Monthly Archives: June 2013

Interview with Kateri Tolo

Recovered

Recovered

An interview with Kateri Tolo, an artist and fellow Belhaven Alumni. You can find her website here

Tell us about your background:

I grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota. I am of mixed ethnicity (Mexican and American), which means that I grew up with the voices of two heritages in my head. As a child I did not find anything attractive unless it conjured a rich image. For this reason reading was my favorite pastime. I spent a short period of my childhood in Mexico in which I got to know my extended family and develop a  love for them that  is real yet distant as I have not seen them in many years. I did not have an idea of the function of art or the names of more than a handful of artists until my junior year of high school. That year was the most exciting of my life because I finally realized that I could use art and art history as a framework to understand just about any other subject in the world. That was when I knew that I wanted to be an artist.

Tiny Theophanies

Tiny Theophanies

Where are you now? 

I live in Jackson , Mississippi. I completed my undergraduate degree in visual art at Belhaven University. The fall after graduation I began work as an elementary art teacher at a private school. I just finished up my second year of teaching and am using the summer months to catch up on my own work.

What does your process look like? How do you go about making art?

This is an interesting question because I feel like my process is currently (or constantly?) in process. There are a few things, however, that I have noticed remain constant in the way that I work. I constantly break apart and reconfigure my work. Whether I am painting, drawing, carving, or shaping, I am constantly cutting up and breaking apart what I have made. I like to bring my works to the point where they are mostly ruined, take them apart, and then I put them back together again or repurpose the pieces. I am currently cutting apart some old drawings and paintings and reconstructing them to discover new relationships that I hadn’t noticed when I first composed them. I work this way because that is my drawing process. As I draw from observation in my sketchbook I find that every physical thing is made of countless planes and pieces. I like to break them down in my mind as I put them together on the page.

Many of your pieces reference biblical themes, how does your faith manifest itself through your art?

Ardor

Ardor

You are what you eat. There’s a good scientific fact for you. That is the way that my faith finds its way into my work. I have found that when I am truly immersed in the presence of God on a regular basis I want to make work that addressed what I am learning in my time in the word. It is not that I am trying to specifically reference a biblical account, although there are times when I do so. My work is a combination of things that I understanding and things that I do not understand; my physical and emotional experience as a human being as well as the wonder and awesome power of God and his plan for this world.

In what ways does your art illuminate the text? How do you wish your art to dialogue or interact with the Word?

More Than Years

More Than Years

When I read the Bible I make a conserted effort to record any symbols or images I notice in a passage. I do not focus very much on illustrating a story or an event with figures and such. I am more concerned with the more generic imagery. For example, I record  images like rocks, thorns, fire, triangles, undulating lines, etc. God himself chooses objects and images to illuminate the message he wants to convey to his people. Christ is called “the cornerstone” for a reason. Rocks are firm, ancient, and stable. The character of a stone lends itself well to the description of Christ’s role in the church body. It is the character of the object that is important. For that reason, I see that understanding the character of the images and symbols in the word is essential to illuminating scripture truthfully. In my work I want the marks that I make to FEEL like suffering when I am talking about suffering. I think that a viewer can relate to that sort of thing naturally. Many have said that art is not a good preacher. I think that art is more about our testimony, which is simply the story of a life molded by the truth of the gospel. I believe that art illuminates the gospel when it is molded by the character of its truth.

Restitution

Restitution

Tell us more about one of your pieces:

I feel that “Restitution” embodies two characteristics that are almost always present in my work. There is a very rough and destructive element to it. Portions of the plywood the work is painted on have literally been stripped and wrenched from the surface. The entire piece itself has been broken into two pieces. Other portions have been burned and chiseled violently. This piece was made with a intentional harm, however. In my mind I never sought to ruin the work, but rather to improve it. There were long periods of time where the work was treated with great tenderness and sensitivity of mark. In this work I acknowledge pain and beauty united. That is the only way I know how to make honest work.

What advice do you have for artists of faith?

I would urge artists of faith to pursue their faith. In fact, that would be my advice to all people of faith. The common pitfalls of the artist include arrogance, conceit, intellectual swelling of the head, a preoccupation with image, depression, the drunken pursuit of the hypnosis of the “process,” under-productivity, over-productivity, and an inordinate acceptance of all ideas for the sake of being well rounded. A human being does not posses the discernment or the will to navigate all these. I wish that I had more friends who are artists that would challenge me not only artistically and intellectually, but also spiritually. Artists are in desperate need of community that will honestly and lovingly encourage and rebuke them. I encourage artists of faith to pursue heavenly wisdom above all else.

You recently returned from the CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts) Conference, what’s one thing you learned there that everybody should hear?

Self Portrait

Self-portrait

The theme of the conference was JUSTart, or art and how it relates to justice. We discussed many aspects of the issue, but the main question seemed to be “Is art of any use when it comes to real issues?” We also discussed the roles of beauty and brokenness in art. Which one properly addresses injustice in the world?

One of the final worship songs of the conference was a reprise of a song that was referenced during a plenary discussion by Cecilia González-Andrieu. The song is “Anthem” by songwriter Leonard Cohen. The famous line from the song says:
Ring the bells that still can sign.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack, a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in. 
 
For me this line was pivotal in my realization of how brokenness and beauty work together. Everything has a side of brokenness to it. When we draw attention to the brokenness we admit that it exists. When we live out the gospel, it becomes an avenue through which truth can shine through.
Kateri also has a blog about art education which you can find here
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Shaun Tan-The Arrival

CoverShaun Tan’s The Arrival is an immigrant story full of depth and pathos, all the more impressive since the story is told entirely with pictures. By leaving out the words, Tan is able to communicate the sense of disorientation and confusion an immigrant experiences in a foreign land. All good art involves the union of form with function, and The Arrival does just that. The antique feel of the drawings, the fantastical landscapes, and the lack of words all serve the purpose of the book – imparting the experience of arriving on the shores of a strange new country.

Tan reminds us of the sense of wonder in seeing  something new for the first time.

Tan reminds us of the sense of wonder in seeing something new for the first time.

Having traveled extensively as a child and recently spent six months in Japan, I have a deep appreciation for The Arrival. While my story is not that of the immigrant, I can relate to the sense of alienation in a new culture. Tan captures many of the difficulties of life in a new place as well as the sense of wonder that only comes from traveling.

The Arrival does what all good art should do – illuminate. It gives enlightenment by imparting experience through a skillful use of form. It sheds light on the experience of others and helps us empathize with those who have been in situations we would otherwise have no way of understanding. The Arrival is a book you would find in the children’s section of a book store, but it is something far more than mere children’s entertainment. It is art that tells the truth about the world in a way that is both enjoyable and profound.

Fantasy and exaggeration allow us to remember the wonder of new experiences.

Fantasy and exaggeration allow us to remember the wonder of new experiences.

I know what it's like to try to buy food without understanding the language.

I know what it’s like trying to buy food without understanding the language.

Tan's pencil drawings are evocative of old silent movies.

Tan’s pencil drawings are evocative of old silent movies.

What must it be like to see the Statue of Liberty for the first time?

What must it be like to see the Statue of Liberty for the first time?

This is what I felt like my first few days in Tokyo.

This is what I felt like my first few days in Tokyo.

Picture 6

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Jacob Rowan- “Choruses from the Rock” Series: Japan

"O miserable cities of designing men."

“O miserable cities of designing men.”

"They constantly try to escape from the darkness outside and within by dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good."

“They constantly try to escape from the darkness outside and within by dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.”

I. “O miserable cities of designing men.”

II. “They constantly try to escape from the darkness outside and within by dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.”

These two pieces are part of my “Choruses from the Rock” series and both titles are lines from the poem. However, they are not meant to illuminate T.S. Eliot’s work, rather they serve as a response to the six months I spent in Tokyo. By alluding to the poem and referencing my own experiences, I hope to both deepen the meaning of Eliot’s poem and to communicate my impressions of Japan by creating a dialogue between his work and the Japanese culture. In some ways the pieces are a critique of Japan, but one made with the highest respect for Japanese culture and an awareness of my own limited knowledge on the subject.

Both drawings’ measurements correspond directly to the proportions of the Japanese flag and mirror the design of a circle in a flat color field. The first drawing is reminiscent of a computer chip with all its elements homogenized and separated into clear and precise squares. The second drawing also alludes to a computer chip, but the darkness outside and within is seeping through the paths created by the carefully planned order, seeking out fault lines. The darkness will shatter man’s systems as surely as the terrible earthquake on 3/11 shattered the land.

The two lines of poetry which serve as the titles came to my mind shortly after my arrival in Tokyo and returned during almost every conversation I had about Japan. They began to represent all the struggles of life in Tokyo and helped me to understand and empathize with the desires and hardships of the people. I use these two lines, not because I believe Tokyo to be any more miserable or dark than any other city, but because in many ways they have worked the hardest to “develop systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.” I was and still am dazzled by Tokyo. I’ve been to cities like New York and Washington D.C. and none of them compare to the beauty, safety, or efficiency of Tokyo. It has exasperating quirks like every other place, but it truly is an incredible city. However the culture that creates such a city is a grinding one. Depression, mental illness, and high suicide rates lurk beneath the glistening exterior. The drive to be perfect, to fit into the group, and to maintain appearances is killing the Japanese people. Beneath the veneer is a miserable city of designing men frantically trying to create a system of rules that will protect them from the evil without and within their own hearts.

I love Japan, and I enjoyed living in Tokyo. There are many things America could learn from Japan; a greater appreciation for beauty, a focus on needs of the group rather than of the individual, and an impressive work ethic to name a few. I empathize with the struggles and sins of these people. If I were to design a city, it would strive towards the same areas of excellence as Tokyo and yet would also be shot through with a similar darkness born in my own heart.

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Bruce Herman-QU4RTETS: The four seasons of life

Spring/Earth/Childhood

Spring/Earth/Childhood

These four paintings, created as part of the QU4RTETS project to illuminate T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, have many layers of meaning and nuance and are meant to be viewed in conjunction with the entire project. However, they also stand alone as a profound visual meditation on the seasons of life. Bruce Herman uses repeating motifs, such as figures, a grid, and a tree, to give his paintings a greater conceptual depth than the standard seasonal metaphor for life. The first painting, Childhood, is bubbling with green and gold. The composition shoots upward, drawing the viewer’s eye to the young boy who stares right back. This paintings has the most clearly defined light source, which filters through the branches as a series of squares. The boy could either be seen as frightened as he rides the crest of growth exploding upward from the earth or as audaciously curious as he looks down from his high vantage point, or perhaps some combination of both.

Summer/Fire/Youth

Summer/Fire/Youth

In the next painting, Youth, a young and attractive woman stands with arms outstretched, seeming to bask in the heat radiating from the bonfire of a tree before her. The composition is a riot of reds, oranges, and golds that seem to flicker upward like sparks. The woman has no interest in what is going on outside of the canvas; she is wholly transfixed by the energy before her. A grid, barely visible, emerges from between the twisting branches. This painting contains all the zest and passion of youthful vision. The woman can be seen as a symbol for youth, but she also functions as a representation of the desire for the possibilities that seem just one step away. Her intensity mirrors the single-minded optimism and focus of one set on making their way in the world. At this stage of life the grid, the big picture or the reason for things, is obscured by the chaos of possibilities. Before the woman is the element of fire which has risen from the earth and is waiting for her to shape and be shaped by it.

Autumn/Water/Adulthood

Autumn/Water/Adulthood

In Adulthood a woman stands waist deep in water beneath a tree shedding its leaves. Her shirt mirrors the ripples spreading out from her. Her posture is slightly bent under the weight of life and the whole composition presses down and flows outward through the ripples. The woman has turned from her all-consuming focus of the tree and is looking outward with a somber expression. Perhaps the tree, as a symbol for her life or her work, didn’t turn out the way she planned. It seems to be dying or changing, and its leaves drift away from her on the ripples made by her presence. The brown of dead branches only appears where the silver grid has descended, as if her increasing understanding is putting to death everything in which she was so confident. In many ways this painting feels more somber than the following Old Age. The optimism of her youth has been tempered by an awareness of her own fleetingness and inability to control life.

Winter/Air/Old Age

Winter/Air/Old Age

While seemingly bleak and mono-chromatic, Old Age is full of quiet hope and peace. An old man with a silvery halo gazes contemplatively at the viewer. Behind him, a full-grown tree is visible through a silver veil-like grid. The old man’s gray hairs are his “crown of glory” and the halo is a traditional art symbol of those who are holy or righteous. He stands as a sage or prophet beneath the tree and seems to be ready to answer any question. The tree is full grown and its trunk reaches higher than the trees in the other three paintings. It is a tree that has been “planted by streams of water.” The grid in this painting is complete, suggesting that the old man is beginning to see something of the structure of his life and the world. Discovering one’s self is not something that can be accomplished with an internet questionnaire. It is only when one has reached the end of their life and can look back at all the decisions, events, and places that constituted their existence that they can truly know what kind of person they were.

Bruce Herman’s paintings, like T.S. Eliot’s poetry, are made up of symbolism, nuance, experience, and allusion. Given that these paintings were made in response to the Four Quartets and in conjunction with the other art and music of the QU4RTETS project, it is entirely possible that their chief concept is not the seasons of life as I have described them. However, like all great paintings, their ambiguity arises not from muddled or unclear meaning, but rather layers of suggestive and conceptually connected meanings.

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mewithoutYou-It’s about You, not me

Is it mewithoutYou, mewithoutyou, or Mewithoutyou? It seems every time I see the band name it is capitalized in a different way. This may be a simple mistake or it could be a deliberate change employed by the band itself. Either way, it sums up the stark changes of philosophy in the band’s last three albums.  Continue reading

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Modern Design in a Nutshell

The Open University has created one-minute animated videos about six major design movements. They provide a brief and  helpful explanation of the development of modern architecture and design.

Gothic Revival:

Arts and Crafts:

Bauhaus:

Modernism:

American Industrial Design:

Postmodernism:

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Makoto Fujimura-The Four Holy Gospels

Four Holy Gospels_Letter2o celebrate the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, Crossway Publishing commissioned  Makoto Fujimura to create the Four Holy Gospels, a contemporary illuminated manuscript. The meeting of so many different cultures, the ancient tradition of the illuminated manuscript, the traditional Japanese painting medium known as Nihonga, the modern language of abstract expressionism, and most importantly, the word of God, beautifully reflects the truth of the Gospel as a message to all peoples, places,  and times.

Fujimura's presentation of the frontispieces for the Four Holy Gospels

Fujimura’s presentation of the frontispieces for the Four Holy Gospels

Fujimura uses Nihonga, ground mineral pigments, hide-glue, and water, a medium dating back to Japan's Middle Ages.

Fujimura uses Nihonga, ground mineral pigments, hide-glue, and water, a medium dating back to Japan’s Middle Ages.

Charis Kairos (Tears of Christ)

Charis Kairos (Tears of Christ)

Fujimura’s illuminations range from non-representational to suggestive abstractions (like the tree above). The subtlety of these more contemplative images, as compared to the lavish detail of traditional illumination, reflects his Japanese training and creates a meditative atmosphere for the reader. The pictures do not tell the story, the words can do that much better. Instead, they serve to slow readers down by giving their eye something to drift through as they contemplate the word of God. It is often intangible and impossible to explain, but something about the abstract, and often minimal, additions to the text just feels right, as if Fujimura is sensitive to the kind significant form that resonates with the meaning of the words.

Consider the Lilies (Matthew)

Consider the Lilies (Matthew)

 

Water Flames (Mark)

Water Flames (Mark)

 

Prodigal God (Luke)

Prodigal God (Luke)

 

In the beginning was the Word (John)

In the beginning was the Word (John)

“We, today, have a language to celebrate waywardness, but we do not have a cultural language to bring people back home.”

– Makoto Fujimura–

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