I’ve recently been paid what is possibly one of the greatest artistic compliments a person can receive: a friend permanently inked one of my drawings onto their body. The commission was for a design based on Jonah 4. I also included a few references to Assyrian art from Nineveh.
Category Archives: Faith
From the Artist: This piece, a response to Ecclesiastes 1-2, was inspired partly by observing my own tendencies to work extremely hard for long periods of time–to excess, some would say. I remember reading this passage on a quiet fishing trip several years ago, and it immediately jumped out at me. Out there, away from cell phone coverage and reminders of work or school, it made sense. Nowhere else in scripture is it so blunt: “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the teacher. “Everything is meaningless.” That can be hard to hear when we’ve been told all our lives that work = achievements = position = happiness. (It was tough for me.) While our accomplishments may bear short term rewards, will anyone remember (or care) after our short time on earth is up? With this piece I aim to question the toil-fueled, achievement-oriented definition of success that is en vogue in Western societies today. I’m not suggesting that accomplishments and work ethic are without value, but we need to stop and think (and consider higher things lasting things) before we pour every drop of our lifeblood into the temporary pursuits of this world.
Courtesy of the excellent people over at Spark and Echo, a multidiscipline Bible illumination project: http://www.sparkandecho.org/under-the-sun_landon-brands/
This is a drawing I did several months ago. I was inspired after reading Matt Kish’s illustrated Heart of Darkness to try my hand at a more literal illumination of the Tower of Babel.
Wassily Kandinsky is commonly credited with being the first painter to venture wholly into the realm of abstract art. However, Swedish artist Helga af Klint was making abstract paintings in 1906, while Kandinsky did not abandon recognizable imagery until 1910.  Her abstract works were not shown until twenty years after her death, as stipulated in her will. She did not believe her contemporaries were ready to appreciate their full meaning.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
I was reading from the Four Holy Gospels this morning and was utterly captivated by this painting. I can’t think of a work of art that more beautifully suggests the pre-creation void and the theology of Christ being the physical manifestation of God through which creation was made. When I look at this painting I feel like I am looking into the depths of a void swirling with the raw matter of the universe, waiting to be solidified by the Word of God. Even in that formless void there is beauty, light, glory, and the promise of blood to be spent for our salvation.
Christopher Brown– an encaustic artist currently based in Jackson, Mississippi.
What is your background and where are you now?
My father is a minister in the PCA, and we moved multiple times, which means that I grew up in various cities. I was born in Tallahassee, Florida, where my dad served as the Reformed University Fellowship campus minister. We moved to another city in Florida when he became an assistant pastor. Our family moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee when he was offered another position, and then I ventured out to Belhaven University in Jackson, Mississippi to study visual art. Currently, I am at Reformed Theological Seminary, going into my second year of full-time study. My wife and I now plan to be here for at least two more years, and possibly for more time, depending on whether I do any graduate work. My ultimate goal is to teach and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in a manner worthy of Him.
What led to your decision to enroll in seminary after completing an art degree? How do your continued art practice and work as a seminary student relate?
Prior to entering Belhaven I had begun to question whether my religious upbringing was something I actually believed to be true. I decided that while I was at school I could not be content to live a hypocritical life-style, and that I would seek out the ‘Truth’ about God. I then read my Bible for the first time, as well as many other religious texts and philosophers. I found worldly philosophy to be bereft of the simple facts that God’s Word called to account: Namely the justice of God, the entirely corrupted nature of man (that is, that man cannot do anything to save himself), and the person and salvific work of Jesus Christ. As I grew to love and know Jesus through the Holy Spirit’s ministry, I myself sensed a call to the ministry, specifically in the area of teaching. This call was tested when I began to supplement my artwork and art classes with Koine Greek, theology classes, and by joining the Honors College. I also discussed this with my father and with several pastors, who all confirmed that this was a wise discernment.
What does your process look like? What kinds of materials do you use?
I begin a goal in mind. I am not trying to express myself, nor am I trying to embed my ego onto a canvas. Similarly, I am not simply tyring to sell artwork–the value of artwork lies much deeper than consumerism and economic pragmatism. My goal in making art is both:
a. to understand, more and more, the glory of God displayed in creation, and
b. to make work that calls attention to the glory of God through aesthetic delight and through allegory.
That said, I do typically begin making a piece with a general allegory in mind. Before ever visiting my studio I find it of utmost importance to be involved in my sketchbook. When I am thinking about the way light works, or when I take the time to slowly follow the curve of an object with my eyes, I learn a great deal about God’s creation. From this experience I can then step into the studio, filled with ideas that have come from deep study.
Material-wise, I use beeswax and natural pigments. So, when I go to my studio, I plug in a crock-pot or heating tray to melt down the beeswax. Then, I prepare (or have already prepared) surfaces to use. Typically I use wood as a base for the wax, however I have used different metals, plastics, papers, and such things. While working on a piece I use a slow process of accretion. That is, I slowly, and lightly, brush the molten wax onto the surface, let it dry, and then do it again. Over a repeated process, this builds up into dense ‘tongues’ of wax. I also incorporate found objects into these pieces. I usually find these things accidentally, however I do occasionally search for specific objects. I primarily use leaves, seeds, insects, and stone because of their power of metaphor.
I began working with encaustic as a kind of experiment. Prior to encaustics, I used various materials, mainly cellophane and plastic wrap, in an attempt to display how broken objects can be reformed and renewed in a beautiful composition. But, when I had the opportunity to use beeswax I discovered that it realized my intentions in a much more authentic way. The material itself is humble and soft, much like a vessel in the hands of its Creator. It can be accreted over time, which I find a metaphor for the providence of God. You can also incorporate found objects into beeswax without damaging the object or damaging the wax (which was a problem with latex and plastic). Also, because beeswax is painted I could use my interest in pigments and minerals in a way I could not with latex or plastic. There are many other reasons for why I use encaustic, but primarily I still use it because of its usefulness for allegory, and because of its aesthetic quality.
Can you help us understand how to approach and view your work by telling us about Sons of the Resurrection?
Sons of the Resurrection is a reference to Luke 30:24-38, in which Jesus argues that God will, in fact, raise the dead. Sadducees neither believed in angels, nor in the resurrection, and so Jesus was explaining to them the power of God, and the precise nature of the resurrection. Because I had read the Scriptures, I understood the concept of Sonship, and also knew Luke 20, prior to creating this piece. But, I began collecting the materials for this work before I knew exactly what I was making. First, I found an old art project that my dad has done in middle or high school. It was composed of a piece of wood with a picture of runners. Above the image there were letters glued to the work, quoting Hebrews 12:11, “…Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” My dad was threatening to discard the project, so I saved it from its certain doom. I thought that the raised lettering would be a perfect under-layer for beeswax, and was excited to see what effect beeswax would have on the flat, coated image. Meanwhile, I had salvaged several cicada (tibicen linnei) husks from annual cicadas. I also found a dead cicada, perfectly preserved, and so I kept that as well. So, as I began to put beeswax onto the surface of my work I thought, “you know, this is a piece about the perseverance of the saints. This is a work that is about endurance in the midst of suffering, and about the promise of eternal fellowship with God. What objects can I incorporate that would be a good metaphor for this?” I looked to the cicadas then because of my studies in poetry. Japanese Zen poets often use cicadas as an illustration of reincarnation. I believe that cicadas are more useful as a metaphor, or as an illustration, for regeneration that for reincarnation. The nymph is like a person trapped under the “prince of the power of the air”–dead in sin. The molting process is then an allegory for dying to one’s self by the power of the Holy Spirit, and emerging from the husk is like being regenerated through the Spirit’s renewing work, and united by faith to Christ. The new cicada then matures and dies, just as a Christian will mature in Christ and be taken to glory with Him (or live until He returns!). So, thinking back through this process there are a few things I’d like to note:
a. The organic nature of the process: thought gives cause to action, and what is produced gives cause to more thought.
b. The analogical nature of materials: much of the power of poetry, the power of music, and the power of non-representational artwork, is found in the usefulness of materials. Representations are useful for analogy, it is true, but the juxtaposition of different materials, sounds, and instruments is just as useful for creating deep and rich analogy.
c. The aesthetic nature of artwork: There is a lot to be said about how the glory of God is revealed through His general creation. All of creation declares His glory, and a way in which His glory is revealed to humans is through aesthetic experience or pleasure. We understand something of God’s glory when we can recognize how beautiful, how utterly majestic God is, if He can make a tree so beautiful. For this reason artists should focus on craftsmanship: we need to make aesthetically sensitive work, and inculcate an attitude of wonder in viewers. We need to do this, not for the sake of making an income, but for the sake of humans: humans need to know God, and a part of knowing Him is understanding His beauty revealed through creation.
What is the relationship between your pieces and their titles. How do you go about naming a work?
I name my pieces after completing them because though I know the theological implications of the work prior to finishing, I am not always certain as to the most exact and useful name for it. So, for example, after much thought I came to believe that ‘Sons of the Resurrection’ was the best name for a piece with a reference to perseverance of the saints, and the hope of the resurrection of the dead.
Your work is both conceptual and experiential, how do you navigate between the two?
As I mentioned earlier, the nature of ‘process’ is organic. I meditate on Scripture, or on some concept, and then find metaphors for them in nature. Have I mentioned poetry? I think I have. I go on walks, and as I walk I write poetry–and not good poetry, mind you. Usually, I simply write down what I observe in tight but lucid language so that later I can understand these things as metaphors. While on these walks, I gather found objects. Just like with my writing, I store these objects, hoping that later I will further understand their allegorical nature. If I did not walk, write, and gather, I would be bereft of any material that could legitimately be a metaphor for deep concepts. If I did not meditate on God’s creation and on His Word I would have no ideas worth discussing. So, both thinking and doing help fuel each other, and when I lean too heavily to one or the other it becomes difficult to make good artwork.
What advice do you have for the church and its relationship to artists and art?
Artists need to understand the Church. The Church is, allegorically speaking, both a body and a building, both being composed of living members. The Church is a body in that it is Christ’s body, He Himself being the Head. We are on earth, He is in heaven. Members of the body function just like ‘members’ of a human body: some function as feet, some as eyes, some as ears. Christian artists need to understand that we are living members of the body of Christ: we are not separated from the Headship of Jesus, nor are our fellow members. So, this means that we need to be in subjection to the authority of Jesus, which He has given–not to a pope, nor to councils–but in His Word and to those elders who teach His word. We must submit ourselves to the government of the Church out of reverence for Christ. This is what He Himself has instituted, and He commands that there be Church discipline given by fit and able elders. For this reason we do not need isolationist ‘Christian’ artists. We do not need ‘churchless Christians’. If you believe yourself to be a Christian–obedient to Christ’s commands–but will not obey God, then you have a real issue with hypocrisy and pride. So, really, we need Christians who truly desire to be held accountable by other members, and who want to grow in love for their fellow members. This, of course, doesn’t dismiss the fact that Christians mistreat one another, and this sinfulness often hurts Christian artists. But, as Paul says, “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?” (1 Cor. 6:7) If you are in Christ, then you are being made like Him. Just as He suffered injustice, we too should gladly suffer injustice–even from our own brethren. It is my prayer that Christian artists will be made spiritually mature by joining and participating in Christ’s body, because it is so easy for us to grow arrogant and to mimic the art culture around us.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
o 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 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.
“We, today, have a language to celebrate waywardness, but we do not have a cultural language to bring people back home.”
– Makoto Fujimura–