CIVA’s 35th Anniversary Auction begins October 21st! See what’s new; buy art; support this network for Christian artists. Highlights this year are diverse in media and sensibility, often provoking thought as much as moving the spirit. Let me introduce you to a few of my favorites:
David McCoy’s ‘two matched canvases’, Two Asses and The Power Called Great, each call to mind a character that sought to manipulate spiritual power for financial gain: From the Old Testament, Balaam (Numbers 22-23), and from the New Testament, Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8:9-24). In a grid format of around a hundred panes, photos of landscape, cities, and people combine with images drawn from art history, flora and fauna of the natural world, etc., to convey aspects of each story or associations of similar import from various cultures throughout history. In Two Asses, the brightest red is that of parrots—‘talking’ creatures that signal the startling verbal reproach of Balaam’s donkey. Two Asses implies that Balaam’s donkey is not the only ass, but that Balaam in his stubborn foolishness could also be so designated. The Power Called Great has eleven panes of U.S. dollars, volumes representing books of magic, many illustrations for instruction in magic, chemists’ vials and beakers, as well as a printed drawing (third pane from the top, at far right) based on a catacomb painting of the raising of Lazarus. A ‘magic wand,’ that sometimes appears in early Christian art to indicate that Jesus is performing a miracle, is present here, with Jesus cut out of the picture. Simon the sorcerer likewise wanted power for miracles more than he wanted the Power of God behind them.
“Wailing Wall: Song for Quin” by Steve Prince: The stark contrasts of this visually arresting black-and-white cut block print (24” x 36”) reverberate as a cry for justice raised by seven figures, while angels fly between armed guard towers of a prison. With eyes closed, the figures march and angels fly: Ghostly spirits emerge as prayers from the marchers’ throats, mouth, heart, hands, and even the core (note the skirt of the second person from the right). About half the figures (and an angel) bear hair and features of African ethnicity. The parallel-cutting techniques, especially in the three large figures at left, draw on two divergent traditions: As in European Renaissance drawing, parallel curved lines indicate the roundness of a thigh. In contrast, straight-line central-west-African parallel striation, as has been used to decorate masks and figures that are carved of wood and sometimes clad in bronze, is also used in Prince’s Wailing Wall. Parallel striation, well-suited to a cut block print, is found in Bakongo, Baoule and Yoruba art, as well as in western art derived from African masks, such as the 1907 painting by Picasso of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Prince’s figures, with both African and European roots, plead for “a reformation of our penal system. Like Joshua’s army marching around the mighty walls of Jericho, they proclaim with a mighty yell to affect the foundation of this system to bring about renewal.”
A dramatic explosion emerges from a minimalist central shape in Roger Feldman’s Elegant Position (charcoal on paper, 22” x 30”). That central shape suggested two options to this writer: A pulpit or a Roman chariot—at the moment of a spectacular crash. Given Feldman’s description of the theme as a pulpit, and the fact that by far the greatest explosive impact is shown emanating out the back of that form, this work implies that the overwhelming impact of the message is most deeply felt by the preacher himself. The title ‘Elegant Position’ ironically belies the impact of the Word on the messenger.
Wayne Adams’ Shroud (3) starts from a portion from the Shroud of Turin—a fabric length that some think is a burial shroud which retains an impression of the face and body of the slain Jesus. Adams borrows a contemporary visual idiom—halftone used for black-and-white newspaper photos—and paints that face in enlarged halftone format. This jars the viewer by presenting the violent death of Jesus as news for today.
Donald Furst’s shadowy mezzotint, Within, Without, presents two doors: one closed, one slightly ajar. Lightbeams entering near the upper corner form the lower center and arms of a nearly horizontal cross, streaming upward and leading to more light. Hidden sources illuminate the floor behind the door, indicating that both upper and lower realms behind this door from which light beacons invite reflection.
In Bruce Herman’s work, Lichen Traces, cool color harmonies drawn from a palette of coastal New England landscape unify exquisitely drawn varieties of lichen. Thick and thinner bands of solid color, as well as bands of abstract expressionist art, run vertically to introduce breaks and pauses between the lichen, while the thinnest bands of color run horizontally or diagonally to unify these varieties of lichen. The piece functions as “a sign that mediates the presence of the Creator.” Would that Lichen Traces were scaled to architectural proportions! Imagine the impact of walking from right to left and encountering that explosive lichen.
“Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he has given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body…’ Luke 22:19”: This watercolor by Kirsten Malcolm Berry resembles a design for a Mediterranean round tabletop executed in mosaic, with supplementary ‘mosaic’ spandrels filling the corners of the square in which the circle resides. The implied tabletop evokes a mealtime. Rings of colored bits which look like mosaic pieces alternate with irregular solid rings to form the circular central zone, while twelve segments of the outer rings appear to be broken off from the round core. These elements are encircled by the Greek words “καὶ λαβὼν ἄρτον εὐχαριστήσας ἔκλασεν καὶ ἔδωκεν αὐτοῖς λέγων Τοῦτό ἐστιν τὸ σῶμά μου” translated in the title. Broken ‘mosaic’, twelve segments broken from the round core, breaking of bread by Jesus with his 12 disciples at the Last Supper (cited in the inscription from the Gospel of Luke—all allude to the brokenness of Christ’s body at the crucifixion. In a roughly geometric design, Berry captures a story of redemption.
Rothko Red by Nikora Gangi is realist in approach and simple in appearance, yet it invites extended contemplation. Three quail eggs in a row are lit so closely from an unseen source above the center that the respective shadows cast each fall in a different direction. Why three? Why so formally arranged? Why quail eggs? Why Rothko Red? What is the source of the light in the shadows beneath the eggs? The quail eggs could be emblems of beginnings, nature, or hints of promised sustenance (such as that of the Israelites’ desert wanderings). The vivid red ground (the subject of the title) contrasts sharply with the quail eggs, raising questions about the relation between human culture (e.g.—makers of red fabric, canvas or paper) and the contribution of nature. Or, if a linear arrangement of three eggs implies human intervention, may the picture be read symbolically? If so, do three speckled eggs suggest a Creator that is himself a Trinity? What then may be intended by the red? Rothko’s reds usually hover in a two-dimensional plane, but these three-dimensional eggs occupy space and cast shadows—affirming their natural materiality in a context where materiality plays with immateriality.
Sandra Bowden’s title And On Earth, and her artwork—a striped globe—evoke the making of our planet. A silver layer draws the viewer’s interest. As strata within the silvery layer accrue, markings to the lower right, which approximate Hebrew lettering, become more irregular as the eye of the beholder moves left. The letters evoke the spoken Word of God in creation, which forms the foundations of the earth. Bowden’s statement recalls Psalm 113:
“ . . . The One who sits enthroned on high,
. . . stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth” (vv. 5b-6, NIV).
In Sweet Sorrow by DaNeal Eberly (acrylic, 16”x20”), a woman’s compelling gaze directly engages the viewer. Her hairline forms the upper part of a heart contour and is echoed in the brow line, while a V-shape, akin to the lower part of a heart, forms the lower face and chin, mirrored in the center of the clavicle and shadows at the base of the neck. Watery tears may emerge from the eye at left. Are the streaks of red at the right side of the right eye and forehead blood, or simply part of the painterly qualities of the portrait? Is that a red cross atop her head? The viewer’s eyes are compelled by the summary execution of all but the face to keep returning to that striking countenance.
I am eager to welcome you to the auction, starting October 21, 2014. Bid on one or a few of your favorites. Enjoy your chance to build your own collection.
Linda Møskeland Fuchs is an art historian focusing on resurrection themes in early Christian sculpture. Some have said that scenes openly showing Jesus crucified or resurrected do not appear as early as the third or fourth centuries, but Fuchs explains how an unusual scene presents a conflation of Jesus’ first post-resurrection appearances to women and to men on the Vatican Jonah sarcophagus. Fuchs’ essay, “Iconographic Structure: Recognizing the Resurrected Jesus on the Vatican Jonah Sarcophagus” is in a new book edited by leaders of the Association of Scholars of Christianity in the History of Art, James Romaine and Linda Stratford, ReVisioning: Critical Methods of Seeing Christianity in the History of Art (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade, 2014), pp. 44-70, 168-69.
 Bruce Herman’s phrase, from Brian Moss’ CIVA podcast May 7, 2012.