Location: Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania
Featured Work: Sam with Miraak
Describe your featured work
Sam’s interiority is private but strongly visible. You see him watching, listening, and thinking. He’s an adolescent but when he speaks his words are succinct, pointed, honest, and remarkably profound. His family was new to our church a few years ago. I had seen them for some time before I met and talked with Sam. He was interested in art and in talking to me about art. Even as a boy and even from a distance, he expresses introversion in every way. I immediately wanted to paint him.
I admire Sam’s collection of found objects and things he has made. Here you see a few pieces, including a folded paper mask that he made of a video game character named Miraak. This is what he said about it: “He [Miraak] is a powerful, evil, image. I personally like him as a bad guy. I like his mask and its ominous feeling. Masks can be very powerful things. Everyone, in a sense, has a mask and when you leave your house you adopt your persona. Hopefully, my mask is my quietness and my furrowed brow.” Persona, from ancient Greek theater, means mask. I love Sam’s description and that he knows himself well enough to declare his choice: either put on a persona or hang it up.
Death is Not a Domesticated Pet, 2009, oil on canvas, 36 x 30 inches.
I have always loved to paint people whose looks strongly communicate the history of an inner life. I want to connect the inside to the outside. I construct the painting using photographs of the person, objects, spaces, and formal aspects like color and composition to reinforce what I see in my mind. Sometimes it comes from a narrative they have told me, but not always. My work is to discern which of the exterior visual clues convince me that I’m looking at someone who can be known. The main drive for the painting is to convince the viewer of the presence of a whole person. I want the viewer to be able to connect with the subject and recognize that they are not alone. Art was never meant to replace anything or anyone; I want my work to be side by side with human existence.
What are you making now?
I am just beginning a commissioned portrait of a couple who funded a new fitness center at their alma mater. Donor portraits are particularly challenging. The painter must communicate two things beyond a likeness: respect for the donors’ position in the context of their generous gift and a convincing personal presence, enough to keep them from being elevated or otherwise marginalized. In this regard, I always remember when I was teaching in Italy and asked local Orvietani to model for my class. We lived in a convent and the convent gardener agreed to pose. When he sat down he held himself very upright, with an elegant expression, and then he wept. He said, “I am emotional because no one has ever seen me as important, and I am proud to be painted.” Portraits can do that for people..
Why do you belong to CIVA?
Over forty years ago my husband, Ted, and our little daughter, Flora, attended our first CIVA conference. We were fairly new Christians and knew only a handful of artists who were Christians. We were so isolated that we expected it to be a very small group. Some 200 people showed up, overwhelming our first director, a wonderful ceramist at Bethel, the late Gene Johnson.
At the first dinner, people stood up and cried as they told how they had never imagined there were serious artists who were serious believers out there. For most, one or the other was suppressed. They instantly became our tribe, and so many have joined. No matter how rarely we see them, or how CIVA has changed, the love and connection remain and are, as Tanja Butler put it long ago, our “life blood.” Praise God.
Catherine Prescott, raised in Wisconsin, and hoped to be a portrait painter and teacher since childhood. This year she exhibited a prize-winning portrait at TRAC, The Representational Art Conference, in California and presented a paper there about contemporary realist painting. Last year she painted the official portrait of a Pennsylvania governor for a collection at the State Capitol. She taught painting at Messiah College for 20 years, and for Gordon in Orvieto since 1998. She became a Christian through Frances Schaeffer and studied at L’Abri. She and her husband, sculptor Ted Prescott, live and work in Pennsylvania.