Thursday, December 1, 2011

Has it been that long?

No, not about posting to this blog, but about painting! It occurred to me the other night that when I moved back to MD in December 2010 I really did not have my studio set up until July 2011 when we moved into our home. I was able to get some painting done in my office at work - some icons - but no oils, no cityscapes, landscapes, etc. Or at least not to the degree and intensity that I was able to in VA. So now when I paint I feel a bit out of shape, as it were, but overall am heading in the right direction, getting used to it again, and enjoying all of my new materials and my new studio.

I have said it before and will say it again: moving is highly disruptive to the artist!!

Thursday, October 13, 2011


After a tumultuous year of moving twice, getting settled at a new church, and receiving a tremendous gift of tons of art supplies, I am now organized and slowly getting back to work. What I am working on now are interiors and some landscape and animal paintings inspired by the wonderful farm where we lived in Newport, Virginia. After years of painting cityscapes I decided that I needed a break from it. I am also looking forward to trying some new mediums, such as pastel, and getting reacquainted with old ones that I used to do a lot of work in, such as watercolor.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Cattle Painting

I was recently given many of the art supplies of my first cousin once removed, the artist Noel K. Edwards, who passed away over a year ago. The supplies include oil paints, watercolors, paper, pastels, stretcher bars, canvas, brushes, and more. This is a tremendous blessing as purchasing such supplies is very costly. Even though the paints are very old and many in rather poor condition they can be reconstituted in most cases because they are of very high quality.

Noel was an avid painter of landscapes and wildlife. (I was also able to acquire a number of his works). The animals he especially enjoyed painting were cattle, bison, birds, and dogs. He worked in watercolor, pastel, pencil, and oil. He was always nice to me and (in addition to my mother and Bob Ross) one of the people who inspired me to paint.

As though I were channeling him I have recently begun painting cows. When we lived in Virginia the property where we lived was surrounded by cattle, so they became a part of our life. I loved listening to their mooing, grunts and other noises. There is something inherently relaxing about looking at cattle. So I took tons of pictures and am now starting to paint them using the materials I acquired from Noel. I hope he is pleased! And I hope I can paint them with the same love, care, skill, and feeling that he did!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Artist and Priest - Part 2

In my previous post I commented on one of the differences between being an artist and a priest. In this one I want to briefly comment on one of the similarities. (Note: there are obviously many differences and many similarities between the two vocations. These that I mention are but two.)

Both the artist and the priest struggles to get people to care about what they do. Or put another way, the vast majority of people do not care what an artist does or what a priest does! Both vocations involve a great deal of internal struggle and self-discovery, and after that struggle the person wishes to share what he has learned and how he has grown with others to help them in some way.

How discouraging it is when he learns that despite his blood, sweat, and tears, and his years of labor most people could care less about his work or ministry! The vast majority of folk are not interested in art or God. Instead they are content to settle for kitsch and for idols.

The only way to survive the artistic ad priestly vocation is to expect rejection. In terms of the artist, he should expect to be a Van Gogh. In terms of priesthood he should expect to be a Jeremiah, or Jesus. Any success, or any message conveying thanks, is to be understood as an exception (a very welcome exception) to the rule.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Artist and Priest

These two vocations, while complementary in many ways, are also very different from each other. One of the ways they are most different is in terms of relating to others.

Being a priest is being "other" centered. He is by definition an intercessor on behalf of someone else. This requires a great deal of self-sacrifice in the form of serving others and ministering to them in the name of Jesus Christ. This is especially true for parochial priests who have a regular cure of souls, and even more especially true for married clergy (such as in the Anglican tradition) who in addition to church responsibilities have family responsibilities as well.

Being an artist on the other hand is in many ways being "self" centered. To achieve excellence in his craft he must spend a great deal of time alone, producing and perfecting his art. Interruptions by others are very taxing and disruptive to the creative process. Artists have to be stingy with their time if they ever hope to achieve excellence and success.

In short, both vocations require self-sacrifice, but in very different ways. This tension is one that the artist-priest simply has to live with and try to hold in balance. That is what I try to do, and believe me it is very hard to do!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

New Home, New Studio

Sorry for the dearth of posts. We have been in the midst of a move and are just getting settled. I am happy to say that we have a great house in a splendid area of Baltimore county, and that I have a fantastic art studio. I am presently at work on a painting of the crucifixion with Ss. Mary and John and angels. Will post more photos and commentary soon!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Artists and Collecting Art

Many famous artists were art collectors. Degas comes to mind. Many of artists I have known like to collect art as well. My wife (also an artist) and I enjoy collecting art. What is interesting is that artists very often collect art that is different from their own. This is true of me. Most of the art that we collect is different from our own. I tend to favor ecclesiastical art, architectural design/drawings, natural art, and pencil drawings - all very detailed. This is different from my own art, which is rather abstract. I've often wondered why I collect this sort of work. The reason is perhaps that it is so different from my own: I collect what I do not wish to try to paint or draw myself. Most of the works I collect I could do myself - if I were interested in art purely in terms of decoration. But I have no desire to do that type of work - so I buy it - and paint as I do, can, and must. And, like other artists, I do collect my own works. I have a few that are not for sale because I like to keep them for my own collection!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Theology of the Icon - Leonid Ouspensky

I just finished reading "Theology of the Icon" by Leonid Ouspensky. As I have been working on a number of icons for some upcoming shows I decided to read a systematic treatise on the subject. Ouspensky is an expert on it - an iconographer himself, and also something of a theologian, as he co-wrote a book on the subject with the famed Orthodox theologian Vladimir Lossky. This book is a great introduction to the theology of icons. It is readable (quite an achievement for a Russian who was transplanted in France!) and informative. It touches on the history of iconography and, as one would expect, spends a great deal of time on the Iconoclastic Controversy.

As a theologian and historian I found the book quite interesting, but as an artist I found it somewhat lacking. While he does a fairly good job of explaining why Roman Catholic art is "religious" but not "iconographic" (the former because of it's subject matter, the latter because it is essentially too naturalistic) he does not explain where the formal line of demarcation is between religious art and iconography. One wonders what he would think of the art of westerners like Duccio or Massacio, and if their works would qualify as icons in his mind. Artistically his theories are extremely vague, and leave enough wiggle room to allow for quite a variety in iconography. Perhaps this is a good thing, and perhaps it explains the great deal of variety in iconography that has always been out there. While his theological ideas are, however, very enlightening and much more objective (e.g. the icon portrays a transfigured man and universe) how he translates that into actual composition and technique is an entirely different matter. To some degree his dismissal of Renaissance and Baroque art is very subjective - as in his critique of a painting of St. Agnes where she is scantily clad, thus leading him to ask, "Who could pray before an image like that?" The answer is "lots of people." I have been told by many people in my day that they do not see icons as being images that lead one to prayer and devotion! So, the subjectivity of art is unavoidable, even in "religious" art (iconographic or otherwise).

The book did make me think about whether or not it is appropriate for western churches to be decorated with icons when they are not venerated or otherwise acknowledged in the life and liturgy of the church. Because they play such a central role in the Orthodox tradition, do we not somehow desecrate them if we have them hanging around a church like a decorations? Perhaps not, as he may cite canons from Nicea II that exhort the faithful to display icons all over - even on the street... but still, I wonder.

Overall this is a great book to read, and I recommend it for all artists, especially Christian artists, even if they do not agree with his principles or conclusion. It is certainly the best guide to understanding Christian iconography.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Art Opening: Atlanta, GA

For Immediate Release:

I will be showing 16 new pieces of sacred art July 13th - 15th at the Anglican Province of America Provincial Synod, which will be held at the Holiday Inn-Perimeter 4386 Chablee-Dunwoody Road, Atlanta, GA 30341. All of the work will be for sale. There will be 11 icons and 5 oil paintings. Please e-mail me for more details.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Stained Glass and Painting

When I began painting I wanted to copy some of my idols like Richard Diebenkorn and Ben Shahn, but the problem was that their styles were very different. Diebenkorn's figurative work emphasized shape, while Shahn's (in many cases) line. How to reconcile these two opposite elements and make them work together in a compelling way has always been something of an artistic goal of mine.

A real breakthrough happened for me when I began dealing in stained glass restoration. Representing a large studio out of the midwest, I roamed the churches of the Baltimore-Washington region studying and cataloging the beautiful windows. It finally occurred to me that these windows had in themselves exactly what I was trying to do in my art. The lead lines combined with the shape of the glass to make a gorgeous work of art.

To some extent my work - especially my later cityscapes in oils - approximates this. The messiness of stained glass - the visual clutter, and the effort that such clutter requires of the viewer - all of that is something that I like and try to bring into my work lately.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Some Thoughts on the Evolution of My Work: Subject Matter

I began painting simply what was around me... my environment. While in college, living in the country, I painted landscapes. Upon moving to the city after graduation I began painting cityscapes. Coming from a devout Christian home, and trying to be one myself, I had a certain interest in painting religious scenes, but never did anything with it until St. Mary's.

My first religious painting was a large oil painting of the Annunciation, which I painted while in seminary. It was a reasonably successful work and I ended up selling it some years later. I dabbled with religious works while in seminary doing some that were good, and some that were not so good. The reason I started painting religious works was simply because I was in seminary and I thought I should give it a try.

After the seminary I went back to painting secular work, probably because of the bad taste seminary and the church left in my mouth... perhaps also because I was not so pleased with the few religious pieces I tried. It wasn't until ordination that I went back to exploring religious themes - icons.

Icons were something that I always wanted to try, and since I had to give up my art studio when I got married, I needed something I could do in our apartment that did not have the bad fumes associated with oil paints. So it was partly for utilitarian reasons that I started doing them. But also because I still wanted to explore Christian art. Particularly I wanted a way to aesthetically combine the two great interest of my life: art and religion.

Icons helped me learn to enjoy painting religious works for their own sake. Even if were not a priest or in the ordained ministry I would still paint them as well as other religious works, because now I appreciate them for what they are themselves, and as a way to meditate on and involve myself in the great stories and themes of the Christian faith.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Back to work!

I have now been back in MD for well over one month, serving as rector of St. Alban's parish in Joppa, MD. This is the parish where I was ordained, so there are lots of friends here. Additionally it is in the region where I was reared, so it is something of a "homecoming" being here. My priorities in the church are youth, music, preaching, and missions - essentially in that order. Having been around the block a bit as a priest and churchman for so many years now I think that our continuing Anglican parishes are weakest in these areas.

The youth are my main priority. It is heartbreaking to see so many pictures of youth who once attended the church and who, though they live in the area, no longer attend - not even for Christmas or Easter. Our continuing Anglican churches specialize in this failure so it seems. The strangest thing about it is that it doesn't seem to bother anyone - either on a parish or institutional level. Why do so many kids grow up in our churches and yet they stop attending - our church, or church altogether? Why don't we have the numbers of families that other churches have?

One possible reason is that our churches simply do care for youth of any age. Continuing Anglicanism is primarily a church for old people... not that there is anything wrong with ministering to old people, but just that it is very 'exclusive' and will not provide a future for our churches. I saw this - this lack of interest in youth - as early as when I was in seminary. The old guard at my parish largely looked upon me with suspicion, and the rector was not all that interested in me. No young people were in any position of leadership in the church, and if they were (such as our young curate) he was looked upon as a possible "trouble maker" and "enemy" of the rector.

Today, as a parish priest, I see on an institutional diocesan level that the continuing Anglican churches generally speaking have no interest in youth, as there are hardly any young people in positions of leadership in the diocese, as most churches have no youth programs or even an idea of the importance of developing one, and as there are not even the most basic resources for catechizing the youth. There are, to be sure, a few bright spots here and there, and they are to be lauded (such as diocesan summer camps). But we need more, and it has to begin at the parish level.

So that is my number one goal here at my new parish... to reach children with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and raise up, by God's grace, devout Anglican and Catholic Christians who are equipped and excited about serving God and His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Happy 2011

Sorry for the dearth of posts. The end of 2010 was quite busy and dare I say traumatic with having to move. My family has no relocated to Maryland where we live outside of Baltimore metro area. As this is home to us it was a welcome move. Here in MD I serve as rector of a small country church.

Unfortunately on the trip up some of my art, including my very first painting, was lost. That was the "traumatic" part of the move. Luckily the rest of my work escaped major damage. My work is mostly in storage now, as are my supplies and my studio equipment, because we are living in small condo while looking for permanent housing. It goes without saying that the bulk of my energy lately is being spent on the church, getting settled, etc. so I have not been able to get back to work yet. I hope to begin painting again next month, and work on small icons to sell later this year.

The nature of my vocation as a parish priest in a "continuing" Anglican Church has necessitated moving around from state to state and parish to parish. These moves are quite disruptive artistically, but are necessary if I hope to serve God, move up the ladder, and get the experience to minister more effectively. I take great joy in ministry and art. In the former this is confined almost exclusively to parish ministry, while in the latter I enjoy everything about it. Soon enough I hope to return to the joys of painting!