Saturday, January 11, 2020

Calm, Comfort, Courage

I know, I just posted a few days ago! I'm trying to get back on track posting regularly. Yay for starting the year with good intentions!
Calm (Still). January 2020. Collage on canvas, 8"x10".  

On Monday I went home from work planning to spend the evening tidying up, crocheting, and catching the latest episode of Saturday Night Live on Hulu.

Instead, the evening became a mad rush to create. I haven’t had a strong collage urge lately; I started a couple of very small pieces a few months ago, but nothing large or elaborate. But by the time I got home Monday evening, I felt it. 

I needed to make a collage!

Then "a collage" turned into three collages. Why hold back?

I started by looking through some photos and pulling out three that I wanted to use. I can’t describe why I picked them over any others, they just had the right feelingThen I dug through my extensive collection of painted and textured paper, old maps, feathers, bits of lace, and odds and ends I’ve saved on the off chance they’ll come in handy for a collage. 

Eventually I pulled out several different-colored sheets of mulberry paper, some scraps of a Chinese newspaper, and some pieces of an old world map, and set to work.

Comfort (Small). January 2020. Collage on canvas, 8"x10". 
After organizing all the materials into three stacks, one per photo, I got out three 8x10 canvas boards. I might have done larger if I had any, but that was the only size that I had three of. We look for a lot of meaning in a piece of art, analyzing everything—subject, color, symbolism, composition, size, media—and I generally think carefully about everything, even the canvas size I want to work with… but sometimes an artist’s choice is as simple as what she happens to have on hand!

I lined up my three small canvases so I could arrange the collages simultaneously. I started by determining and laying out the key elements: the photos, three squares of paper that felt meaningful to me, and three rectangles of paper to coordinate the colors within each piece.

The first, Calm (Still), features a photo of the beach on Tybee Island, Georgia. In this collage I used a lot of silver, soft blue and bronze-y grey.

The second, Comfort (Small), has a photo of a quilt that was handmade by my great-grandmother, then finished and given to me by my mom. For this one I focused on the colors in the quilt, like soft blue, warm tan, and golden red-orange. In the corner I used a piece of paper inscribed with a definition of peace written by a dear teacher of mine... 

Contentment. Calmness. Assurance of "it will be okay."

Courage (Voice). January 2020. Collage on canvas, 8"x10".
Finally, Courage (Voice) features a photo of myself—that is, myself a few years ago, when I had very long hair. You can’t see my face, only my hair tumbled down around my heart, with a few feathers woven in. For this one, I used mostly black and gold. 

The paper square in the lower corner is cut from the table of contents for an old book entitled The Emblems of The Holy Spirit.

Even though each individual piece contains some different colors and motifs, I wanted the series to be easily recognized as one image. A triptych, technically. Arranging them all at once and placing certain parts so they lined up perfectly with one another helped to create this feeling of oneness.

If you were paying attention to the parenthetical titles and the symbolism of three in one, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that this was a very spiritual project.

I’ve always struggled with what it means to make “Christian” art. I’ve written about this before. It’s an ongoing point of tension in my work.

Over the years I’ve drawn Bible scenes, made collages of what the Church or Christian community means and does, and made pieces inspired by certain Bible verses. This one doesn't contain a single piece of scripture or Bible story, but for me, this triptych is as deeply faith-based as anything else I could make. 

Comfort (Small) detail.
With each scrap of paper I glued down, I thought and prayed about my relationship with God.

My faith has been difficult for me; I won't lie. It’s not that I struggle with belief—I can’t see any way for me to stop believing! I absolutely believe that the Bible is true and that God made us, loves us despite our flaws and mistakes, and defeated sin and death so that we could be with him. 

The trouble for me has always been the challenge of spreading my faith from my mind to my heart.I can see his works, the things he’s done that no coincidence can explain. I know how to read the Bible, I know a lot about its history, about theology and what some of the different Biblical concepts mean. 

The truth is, knowing about God is different from knowing him, and knowing him is different from having a relationship with him.

When I first started making collages, my art teacher had a rule: no matter what other materials I used, I always had to include something I drew or painted myself. I break plenty of art "rules", but that's one I have kept.

Courage (Voice) detail. 
So I set these aside for a few days, not sure what to draw (and I was busy! It's hard to balance full-time work, some semblance of a social life, writing, and art!). But all the time, that last, all-important element was needling at me. I needed one, single image to draw across the three and make them really, truly one artwork in three pieces.

The answer came when a friend shared a few song lyrics on Instagram. 

The song was from my long-time favorite band, Relient K. I don’t remember which friend it was and I don't remember which song they shared, but it called to mind a different song. This is one of my favorite Relient K songs, "Prodigal." 

"Prodigal" is about returning to faith after periods of stagnation, or times when life seems to take over and push God aside. One of the verses begins, “Sweet Jesus, I was coming to pray, but Lord, I’ve been so busy and I kept you away.”

Oof. If that line doesn't hit you in the gut, I don't know what will. I don't know why, but it's just so easy to let busyness get in the way of the more important things! Whether it's your relationship with God, your significant other, your best friend... I know I'm guilty of this on several accounts. 

...I seriously love good bread....
The chorus of the song goes like this:

“I am the champion of wine,
you’re the bread on my tongue.
I am the last one in line,
the prodigal.”

It probably helped that the night before, I ate some delicious homemade sourdough bread... 

Regardless, there it was—the image I was looking for. 

Bread and wine.

Of course, if your church is anything like mine, bread and wine is translated to be wafers the size of your pinky-fingernail and half a swallow of grape juice.

I’m not looking to bash my church—I love my church! They are a group of people who worship and serve God with a passion, love each other truly, and try to live according to the Bible. I love the community, the preaching, the worship, the teaching... but I’ve never loved how we do communion.

Once in a while, I wish I could walk up to the communion table and rip a hearty, wholesome chunk from a crusty loaf of bread and dunk that bad boy into a nice glass of… well, I don’t like the taste of wine. The daydream stops there. I guess I’m glad my church serves grape juice, after all.

And due to food allergies and intolerances, I know those minuscule wafers are a better option.

My point is, communion is an act of remembering, with all your senses, the sacrifice Jesus made to redeem us all. When I really take the time to fully experience it instead of going through the motions as I so often do, this rejuvenates my faith like nothing else can.

Three in one: Calm, Comfort, Courage (Still, Small Voice). January 2020. Collage on three 8"x10" canvases (24"x10").  

Sometimes keeping faith feels easy, and sometimes it’s really, really difficult and I revert to simply going through the motions. But no matter what, I always come back to my core beliefs, like that song Prodigal. I always come back to communion... 

Soft, crusty bread, bread that’s hard on the outside but nearly melts on the tongue, warm and oh-so-sweet, symbolizing Jesus' teaching: difficult at times, but oh-so-sweet. A glass of wine—Jesus blood, his life, his spirit—that tastes like swallowing a sword, but is capable of easing the spirit and resting the heart. 

This year I've decided to make some changes and actively work to strengthen my faith, starting with this collage (and the little daily devotion book I received for Christmas). I hope you'll join me!


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