custodians of beauty”. In his address to artists in 2009 he tasked artists with the responsibility of being “custodians of beauty”. I strongly believe the call is to all of us.
In 2016 an earthquake and aftershocks crumbled many parts of the town of Norcia, birthplace of Saint Benedict, founder of Western monasticism. The Monks of Norcia and their rebuilding become symbols of hope in the Catholic church.
Last spring a friend approached me wanting to gift a print of the church to her daughter for First Communion. I thought it was a great idea and got busy. I published pictures of the watercolor in progress and set up pre-orders for prints of the painting and it was a big hit!
The exteriors of local churches shape the landscape of daily life-about-town, but their interiors have helped shape spiritual lives for centuries. In Europe, cavernous sacred spaces were built for throngs of religious activity, but now hold only shadows of those presences. The shapes of archways reaching towards heaven, the rhythm of dark and light passing through complex spaces inspire a sense of quiet awe and shadowy mystery.
These new paintings have become my own reflection on the work of rebuilding tradition. One commemorates the Basilica as it looked before the earthquake. The second depicts it in its currently ruined state. One painting was commissioned by a Catholic, the other by a Protestant, and so together they are a witness to the influence of the great Saint Benedict on Christian life.
In every model, old or young, large or small, male or female, I see one God’s amazing creations. In the process of drawing I try to capture just one small portion of the magnificence, delicacy, and beauty of what He made.
Orvieto was the birthplace for the feast of the Eucharist, called Corpus Domini, and one of the major feasts of the Catholic church. The Cathedral of Orvieto holds a treasure – a number of them, really, including frescos by Luca Signorelli, Gentile di Fabriano, and Fra Angelico. But its spiritual treasure is a relic from the Miracle of Bolsena, the miracle which was the final impetus in the church’s decision to institute the festival of Corpus Domini: “Body of the Lord”. This feast is a reminder to artists and non-artists alike that Art and Beauty can model the Incarnation in the world.
The Feast of the Annunciation was moved to April 8 this year, since March 25 fell during Holy week. The Annunciation celebrates the moment when the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will bear the Savior. This series of Annunciation master studies I have shared over the last months is about waiting, and the expectation of new life. At times this “new life” has been a metaphor for new beginnings, forgiveness, spiritual renewal, but in 2012 the time of waiting was literal, as I waited, in pregnancy, for my baby girl to be born…
What is the purpose of “copying” a work of art? Franklin Enspruch phrases it like this in a review of Wendy Artin’s series of watercolors of the Elgin Marbles: “She is at once paying the sculptures due homage, studying them for artistic clues, and using them to reach upward in ambition and scale.”
Somehow, in entering in to someone else’s creation, one often emerges at the other end with a clearer, renewed sense of voice and direction.
Cardus has just published another of my paintings in their online journal Comment.
Our Lady of the Barren Tree is an image of hope: the strange beauty of winter, in which it requries faith to believe that trees and grass are only “sleeping” and will return with new life and growth.
The tree, the vine, the branches – these images evoke the memory of Eve in the garden of Eden whose disobedience eventually brought on the exile of humanity from paradise. Eve’s disobedience was eventually redeemed in the act of Mary’s obedient “May it be to me as you have said”.