Saturday, December 26, 2009

Virgin and Child Enthroned with Saints

Here is a painting I recently completed entitled "Virgin and Child Enthroned with Saints." The saints are (left to right) Anthony of Padua, Louis of Toulouse, Francis of Assisi, John the Evangelist, Lawrence, and Peter Martyr. It is a conflation and contemporary interpretation of two Fra Angelico paintings. The medium is oil and the support is canvas. It measures 48" x 60" and is for sale for $2,500.

Years ago I never would have done something like this because I'd have thought it unoriginal. But now that I am a little older and little wiser I can safely say that I no longer have any interest in being "original." I agree with C.S. Lewis that the more "original" one tries to be the less original he ends up being!

My next large scale oil painting will be "The Coronation of the Virgin", which is a theme that has always fascinated me and that I've often wanted to try to execute.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Eric Gill

While reading Peter Anson's biography, "A Roving Recluse", I came across the name Eric Gill. Gill was an English artist-lay Roman Catholic theologian/thinker who was very prominent in the arts and crafts movement. He was a brilliant artist who attracted many apprentices to work under him. He completed numerous high profile commissions, including a series of Stations of the Cross found in Westminster Cathedral. In addition he developed many new fonts and typefaces that are still in use today. On the literary front he wrote learned essays on economics and religion.

Anson was friends with Gill. They had much in common: both were converts to Roman Catholicism, both had a lot of interest in religious life, and both were artists. Anson spent a lot of time with him and his family, which lived like a quasi-religious community, with daily mass (they had a chaplain), and recitation of the Divine Office (in its Dominican form). Since he spoke so very highly of him in Roving Recluse, and since I'd never heard of him before I thought I'd look him up on the internet. What I found was fascinating. It turns out Eric Gill was quite the sicko. He was a sexual pervert of the highest caliber who had sexual relations throughout his life with his own children, with animals, with men, as well as with his wife. Apparently he went mad before he died of lung cancer at a pretty young age. One of the things that freaks me out the most about this guy is that Peter Anson thought he was so great, and such a wonderful and holy man, despite the fact that Gill flaunted his sexual misbehavior! It is well known today. In fact, there was a movement to have his "stations" removed from Westminster Cathedral because of his openly scandalous life - especially involving the abuse of minors. Personally I would not condone removing such beautiful pieces - even if a sick person did create them. I tend to hold Anson in high regard, but here he is completely off base.

Examples of Gill's art may be seen here. It speaks for itself. The religious work is quite good - nice graphic art, but a few of the examples reveal his bizarre sexual proclivities. A biography of this strange man is available, and there is some provocative information on him at this website.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Church - enemy of artists?

I took time recently to the pope's talk given to artists in the Sistine Chapel. It was very good, and a good effort by the pope to build bridges with artists. He said that beauty is "capable of restoring enthusiasm and confidence, and can encourage the human spirit to rediscover its path, to raise its eyes to the horizon (God), and to dream of a life worthy of its vocation." That is some nice stuff! I really like Pope Benedict XVI's commitment to beauty and dignity in worship. It is evident not only in his writings, such as "The Spirit of the Liturgy", but also in how he vests, how he conducts the liturgy, and the recent changes he made with things like the "Motu Proprio" and his overtures to Anglicans.

Unfortunately the church is very often the enemy of beauty, and therefore the enemy of artists. This antagonism is manifest in the little thought or care clergy and people give to beauty in worship or in their churches. For example, when a parish plans activities such as missions trips, or a food drive, there is often lots of fanfare accompanying it, and everyone congratulates you on doing this "wonderful" thing. Or if a new copier needs to be purchased a massive fundraiser is set up to buy one. But if you say that you want to buy a set of solemn high mass vestments, or a new chalice or ciborium to make worship more beautiful and dignified the attitude is often, "Why do we need that? Don't we already have one? Who cares? It's only worship we're talking about."

Sadly this is often the case with "continuing" Anglican parishes, where corners are cut and things are done "on the cheap". My heart has sunk when I have seen ugly, run-down buildings and tattered rags serving as vestments in some of these places, and then see that the parishioners homes look like palaces! What a bad attitude - the complete opposite of King David's attitude when he wanted to build the Temple. And I think that is why man of our Anglican parishes are moribund - we do not care about worship, and so long as we don't care about that, we will neither thrive nor prosper spiritually or otherwise.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Medieval Polychrome Statue

I found this great video on YouTube from the Getty Museum that shows how a medieval polychrome (painted wood) statue was made. Very interesting, with computer graphics and all!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Stations of the Cross - update

So I have begun a series of Stations of the Cross for the church. This is a major undertaking for a "part time" artist, as there are fourteen of them to do. While working on these I also have a few other projects going, such as painting icons to sell to raise money for church and other needs. So far I am about 3/4 of the way through the first one.

The stations that I am doing are executed in egg tempera and will have 24K gold gilding in the background. The work involved in a project like this is massive for the "part timer", and is why it takes so long to do projects like this):

- finding existing "stations" to base my design ideas on
- doing preliminary sketches and studies until satisfied
- buying wood panels, cutting them to size, sanding them, and painting the backs
- mixing the traditional gesso, and gessoing the panels several times, sanding between coats
- doing the final drawing on paper then transferring it to the panel
- scoring the image into the panel
- applying the gold
- painting the painted parts
- letting it dry and then lacquering it
- photograph it
- add a hook so it can hang on the wall

Do all of that 14 times.... and don't mess up on any of the steps, and in a year or so, for a part time artist, there should be a complete set of custom made stations!

Monday, September 28, 2009

A new canvas

Here is the nave of St. Francis Anglican Church, the parish where I serve as vicar. When I first laid eyes on this place it struck me as being very stately and ordered, but also very plain and dull. Much of this was due to the plans of the original architect - a prominent church architect who was also a Benedictine priest. Benedictine churches and abbeys tend to be minimalist and austere. When St. Francis bought the building in the late 70's few changes were made. The main changes were the colors. As St. Mary's Catholic Church it had a pastel color scheme. St. Francis stained the wood dark and put in red carpeting. A modernistic building, erected in the late 40's, was made to look like a Victorian church in terms of color. I am not quite sure it worked; or it didn't work as well as it could.

I am hoping, over the next few years, to do a huge redesign of the church to make it more suitable for Catholic worship. Plans include Stations of the Cross (which I am currently working on) executed in egg tempera and 24K gold gilding; a shrine to St. Francis of Assisi on the left hand (Gospel) side reredos complete with votive rack; a chapel dedicated to Our Lady - the Chapel of the Annunciation - on right hand (Epistle) side reredos. It will consist of an altar, a large gilded and tempera triptych of the Annunciation above, fleur-de-lis down the side panels of the reredos, and a gilded rays and a dove coming down from above after the manner of the rays in Bernini's "Ecstasy of St. Teresa". The carpeting will be taken out in the chancel area and sanctuary and replaced with new tile (the original tile is under the carpeting - but being from the late 40's it resembles more bathroom tile than ecclesiastical tile). I'll talk about plans for the sanctuary in the next post!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Egg Tempera

The past few years I've taken up painting in egg tempera, mainly because I've been trying to learn to paint ("write") icons - which are traditionally done in that medium. For those who do not know, egg tempera is using pure powdered pigment and egg yolk as the vehicle, or stuff that makes the pigment viscous. Oil painting uses oil as the vehicle, watercolor water, and so on. Egg tempera fell out of favor with artists by and large when painting on rigid substrates (boards) gave way to painting on canvas. But still many artists use this medium, and some are quite known for it, including the late Andrew Wyeth.

I actually am finding that I like working in egg tempera more than painting in oils these days. It is much more suitable when painting small pictures as it is easier to control and makes less of a mess. The subtlety and layers you can get with it are amazing. Also one of the things that an artist has to take into consideration is storing and selling his work. Smaller works are the way to go for both. Oil paintings, at least how I do them, have to be pretty large for me to get the desired effect, but then they sometimes take a long time to sell, or they take up lots of space. Lastly, there is a peculiar look to egg tempera works that is especially suitable when painting religious scenes, which is what I am doing these days.

You can learn more about Egg Tempera here:

Thursday, August 20, 2009

This is where the "genius" happens...

Here is my art studio. It is awesome - as big as a two-car garage. I have never had this much space with this much lighting, nice views (not evident in these night time photos), climate control, etc. It is still a work in process. I'll be building a storage space for my paintings and have various stations set up for chemicals, hot plates, etc. Elsewhere on the property I have an area for a wood/mosaic shop, a place to throw pottery if I ever decide to get back into that, and places to store all of this stuff. This is a real blessing from God. An artist, if he is serious, needs dedicated space in which to work and store all of his supplies... a place that is both functional and comfortable. Thanks be to God for this space!

My current "long-range" art projects include a set of the Stations of the Cross, a large crucifix for use in a church, and a picture of St. Francis to be raffled off to raise money for the church. Otherwise I am finishing up a Madonna and Child enthroned and surrounded by angels.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Buy My Art - Help My Parish

Please go to my website ( and click on "New Paintings" to see several icons that I have for sale. Like all of my icons and other art, these are my own original drawings, and are not based on traced templates. Proceeds from those icons will go to help my parish, St. Francis Anglican Church. We are a small, struggling mission parish. And besides needing money to pay our regular bills, we need money to do long overdue renovations on our facility, restore some of our appointments, and buy new appointments.

I also have other works of art available on the site for sale in each category, and I will donate a portion of those sales to the church as well. If you have any questions, or want more detailed information on any of the works (size, medium, better photo, etc.), please e-mail me.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Roving Recluse

I have been reading Peter Anson's spiritual autobiography entitled "A Roving Recluse: More Memories". For those who do not know who he was, he was an Anglican convert to Rome, and a prominent author on numerous subjects, especially those related to art and liturgy. For a time he was monk in the Caldey community, and later, with the whole community, made submission to Rome.

We seem to have much in common: a "roving and reclusive" spirit, a background and strong fascination with liturgical art and design, disdain for mathematics or anything else that does not interest us, love of the Church and religious orders, and more. One of the main traits we share is an interest in beauty and solemnity in worship.

He tells of his experience visiting the great Anglo-Catholic shrine parishes and communities, and also Roman parishes and religious communities in England and on the continent, and being overcome with the beauty and mystery of the services replete with chant, incense, lights, etc. That such accouterments were not standard in the CofE was one of the things which lead him to doubt its Catholicity.

I wonder what he would make of churches today, particularly his beloved Roman Church? Sadly the vast majority of American Roman Catholic parishes have a liturgy and building that is banal and iconoclastic. Like most contemporary churches (save the Orthodox perhaps), the Roman church has largely succumbed to "pragmatism" in worship, where the summum bonum is how "accessible" and "fast" the liturgy is. As an artist I protest this tendency. Even though many churches are doing the right thing in proclaiming moral and doctrinal truth, the Church by and large is weak and moribund because those very truths are packaged and sold in postmodern and pragmatic bubble wrap.

Truth does not go by itself, but rather must have a visible expression in beauty and goodness. In short, the Church does not do nough if she simply proclaims the truth. That truth must overflow into beauty and good works and goodness.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Beauty, Truth, and Goodness

Sorry it has been so long since I've posted something. I am just very, very busy with parish work. Thanks be to God that I have an assistant now, as that will lighten the work load a bit. Anyone who wants to come and do an intern should call or e-mail me at the church. We can't promise much (or any) money at this point, but we could sure use the help. 

The life of a parish life is exhilarating and exhausting, encouraging and discouraging, and rewarding and unrewarding all at once. One of the things that has made my time here at St. Francis so tiring thus far has been living at the church. While it has been a blessing in most ways (for example I have become intimately familiar with the physical plant and its needs), it has been difficult because I am always "at work". Soon we'll be moving, and we'll be able to relax a bit. Plus, the church will get back much needed space to use for coffee hour, class rooms, etc.

God sends many graces to help us through difficult and trying times. Some of these for me have been my art and music. Years ago I began to paint and study the classical guitar. Since then I have put many, many hours of study and work into these activities, and it has been worth every minute. In a world that grows seemingly increasingly uglier one simply cannot put a price on devoting his life to that which is true, beautiful, and good. After a stressful day I can relax with my wife, and then in the evening lose myself in the Renaissance lute music of Dowland, Holbourne, and others; or the music of Spanish guitar composers like Francesco Tarrega or Fernando Sor.  Likewise, I can paint all sorts of interesting things, and work on art projects from icons to landscape watercolors. I really do not know what I would do without those activities. They bring so much beauty and wonder to the world, and to my world. I think the quest for beauty, truth, and goodness is one of the reasons why I became an Anglican years ago. The simple, elegant beauty of the classical Prayer Book and the Authorized Version of the Scriptures is unparalleled.

A life devoted to truth, beauty, and goodness is never boring or wasted. In fact it is the pearl of great price and the very gateway to heaven, the divine, and salvation.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Jesus in Blue Jeans sculpture

I think it's pretty good. It is on some Roman Church in Essex. It would be out of place on a more traditional building, but on a modern/postmodern building I guess it fits right in.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Classical Realism

I have become obsessed recently with studying the classical realist movement in art, and with learning about the atelier model of classical artist training. Art students have suffered for several generations because they have not had an adequate foundation on which to build. My art education was a modernized novus ordo type of art education: it had many of the elements of the older, classical model, but they were rehashed and reprocessed, and run through so quickly that one did not understand why one was doing them in the first place. The atelier model attempts to correct all of that, and classical realism is the name for these types of artists. The atelier model is essentially an internship, or apprenticeship. One typically signs up for these schools and attends them Monday-Friday, 9 - 5... like a job. They last for four years typically. Some of them teach sculpture along with painting, so you come out being able to sculpt and paint well. Obviously if you do something like that all day for four years you'll get pretty good at whatever you're doing. It is a good education, and all artists should have it, but it needs to be adapted to fit within the modern university system. I can think of many folk who would like to study these methods and improve their basic skills, but could not commit to a traditional apprenticeship type of schedule. Nowadays going to college even part time is hard enough. I hope as time goes on the methods and pedagogy of these schools will get back into the traditional university system. I think if these methods merge with some of the best insights and practices of the contemporary training model something very interesting and exciting will result.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Stations of the Cross

I think my major artistic project for the year is going to be a set of Stations for the church. We need some here, but do not have the money to buy a decent set. So being the artist I am, I am going to make a set and donate them to the church. The key will be to make something traditional that compliments the design of the church. The interior is very austere and Benedictine.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Depicting Religious Scenes in Contemporary Art

One of the major problems I have encountered in the few religious works that I have done is trying to make them both contemporary and traditional at the same time. It is wrong to think that the only thing one must do to create good contemporary religious art is render the figure in a realistic, neo-baroque style. That is part of it (to some degree), but there are other factors involved too. What is constantly overlooked I have found is what the people in the painting are wearing and their surroundings. If you paint them in contemporary clothes and in a contemporary setting - well, it looks sort of strange in most cases (in my opinion). If you paint them in Roman dress, it doesn't seem very contemporary! What is the solution?

Monday, March 2, 2009

New Home (in June)

My wife and I are moving into an awesome 19th century farmhouse out in the country in June. The great thing about it is that it not only has tons of room for the three of us (she, the cat, and me), and that it has cheap rent, but that it has a huge room for an art studio over the garage. It also has several out buildings, one of which I hope to use to make some mosaics.

Those who are not artists have no idea what it is like trying to find a good studio space. It's really hard. You have to find something that is big enough, has enough lights (a basement will NOT do), is close enough so you can get there and paint when you want to, and is cheap enough. I have painted in a million different studios and locales, from factories, to garages, to rooms, to basements, but I honestly think that nothing is going to beat this!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Elizabeth Peyton - Awesome Portraitist

Here is an interesting article about Elizabeth Peyton, a very successful contemporary portrait painter. I like the simplicity of her work and the vast fields of color. It is reminiscent of Richard Diebenkorn and Milton Avery in that respect, but in terms of the expressiveness of the faces and the eyes it evokes Shahn, though in perhaps more of a refined way. The best art is pure simplicity - like God. The article is also interesting because it traces the history of portraiture in the 20th century.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Iconic Obama Image

The guy who created the "iconic" portrait of President Obama is being sued by AP because his image is based on a photo taken by an AP photographer which AP "owns". The artist's lawyer argues that this qualifies as "fair use" of the image. In my opinion this is nothing but greed on the part of AP. They obviously would not be doing this had the image not become so successful. It also raises interesting questions about who owns images. Say an architect designs an iconic building, and a few years later an artist paints a picture of it as artists often do. Say that painting later becomes famous in its own right - can that artist be sued? Can the Picasso estate be sued by Bass Ale because some Picasso's paintings contain pictures of Bass Ale bottles? The artist who made this portrait of the president created his own unique work of art. What about musicians who use the same guitar riff? It is just too fantastic what the AP is trying to claim. Yes, the Obama was based on an existing image, but the artist made his own out of it. The existing image was simply an inspirational jumping off point. 

Monday, January 19, 2009

RIP Andrew Wyeth

Andrew Wyeth died the other day. He was a big influence on me, partly because of his style, partly because of his technique, partly because of his attitude, and partly because he was so derided by much of the art establishment. They considered him more of an illustrator rather than a fine artist. But I thought him a modern master. He painted frequently in egg tempera, a medium used in iconography. In reading his biography a few years ago, and some of his interviews and other writings, I thought he had an amazing grasp on the medium and its possibilities. His watercolors were also stunning. That is the hardest medium to paint in, and he - in just a few strokes - could create an iconic piece of art. Only a true master could do that.

I appreciated the way he spent his entire life exploring the Chadd's Ford countryside and the areas in Maine where he painted. To dedicate yourself to something so "ordinary" (mid-Atlantic American countryside) - and to really squeeze the "juice" out of it is quite profound. And to pull such amazing art out of something that so many of us take for granted is absolutely magical. I had always hoped to meet him someday, but I guess that isn't going to happen now. My cousin, the artist Noel Edwards, met him a few times so I suppose I will have to live vicariously through him in that regard. He will be missed. If you ever get up to Chadd's Ford go to the Wyeth museum, go see their home where they grew up, and all of that stuff. It is well worth it. And get a coffee table book of some of his work.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Church removes scary crucifix

I think it looks cool, but if it is scaring young children, and everyone in the church hates then maybe it is best to move it to off the premises and to a museum.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Rewards of Being an Artist

Being an artist is just as intense and demanding a vocation as being a priest. Like the priesthood, the artistic life has its highs and lows, and ups and downs. But the rewards of both vocations are immeasurable. I have been very blessed to touch many lives through my art - from people around the world. Recently I was sent this note about an icon that I did: (I gave it to a client who passed it on as a gift, and the client sent me the comment that follows.)

"The crucifixion painting you gave me has already been a treasure. As you may know, I suffer from phases of deep depression and take medication for that depression, but as with all things, there is a very spiritual dimension to my depression. When I am able to look at something like a painting of the crucifixion, it both makes the crucifixion real and brings me great comfort. I am going through such a time right now and this afternoon I propped the painting up by my bed so that I could look at it as I tried to rest. So I thank you very very much for it."

It is a tremendous blessing, and very humbling, to be able to touch so many peoples lives artistically and ministerially.