Monday, June 10, 2013

Similarities between icons and modern art

I read this obituary about one of America's famous iconographers, Demetrios Dukas, and felt vindicated when I read this quote of his about icons: "It's a great art. It's a religious art, but it prefigures modern art. It has elements of Cubism, Expressionism, it has everything. … It's an art that transcends nationalities and speaks to everyone."

A number of years back I had a show of some icons, religious works in oil, and cityscapes in South Carolina. One person who came out could not understand how I could have religious works and icons in the same show as my cityscapes, because the former are 'realistic' and the latter are very 'abstract'.

I told him on the contrary that the religious art that I do - especially icons - are very abstract, so there was actually a lot of similarity between the pieces. He looked at me as though he didn't understand or agree.

The quote above vindicated me in a sense, because icons especially contain all of the great elements and movements of art: realism, abstraction, Expressionism, Cubism, and more.

I have always seen a great deal of continuity between iconography and the art of the undivided Church and "modern" art. Those who do not simply need to study art and art history a bit more!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Icons on Display at 2013 Diocesan Synod

From July 9th - 12th my my icons will be on display at our annual diocesan synod. This year the synod takes place in Annapolis, MD, which is right in my backyard. Consequently I will have a large number of them on display. Please do come and check them out!

(Pictured: St John the Evangelist, based on a Russian icon of the Novgorod school, 9" x 12", egg tempera on panel)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Holiday Reflections

We recently were on holiday at a posh resort in a villa owned by my dear in-laws. While I should have found it relaxing, I was eally more stressed than ever. Honestly, I have no use for vacations. I absolutely love what I do, and love my life... why would I want to take a holiday from it?

Holiday means, among other things, that I do not have access to my library and my studies, I cannot paint in my studio, I cannot practice my classical guitar, I cannot celebrate Mass, and I cannot work in my gardens. To be separated from all that I love (minus my family, of course, who is here with me) is stressful... not relaxing.

Whenever we go on holiday I can't wait for it to be over. I loathe all holidays... unless they are Church holidays (holy days), such as Christmas and Easter.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Copying Other Artists

Last night I spent some time looking at the websites of a number of artists, known and unknown, whose work I enjoy. It had been while since I'd done that, and I really enjoyed myself and felt excited afterwards... full of new ideas and ways to think about things and look at the world.

For the longest time I stopped studying at other artists' works because I would become so enamored with it that I would unintentionally (or 'intentionally') begin to copy it, or mimic it. That was a good thing for me to do, because I am the type of person who loves to be influenced by others. But that mentality can be problematic for those, like myself, who desire to hone their own technique and build their own body of work. So that is why I took a break from studying other artists for a few years.

It was very helpful. Now, after this "fast," I think I can look at other artists' works and enjoy it, and be influenced by it in positive ways, but not try to emulate it or copy it and thus be "unoriginal."

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Facets of Artistic Discipline: The Painting Schedule

This winter my studio has been so cold that it simply has not been fun for me to be over there and work. It is sort of insulated, and I have a space heater, but it is still freezing. So finally at some point in January I decided to just not do any work over. While I used to able to stand painting in a freezing place, or sweltering place, the older I get the less I can tolerate it.

So until I can better insulate the studio, or build a new one (preferably with a wood burning stove), I will reserve the coldest months of the year for smaller work that I can do in my nice, climate controlled office. By this I suppose I mean icons... and maybe some smaller watercolors.

One of the most important aspects of the artistic life is discipline. And part of discipline is knowing what to do when, and what works best in a given situation. That's what this is for me. I simply can't do my best work if I am physically uncomfortable, so there is no point in me painting anything in the frigid cold or sweltering heat. It will just be a waste of time, energy, and supplies, which is stuff that I cannot afford to waste! Best to paint the oil canvases during a more agreeable time of year.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Egg Tempera Icon Painting

Lately I have been working on a bunch of icons lately and hope to have at least 20 for sale at diocesan synod in Annapolis, MD this summer. These are the best icons I have ever done. The really exciting, though, is simply working in egg tempera. Today I realized just how much I enjoy this medium. I have to say that were it not for iconography I probably would never have tried egg tempera. It is a great medium in which to work because it is both rigid and flexible... sort of in between watercolor and oil. The amount of detail you can get is staggering, and I really like the matte look of the paint. For now this medium is so closely aligned with iconography in my mind I would never use it for anything else. I once painted some landscapes in tempera and only one of them came out okay. The problem was I was not painting icons! It just didn't work. I love egg tempera, so that means I will be painting icons for many years to come. Perhaps one day I will branch out and try some additional subject matter in this medium once more.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Subversive Icons

It occurred to me recently what the most controversial art I have ever created has been. It has been my icons! Never, when I began painting them, would I have thought that these works would be so controversial.

In the shows I have had with them and my secular work, and comments I have received from people who have looked at my work online, the icons have always provoked the strongest reaction. Not from icon "purists," mind you, who don't approve of my technique, but from non-religious and atheists! The reaction has never been negative... just a strange sort of... "I am really drawn to these icons for some reason," sort of thing. Invariably the person cannot explain why he is drawn to them when he should be repulsed at them. Even those with no interest in religion find them to be fascinating and intriguing. Does this point to some inherent grace and power in the language of the icon? Who knows.

(NB: I should add that my icons also get many positive reviews as well from spiritually-minded people who are seeking God's will in their lives. To me it is simply fascinating that these simple works that have been around for centuries and centuries can still generate such powerful feelings in people!)

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Preliminary Drawings

The traditional academic way of making a painting entails doing many rounds of preliminary studies and sketches. Even those who were schooled in the contemporary manner like myself, where traditional methods and disciplines were downplayed, were still encouraged to do preliminary studies in preparation for final paintings.

But I have never liked working that way. After graduation from art school I would do a number of preliminary studies for a painting, but found that I aways liked the rough, loose studies over the finished painting. So at one point I decided that it was best to just sketch the drawing on the canvas... just do the studies there, as it were, and let what happened happen in the painting. I've never gone back to the old way. While I appreciate the discipline and craftsmanship that the traditional method involves, for me painting is very visceral and emotional process, and what I find is that the traditional way of working dilutes that process and guts the painting of energy.

This process even finds its way into my iconography. The traditional way that people paint icons these days is to draw the composition on a piece of paper and then transfer it to a panel, whereas I draw it directly on the panel from scratch. Even though icons are copied, working in this way gives my icons - for me - a greater sense of dynamism and vitality than working through different stages of transfers, etc.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Ruin Porn Paintings: The City is Man

Today I came across a term that to me is a good description of the cityscapes I have been painting for years: ruin porn. The term itself refers to pictures of dilapidated cities, most famously Detroit. There is something hauntingly beautiful, and yet sad about the pictures. Here is a link to a sample site:

A search for "ruin porn" will reveal many other sites of urban photography like this.

These images are as much a portrait of man as they are his cities. They speak all at once to his glory, and his decadence; his eternity, and his finitude. There is something very spiritual about them.

This is why I have always enjoyed painting cityscapes. For me a broken down building in a poor end of town is a spiritual metaphor for the human condition, and a testimony to the often failed and vacuous pursuits of man. One of my older cityscapes "Tony's on Eastern Avenue" is pictured above. More may be viewed on my site. (

And yet as I drive through Baltimore looking for scenes to paint the sight of a dirty street corner also reveals to some extent, the eternal hope that is held before us in God. Because after all, sometimes these corners are transformed, redeemed, and restored. The same is true of man himself. Broken and falling apart, he may be healed and transfigured through the power of God in Christ.

My "ruin porn paintings" try to capture and portray this element of despair and hope, and are portraits of fallen man who nonetheless has the hope of resurrection.

Monday, February 4, 2013

New Continuing Anglican Churchman

I have decided to go back to running two blogs with one being devoted to specifically theological issues and questions addressed from an Anglican perspective. Here is a link to it:

I will still address theological questions on this blog as well from time to time, so if you are interested do check out both.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Website Update

I have recently begun updating my website with some recent work, like the one pictured in the previous post. It also has new work that is currently available. All of the newer stuff is in oils. I do not have any new icons available at this time. But....

This summer at synod I'll be selling a number of NEW icons that I currently have in production, including:

Christ Pantocrator
Our Lady of Walsingham
St. James the Greater
St. Katherine of Alexandria
St. Nicholas
The Dormition of the Virgin
The Harrowing of Hell
The Raising of Lazarus
The Transfiguration

These are all new compositions. Namely, they are copied from icons that I have never copied before, or themes that I have never painted before.

In addition to these I will have new versions of some of the standard themes that I have done in the past:

St. George Slaying the Dragon (in a few different forms)
Christ Pantocrator
Crucifixion (various forms)
Descent from the Cross
Virgin Eleousa
Mother of Compassion
Virgin Hogiditria
and more...

As with all of my other icons, these are written in the traditional manner using traditional materials and techniques. These will be available in all sorts of sizes, so there will something that will fit into everyone's budget!

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Recent Painting

Here is a painting I did recently that is hanging in the parish hall at church. I wanted to paint the theme "Virgin and Child Enthroned with Saints" in a very simple, abstract, yet representational way, using a minimal amount of colors (in this case a "primary" color scheme of red, yellow, and blue). It has been very well-received by everyone who has seen it. The painting measures approximately 48"x 50" 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Experimentation In Art

I feel bad because I have not posted anything in a while. So with the advent of 2013 I have decided to commit to posting on the blog regularly. Despite the non-blogging it has been a busy time... lots of art has been created. The time has been marked by much experimentation.

Experimentation can be a great thing. In years past I have been content with exploring the same limited subject matter: cityscapes, the figure, religious work. Once in a while I would do something else that I really enjoyed: an interior; a landscape. So the last few months I have been "bouncing around" a lot, and painting all sorts of different things, and trying new stuff. Why? Well, for no other reason then to branch out, and not be pigeonholed. Perhaps out of boredom too.... painting the same old thing gets old.

But my period of experimentation has basically lead me back to where I was before... or maybe even a more restricted place. I am now focusing entirely on sacred art. The experimentation was valuable in the sense that it helped me reacquaint myself with me and the art that I am supposed to do. Having lived for nine months without painting it has taken a year and a half to really begin to get back in the groove. The experimentation period was valuable if for no other reason for me to find myself artistically once more. And I was able to bring some new techniques and a clearer mind with me as well.

That indeed is the value of experimentation in whatever area of life we do it. It can open us up to new horizons... even, strangely, by returning us whence we came. On one hand the time may seem to be wasted. But on the other - and this was the case with me - it can be a time of artistic learning and growth... not one that results in the production of the "masterpiece" but nonetheless one that helps get you heading back in that direction.

The danger, of course, is that one can become lost down rabbit trails in experimentation (in art, or life), and get totally lost. Throughout this period I have been in prayer for God to show me what to do, and where to go. Were it not for that I feel that my experimentation would have perhaps lead me to eventually stop painting. But since I long ago committed my life and art to God, under the shadow of his wings I have been able to branch out a bit to see where he was leading me and come back stronger, not artistically (or spiritually) destroyed, from it.