By Catherine Kapikian
My half-century of dedicated engagement with the creative process has allowed me the privilege of installing numerous site-specific works within many sacred contexts. My current installation, The Last Supper, will enjoy its permanent home in a uniquely sacred space: Wesley Theological Seminary’s stunning Refectory—the seminary’s dining hall which boasts three 30-foot-high windows, featuring filtered sunlight and stunning landscape views from its location on a Massachusetts Avenue hill in northwest Washington, D.C.
In just a few more months, diners and guests will be able to take in a full panorama of the Last Supper—painted on five pre-fabricated wooden relief forms and on view across the dining hall’s 42-foot-wide soffit—while they enjoy their meals and other special Wesley Seminary events. Currently these forms reside in the art studio at Wesley Theological Seminary where members of the community are engaged in executing the full-scale work in preparation for its spring 2019 completion.
Here’s a glimpse of the steps involved in seeing an installation of this size to completion: (1) the 1/6 scale model being designed out of paper, foam core board, and color aid paper (provides consistent duplication of colors when mixing colors and painting full scale work); (2) fabrication of the five wood relief forms (totaling 42 feet in length); (3) WTS student tacking two of the seventeen full-scale unrefined drawings on a WTS studio wall; (4) WTS students tracing refined drawings on one of the five primed and sanded wood relief forms.
When the 7-foot model was presented to the administration and faculty of WTS, I explained that my design for this work was inspired by two overarching concepts: the first was a desire to reference Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper because I believe it enables us to be stewards of a masterwork of Christian culture—a tradition in which all of us are a part; the second was that I was intrigued by the idea of utilizing the Fibonacci mathematical principle of expansion without termination. Besides its relevant theological implications, it beckoned as a suggestive organizational structure for handling design complexities. But it took me several months to figure out how! The emanating lines from Christ suggest this principle in one way and the vertical relief forms suggest it in another.
Going a little deeper on the design process, I regard da Vinci’s gesturing of the disciples’ hands as brilliant, so I decided to pick up on this motif in my rendering. I emphasized the hands by denoting them with different colors, and I bracketed the Last Supper image with a pair of hands lifting the cup and a pair of hands lifting the bread. These bracketing images also represent the hands WTS sends forth into the world to administer the Eucharist.
An additional reason for the vertical relief forms was the desire to create a work that not only provided structurally angular surfaces for color and imagery but also, because people will walk under it and view it from different vantage points near and far, one which will provide a “‘non-static” image. Strong value contrasts, visual transparencies, and nuanced intensities of colors conspire suggestively to capture the glory of the Last Supper as well as image a requirement for human flourishing.
Designing and creating large scale site-specific works within the context of religious communities and engaging members within those communities has always been a great privilege for me and never fails to be life- enhancing as well.
Catherine Kapikian is founder and director emerita of Henry Luce III Center for the Arts and Religion at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. and author of Art in the Service of the Sacred and Through the Christian Year: An Illustrated Guide. She is also sought-after as a conference speaker, instructor, and seminar leader, and her art has been commissioned and installed in venues around the world. For more on her work, go to catherinekapikian.com.