Art Spotlight

Each week, we will highlight the work of an artist engaging with Lenten themes.

March 26, 2018

David Ligare

Still Life with Grape Juice and Sandwiches (Xenia)


[Art credit: David Ligare, Still Life with Grape Juice and Sandwiches (Xenia), 1994. Oil on canvas, 20″ × 24″. de Young Museum, San Francisco.] Translated literally as “guest-friendship,” the word xenia expresses the ancient Greek notion of hospitality, which included the practice of providing guests and strangers with baskets of food. In that culture, xenia was regarded as a social responsibility and, more than that, a religious offering. This is not so unlike ancient Jewish culture, with its laws providing for the care of strangers (e.g., Leviticus 19:34), and later, Christianity, with its scriptural injunctions to “be given to hospitality” (Romans 12:13; cf. Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9). Neo-classical artist David Ligare invokes the concept of hospitality in his painting Still Life with Grape Juice and Sandwiches, subtitled Xenia. Staged against the California coast inside an open stone-walled structure, a pitcher of grape juice and a stack of bologna sandwiches catch some sun. These foodstuffs were inspired by Ligare’s time as a volunteer with the Franciscan Workers of Junipero Serra, distributing meals to the homeless—an activity he has been engaged in for decades. Traditionally, the still-life genre reflected not just the artist’s mastery of technique but also the philosophical, spiritual, or moral questions of the age. This painting sits well in that tradition. According to Ligare, “the picture is truly complete if it inspires others to enjoy the privilege of serving those ‘strangers’ among us who are in such need.” The allusion to the bread and wine of the Eucharist cannot be missed, not only because of the sameness of substance but because of the reverent way in which the elements are presented, as if on an altar. One question the painting raises is how to define Christ’s body. A multivalent term, it is used in scripture to refer to, among other things, the church, who is to be the hands and feet of Christ, and, less directly, to society’s most vulnerable, whom we are to serve as if they were Christ himself (Matthew 25:31–46). May Christ’s gracious offering of himself compel us to offer ourselves to others in radical hospitality, extending friendship to every corner of our city. And may the broken and crushed find nourishment this season at Christ’s table. To view more of Ligare’s paintings, visit www.davidligare.com. The Art Spotlights have been selected by Victoria Emily Jones, who blogs at ArtandTheology.org, seeking to connect Christians to the rich visual, literary, and musical artworks of the church’s past and present. She is currently working on a chapter for the forthcoming book Neo-Calvinism and the Visual Arts, and has just released a Stations of the Cross audio tour of works from the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Follow her on Twitter @artandtheology.

March 19, 2018

Motti Mizrachi

Via Dolorosa


[Art credit: Motti Mizrachi, Via Dolorosa, 1973. Lambda print. Israel Museum, Jerusalem.] Have mercy upon me, O LORD; for I am weak: O LORD, heal me; for my bones are vexed. My soul is also sore vexed: but thou, O LORD, how long? —Psalm 6:2–3 Starting at Antonia Fortress and extending to Golgotha, the Via Dolorosa (“Way of Sorrows”) is the path Jesus is thought to have traveled with his cross on Good Friday. Every year thousands of Christian pilgrims flock to Jerusalem to walk this road, stopping at designated stations along the way to contemplate the sufferings of their Lord. In 1973, the Israeli avant-garde performance artist Motti Mizrachi was among those who walked this road—leaning on crutches (he has been disabled in both legs since childhood) and carrying a large black-and-white headshot of himself across his back. His performance accomplished two main aims. First, the dark-bearded, Middle Eastern visage Mizrachi bears like a cross challenges the many Anglo-featured Jesuses that are part of the art history canon and the world’s popular imagination, and it also serves as a protest against the ethnic profiling and discrimination experienced by Jews, especially (at the time of this performance) those of North African origin. Second, the performance is a testimony to human brokenness. Mizrachi’s hobbling journey to the site of the Crucifixion illustrates not just our physical frailties but our spiritual frailties, too. Both our bodies and our spirits ache and cry out for redemption. To view more photos of Mizrachi’s Via Dolorosa performance, visit http://mottimizrachi.com/Artwork/via-dolorosa.

March 12, 2018

Ana Maria Pacheco

Shadows of the Wanderer


[Art credit: Ana Maria Pacheco, Shadows of the Wanderer, 2008. Polychromed limewood, 260 × 390 × 605 cm. Installation view at Norwich Cathedral, 2010. Photo: Pratt Contemporary Art.] Suffering plays heavily into the oeuvre of Brazilian-born artist Ana Maria Pacheco, whose paintings, prints, and sculptures often tell stories of fleeing or capture. Shadows of the Wanderer, for instance, shows ten darkly robed figures glimpsing up, down, and sideways in fear, while in their midst a young man struggles to carry an older man on his shoulders. These two central figures, carved from a single piece of limewood, are a visual reference to an iconic scene from Virgil’s Aeneid, where the hero Aeneas carries his lame father out of the burning city of Troy; not only is his home destroyed, but he later finds out his wife was killed in the invasion. Virgil wrote this epic in the first century BC about a war fought many centuries earlier, but it spoke to the contemporary climate in Rome, which was wracked by civil war. It seems that of war and political upheaval, violence and displacement, there is no end. Pacheco’s sculpture group urges us to consider the plight of modern-day refugees fleeing places of destruction, bearing enormous loss. The fact that it has been exhibited in churches, including Norwich and Chichester cathedrals, makes the challenge all the more pointed: Will the church be a light to the many displaced families who have arrived, or are trying to arrive, on our nation’s shores? The Art Spotlights have been selected by Victoria Emily Jones, who blogs at ArtandTheology.org, seeking to connect Christians to the rich visual, literary, and musical artworks of the church’s past and present. She is currently working on a chapter for the forthcoming book Neo-Calvinism and the Visual Arts, and has just released a Stations of the Cross audio tour of works from the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Follow her on Twitter @artandtheology.

March 5, 2018

Kirsten Van Mourick

The Psalm


[Art credit: Kirsten Van Mourick, The Psalm, 2014. Oil and gold leaf on canvas, 40″ × 30″.] In Kirsten Van Mourick’s painting The Psalm, a female figure lifts up her tired eyes, pleading with God to speak or to act. Her hands are clenched but starting to loosen as she gradually surrenders to the Light. What we see clear as day—a glorious, enfolding gold—she is only just beginning to see. It was there, in her time of spiritual poverty, but its sheen was not visible underneath life’s circumstances. This wavelike experience of darkness followed by seasons of great light is characteristic of the Christian life. In his poem “After the Night Office—Gethsemani Abbey,” the Trappist monk Thomas Merton reflects on the promise of God’s indwelling presence in our hearts and world, which prayer can awaken us to: The Truth that transubstantiates the body’s night Has made our minds His temple-tent: Open the secret eye of faith And drink these deeps of invisible light. The weak walls Of the world fall And heaven, in floods, comes pouring in: ………………………………………….. We find our souls all soaked in grace, like Gideon’s fleece. This Lent, may God give us eyes to sense his lustrous presence that lovingly engulfs us; may our souls expand as we absorb his grace. To view more of Van Mourick’s paintings, visit www.vanmostudio.org. The Art Spotlights have been selected by Victoria Emily Jones, who blogs at ArtandTheology.org, seeking to connect Christians to the rich visual, literary, and musical artworks of the church’s past and present. She is currently working on a chapter for the forthcoming book Neo-Calvinism and the Visual Arts, and has just released a Stations of the Cross audio tour of works from the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Follow her on Twitter @artandtheology.

February 25, 2018

Kris Martin

Altar


[Art credit: Kris Martin, Altar, 2014. Steel, 17′4″ × 17′3″ × 6′7″. Temporary installation in Ostend, Belgium. Photo: Benny Proot.] From October 23, 2014, to April 19, 2015, beachgoers in Ostend, Belgium, were treated to an art installation by Kris Martin, titled Altar—a steel replica of the framework for the monumental fifteenth-century Ghent Altarpiece by Jan and Hubert van Eyck. One of the most important products of Christian art from the Middle Ages through the Renaissance, altarpieces served as a backdrop to the celebration of the Eucharist in Europe’s churches, or as aids for prayer and contemplation in private home chapels, often depicting episodes from Christ’s passion. The Ghent Altarpiece was commissioned in the 1420s by the mayor of Ghent for the city’s Saint Bavo Cathedral, and remains there to this day. Here, though, Martin has stripped the iconic masterwork of its images—Adam, Eve, God enthroned, and the famous Adoration of the Lamb from Revelation—leaving instead twelve paneless windows that look out onto the North Sea. While some may be quick to denounce this elimination as irreverent, Martin has in fact provided a means for profound religious experience. The large structure, in its instant association with sacred space, marks the desolate coastline as a place where one can meet with God—silent before his vastness, soaking in his graces. Staring through the empty panels, the viewers themselves become those trains of saints that fill the van Eyck prototype. Altar offers a sacramental lens through which to view “the immense cathedral of the holy earth,” as the poet John Hall Wheelock puts it, whose “nave is the wide world and the whole length of it.” But this beautiful, holy world that God so loves was also the altar of his Son, who died to redeem it. If you listen carefully, Wheelock suggests, you can hear nature testify: Hush—the whole world is kneeling! Murmurous is the air— The Host is lifted up. Upon the altar lies The sacramental Body. The wind breathes like a prayer— Solemnly is renewed the eternal sacrifice. Christ’s sacrifice is always available. Lent is a time for stepping into that sacrifice—into the death and risen life of the Lamb. The Art Spotlights have been selected by Victoria Emily Jones, who blogs at ArtandTheology.org, seeking to connect Christians to the rich visual, literary, and musical artworks of the church’s past and present. She is currently working on a chapter for the forthcoming book Neo-Calvinism and the Visual Arts, and has just released a Stations of the Cross audio tour of works from the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Follow her on Twitter @artandtheology.

February 19, 2018

P. Solomon Raj

Thirst for Justice


[Art credit: P. Solomon Raj, Thirst for Justice, 2001. Batik, 88 1/2″ × 59″.] Dr. P. Solomon Raj is a Lutheran theologian and artist who advocates for cultural contextualization in missions and worship as well as for the upliftment of Dalits, the “untouchables” of India. Both commitments are exemplified in his batik (dyed cloth artwork for hanging) Thirst for Justice, commissioned in 2001 by Bread for the World. Its dominant feature is the cool blue water that flows down from the hand of God—a reference to Amos 5:24: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” A man in white stands at the center of the composition, pointing to a flaming wheel that represents God’s coming judgment on all those who oppress society’s most vulnerable, represented in part in the surrounding scenes. Women carrying heavy baskets on their heads (symbolic of deeper, less visible burdens their gender bears), a man pulling a rickshaw for a measly wage, refugees seeking asylum, a prisoner in chains—these are among the people whose suffering Jesus, clothed in red, enters into. And humanity is not alone in its suffering; the world of nature cries out too. At the top left a factory belches out pollutants, creating black veins of greenhouse gases in the sky, contributing to global warming. The trees in the top left wither and die, and the cattle hang their heads in weariness. Raj further contextualizes Amos’s prophecy to his native India by borrowing a symbolic image from the Bhagavad Gita: the upside-down tree. Extending from sky to ground, it is an admonishment to be rooted in God above and to bear fruits of mercy on the earth. Through Amos, God speaks harsh words to his people, telling them that because they “trample on the poor” and “turn aside the needy,” he despises all their religious songs and rituals; they are empty to him. Thirst for Justice echoes this prophetic warning, urging us to consider how we might be contributing to others’ suffering, either directly or indirectly, and so failing to uphold the laws of God. Do we truly thirst for justice? Does its mighty stream course through our veins and spill over into all our interactions? Or are we among the neglectful from whom God turns his face away? To view more of Raj’s artworks and to read his writings on art and theology, visit http://www.solomon-raj.com. The Art Spotlights have been selected by Victoria Emily Jones, who blogs at ArtandTheology.org, seeking to connect Christians to the rich visual, literary, and musical artworks of the church’s past and present. She is currently working on a chapter for the forthcoming book Neo-Calvinism and the Visual Arts, and has just released a Stations of the Cross audio tour of works from the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Follow her on Twitter @artandtheology.

February 8, 2018

Theodore Prescott

All My Sins


Ash Wednesday

[Art credit: Theodore Prescott, All My Sins, 1996. Cherry, lead, hand-blown glass, paper ash, and silicon, 36.5″ H × 24.5″ W × 5″ D.] Ashes are symbolic of repentance and destruction. Artist Theodore (Ted) Prescott had both meanings in mind when he created the cruciform image All My Sins. Prescott began by writing out a list of personal sins on rag paper, then tearing the list into pieces. He worked with a glass maker to create four glass forms, into which the torn paper was placed. The annealing process brought the sins to ash and sealed them in the glass, creating gray and black hues. This performative act—recording one’s offenses against God and then having the making of the cross be the agent of that record’s destruction—demonstrates the gospel truth that “he [Christ] himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). Out of these ashes Christ rose, and we rise with him. In 2016 Prescott reprised All My Sins with the participation of his fellow church members at Second City Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The corporate making of this large-scale mixed-media piece over the course of Lent helped foster a common spirit of contrition and praise throughout the church body, lending depth to their observance of the season. Now on permanent display, Second City Church Lenten Cross is a constant reminder to parishioners of what Christ accomplished for them on the cross. You can see inside this process and its impact in this video. Prescott is a founding member of the pioneering organization Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA), as well as the founder and developer of Messiah College’s art degree program, in which he served as professor for almost three decades. His sculpture is characterized by an interest in material substances, from traditional ones like stone, wood, and metals to unconventional ones like coal, honey, and salt. While the forms of his work are related to modernist sculpture, his subject matter is often drawn from the well of Christianity. He frequently writes and lectures on art and faith for such publications as Image journal, ArtWay, and Mars Hill Audio. To learn more, visit http://tedprescottsculpture.com. The Art Spotlights have been selected by Victoria Emily Jones, who blogs at ArtandTheology.org, seeking to connect Christians to the rich visual, literary, and musical artworks of the church’s past and present. She is currently working on a chapter for the forthcoming book Neo-Calvinism and the Visual Arts, and has just released a Stations of the Cross audio tour of works from the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Follow her on Twitter @artandtheology.