Last week I finished this painting:
I began it a few months ago with some very dark swirls. These were inspired by the Lord of The Rings scene where, after being followed by him for quite some time, Sam and Frodo finally encounter and capture Gollum. The sneaky and brilliant Gollum freaks out about the “white face” and I pictured Sam, Frodo and Gollum, in their strange and necessary encounter, staring up and shirking away from the moon (i.e. “white face). The three travellers were *almost* swallowed in the dark night sky of the Emyn Muil. I was reading (actually, I was “being read to”) this part of LOTR and painting this dark night sky during the last few weeks of the liturgical calendar. The end of the church calendar culminates in Memorial Sunday, so church time was filling up with memories, symbols and names of those who have died this past year; it was a heavy kind of time. The dark sky that I had painted while thinking of Sam, Frodo and Gollum became a sky that accompanied Memorial Sunday.
Advent comes out of Memorial Sunday.
I promised a friend I would work on this painting throughout the Advent chapels at my school, Canadian Mennonite University. I didn’t have a final vision for the piece, but I promised to work on it between every chapel service. I would display the painting at every chapel and if someone could notice the changes, then okay. The idea was that I was going to wait and pay attention to the songs, prayers, scriptures, stories, absences that were shared and not shared in these services and paint what I saw. So that’s what I did. The painting above is what came of it.
Advent is typically four weeks of services in which some aspect of waiting is emphasized. However, due to university exams, the Advent chapels at my school were condensed into three services and all plugged into one week. This meant I had one week to complete the picture.
I love getting “lost” in an idea; I love how time goes away when I’m “in the zone” of painting; I love visualizing different forms and colours competing and playing off one another; I love connecting a tiny shadow in the foreground to a dominating figure in the background; I love working on one tiny part of the canvas and trying to visualize the whole scene from afar. All of these things that I love take time. It takes me anywhere between 4 months and 2 years to complete a painting, and so I always have multiple works on the go. Because I am not a professional artist, because I am not in art school, because I don’t get paid to paint, I can work at my own pace. So when I realized I had a week and a half to put together a painting I didn’t have such a great feeling about the process.
I put the brush to the canvas a lot in that week. My original (seriously, brilliant) idea of photo transferring parts of the choral scores into the painting didn’t work out and ended up rubbing out the underlayer of paint.
I was disappointed with the painting at the final chapel. It is too busy with a kind of schizophrenic colour overload; this business confuses the eye and the viewer is unsure is what she is looking at because the values (i.e. shades of lights to darks) exist in the same diversity within every colour. This is kind of like when somebody is giving a speech and every sentence portrays the full spectrum of their volume – loud for effect and quiet for effect. It leaves no space for the listener (or viewer) to come down off of the high points; it is too busy for anything to really sink in. That is what I see when I look at this painting.
Here is what happened: (1) I spent too much time close up to the painting and, mostly, this is caused by (2) being hasty (i.e. not waiting). When I spend too much time close up to the painting I forget to take a step back and see the bigger picture, I forget to step back and see how each figure sits in relation to the other movements in the painting. When I spend too much time close up to the painting, I forget that it is a painting; I forget that it is just a picture. It is not every painting; it is not every picture; it is not every story; it is not every idea. It is one painting in a cluttered living room. It is one painting among 19 other paintings up in the living room. When I get too close to the painting not only do I forget what else is going on in that specific picture but I also forget what is going on in the room. I put too much pressure on what I am doing and I forget that it is just a picture.
There is a way to do art (to paint theologically) well, while working within deadlines. But right now I am not so pleased with my efforts. Rarely am I content with the final project for more than a few hours after I’ve said “it is finished.” Nevertheless, I am happy to share it with someone.
The image, though, if you can get through the messy colour-business, is quite good. This painting is called “Mary in a snowstorm.” The figure in the bottom right of the canvas is walking on a snow-covered land with the city in the background and she is carrying many things on her back and a baby in her body; she is bundled up in winter-gear as she faces out into the dark and swirly snowstorm sky. In the white-face-moon in the top right corner of the canvas, I have scratched in the last two and a half measures of the “Magnificat!” written by Donald Patriquin for a women’s chorus – three parts. Now at the end of Advent, we will wait another year to hear those songs.