The Biennial Nationwide Juried Catholic Arts Competition and Exhibition was established in 2001 by the late Br. Nathan Cochran, O.S.B. His untiring pursuit to cultivate and revive the Sacred Arts was the catalyst for the creation of this Competition and Exhibition. Br. Nathan wanted to give artists who engage Catholic subject matter an opportunity to dialogue with the Church and pastors in the hope of creating new, original artworks for churches and liturgical spaces. For the third Competition and Exhibition, famed British art historian Sister Wendy Beckett served as judge. She praised Br. Nathan’s endeavors, noting that, “Artists often come to understand their faith by the actual creation of artworks. We need these artworks, these attempts by artists known or unknown, to share with us their understanding of what it means to be a Christian. Would that there were hundreds of Brother Nathans in all countries!”
Since its inception, the Competition and Exhibition has received national attention and has blossomed with global interest, spurring submissions and artworks for exhibition from South America to all across Europe. The competition has worked to foster a relationship between artists working in the Catholic Arts.
World-renowned and acclaimed jurors working in the areas of sacred art and art history have brought their expertise to the Competition and Exhibition. Past jurors include: Dr. Frima Fox Hofrichter, an art historian specializing in Baroque and Rococo; Duncan G. Stroik, an architect and professor working in classical and sacred architecture; Sr. Wendy Beckett, an art historian and BBC personality; Dr. John T. Spike, an expert in Renaissance and Baroque art who directs and curates the Muscarelle Museum of Art at the College of William and Mary; Janet McKenzie, an artist working in sacred art; and Dr. Denis R. McNamara, an architectural historian specializing in the theology of liturgical art at the Liturgical Institute at the University of Saint Mary on the Lake, Mundelein.”
The Michael LaConte Gallery is wonderful, cultivated venue for contemporary art in Chicago. He is my representative in the midwest and deals regularly with national and international clients. A portion of my works are available to review online via the respected dealer website: 1st Dibs. The link can be found here.
For those in the Chicagoland area the gallery is open via appointment and located at 1819 West Grand Avenue, Chicago 60622. The phone number is 773 865 4788.
The painting shown above was awarded an Honorable Mention at the 6th Nationwide Juried Catholic Arts Exhibition hosted by the Saint Vincent Gallery in Latrobe, PA. I would like to thank everyone at Saint Vincent College for continuing the great work of Brother Nathan Cochran and this year’s juror Denis R. McNamara, Ph.D.
My picture of San Francesco da Paola was also selected to participate.
I am currently developing a couple of affresco projects for churches in Matera, Italy. A lot of preparation is required: compositions sketches, presentation drawings, studies, cartoons etc; before the actually painting can begin. Studies made from life are important not only for working out ideas but for creating the references that are used to complete the painting.
My medium of choice is pastel. I make my own sticks using the same earth pigments that will be used in the affresco. For the head study of Il Risorto that is shown above, I used the sight size method. An approach used by portrait painters for centuries, it is perfectly suited for head studies.
Essentially a practical application of one point perspective, sight size is based upon the relationship of viewing point, model and picture plane. Instead of looking through the ‘veil’ the picture plane is the canvas placed along side of the model. The least amount of distortions and errors occur when the model and the picture plane are the same scale, thus the natural power of this method for life size portraiture. However, for my project the head of Christ is to be over life size. To achieve the correct scale I placed my board roughly a meter behind the model.
In designing large, in situ wall decoration a lot of different factors come into play. Compostion, visual corrections and varying viewing points all must be considered and orchestrated to create a successful painting. Sight size, when used intelligently, is a fundamental and necessary tool for not only shapes and proportion but giving work the power of impact at a distance.
To learn more about my pastel approach there is a post here. For an example of the affresco technique there is another post here.
This is a repost from a while back but today makes it again relevant. My picture is also being reproduced in a book about the Sorrowful Mysteries published by PB Grace Publications. Check it out here. I finished this painting a while ago. Completed within a year, the scale is a bit over life size. The image was worked up using a variety of models and a lot of imagination. The picture is now sitting in storage. Hopefully it will find a home someday. This is a very personal picture that is an expression of my spiritual journey. More specifically it is an investigation into my relationship with faith and Christ. The formal characteristics are important to the meaning. I placed myself in the painting with a self portrait as a roman centurion holding the rope.
The composition is an circular with the movement guided by a play of gesture and hands. The two protagonists of the picture(the roman soldier and Christ) both embrace the cross in completely opposite ways. They relate to each other through the cross but have no direct contact. The soldier is engaged the ambiguous activity of either raising or lowering the cross. The ambiguity is important as it reflects my personal state. Christ embraces the cross. He bears the weight without strain. His portrait is the visual hub of the composition with the cross acting as the spokes of the wheel.
The other two figures, St. John and the Madonna flank the scene. St. John whispers into the soldiers ear, a precursory act to the spreading of the good news that he is destined to diseminate later. The Holy Mother is visually isolated from the scene by the cross and quietly grieves. Her emotive presence bridges the void between the works of Christ(symbolized by his hands, one active and the other passive) and the work of man(symbolized by the hand pulling the rope). Mary is consoled by a divine light that falls from the break in the clouds.
Creating the painting
As it sometimes happens, after a couple years of reflection the composition came to me quite spontaneously. I produced a thumbnail sketch after a nap under a cypress tree outside of the gate of San Niccolo in Florence. The drawing has gone missing in the meantime. After preparing the canvas I sketched the main elements of the composition in directly from my imagination. As you can see, in the original concept Jesus was seated with a different arm position. The gesture emphasized a tired Jesus and the rear figure was more actively raising the cross.
The model for Jesus was the same architecture student(Alfredo Pace, now architect) that posed for my painting of Jesus in the Garden of Olives.
He posed holding a l cross that I constructed and was set up along side of the canvas as you can see in the photo below. Another model posed for the arms of the soldier and I painted in my self portrait from a study. The Holy Mother in the picture below was developed from my imagination. Later I brought in a model to develop her in oil. St John was originally supposed to be another soldier holding a lance rising up from the center rear.
At this point I had changed the torso angle of the soldier to reduce the thrust to the left and therefore transformed the meaning of the picture. With the new torso angle, the lowered arm of the Jesus mimicked excessively the right (our left) arm of the soldier. The facture of any painting involves a series of decisions that combine the formal, thematic and ultimately emotive aspects of the work. Subject, form and meaning are so closely intertwined that one element cannot be changed without affecting the whole.
I changed the gesture of Jesus to take a more active role. Instead of a tired man resigned to his fate, he actively embraces it. He is kneeling with his right leg about to push himself back on his feet. The final change was to the other leg. It became more bent and foreshortened to help bring Jesus forward in the picture and reinforce to potential movement upwards. This helped create a movement in a counterclockwise direction. The new movement ultimately redeems the soldier as it reinforces the possibility that he is trying to help Jesus raise the cross.
Over the course of the completion of the picture a spiritual research corresponded with the development of the painting. It included study, reflection on the gospels and the Stations of the Cross, and meditation. Very little is written about Jesus’s actual bearing of the Cross in the Gospels. That is one of the reasons I was drawn to this subject. It is a powerful moment in the life of Christ and merited to be explored.
For the goal of the sacred artist is not to illustrate the gospels but to be an image creator whose work communicates the richness and profundity that its subject matter deserves.
The 5th Nationwide Juried Catholic Arts Exhibition hosted by the St. Vincent Gallery at the St. Vincent College in Latrobe, PA opens today. My painting pictured above ‘The Monk’ was selected to participate. Sad news unfortunately accompanies this wonderful event. Brother Nathan Cochran unexpectedly passed away this July. He was the visionary and driving force behind the St. Vincent Gallery and this Exhibition.
Hopefully we can all learn from his positive attitude and carry forward his dream of reviving Catholic art. To learn more about the exhibition the link can be found here.