Sacred Art

Identifying the ‘sacred’ has always been a function of art.  Whether it is a humble still life, crucifixion or a Kore figure from the Attic peninsula, art has the transcendent power to reveal aspects (truths) of the human experience that the confusion of our everyday life obscures.  Our eternal search for ‘why’ has lead to the creation not only a series of belief systems but almost all of the greatest masterworks of our culture.  They continue to endure because they never lose relevance.  The pathos evoked by Michelangelo’s Pieta has not diminished in time.  (To those sensitive to that emotion, of course)

Kenneth Clark in his book, ‘Landscape into art’ states that “Facts become art through love.”  I would like to expand on that idea by saying that art is Nature transformed by love.  Artmaking is a research into meaning.  More than representing or not representing what is before us, it is a meditation on the significance of our subject.  That is why the merely mechanical reproduction of what we see has no place in the sphere of Art.  For that reason I refuse to be dependent on photographic references and prefer to work from my imagination if I am deprived of Nature.

I feel the sacred plays a role in all my work.   As a Catholic, the Gospels and the life of Jesus have always been a powerful catalyst for my imagination.  Below are a couple of examples:

Jesus in the Garden of Olives

My goal in all my sacred images is to combine the symbol with a psychological state.  The above image depicts Jesus in the decisive moment moment after the Last Supper where he embraces his fate.  His right hand refers to himself as a sign of recognition and the left moves forward, palm up, in acceptance.

Jesus Carrying the Cross

The Via Crucis  (Stations of the Cross) is a powerful theme.  I designed the movement to be a circle of hands.  Two men embrace the Cross for entirely different motives.  Jesus embraces his destiny.  In an ambiguous action, the other man is either lifting or lower the Cross.

Sacred art is not just an illustrated version of the gospels.   It is (that is at least until recently) an essential element and partner in our journey down the spiritual path.  Below are two more examples of my Sacred work.  The first one is a Madonna of the Annunciation.  It is a life size, oil on linen picture.

Madonna of the Annunciation

The next one is a small(10cm x 15cm) oil on copper picture of Saint Francis.

St. Francis on the Mountain

I must mention in conclusion that Catholic art today is in a deplorable state.  The power of the speaking symbolic image has been supplanted by a lightweight figurative style that has more in common with a social realist propaganda poster art than with the primary movers of Christian imagemaking: Giotto, Michelangelo, Titian and Bernini.  The public’s requirement for a photographic style has not helped either.

However, there are a couple of institutions that are trying to change the current situation.  The Foundation of the Sacred Arts definitely is trying its best with what is available.  Their website can be found here.  David Clayton has founded an art program with a focus on the Iconographic tradition at the Thomas More College in New Hampshire. His blog can be found here.  I am also an honorary member of the Altobello Persio association for Sacred Arts in Matera, Italy.  Unfortunately the state of sacred art in Italy is even worse than in the States.  Very ironic.

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