love

There is only Love

 

WHEN WE PRAY: THERE IS ONLY LOVE

INSPIRATION

There are certain themes in life that continually repeat for each of us.  Lessons we must learn, ideas and concepts that require us to continually expand our understanding of them, seasons of lack and plenty…and these too are an integral part of our soul’s journey.

An ongoing theme for me is Love. In this case, I seem to have come full circle because I thought that the “When We Pray” series was complete last summer. I completed what I thought was the final image of the series (#VII) and began to move on, but the inspiration for this image burst forth in me and has already inspired me to begin another in the series. You may also remember that I was addressing the theme of Love inspired by Rumi in my creation of the “Resurrection of Love” triptych. But it appears that neither Prayer nor Love are through with me yet.

My efforts to strengthen my intuition and maintain a more consistent connection to my guides are steadily convincing me that we are forever and always surrounded by Love. It’s not that I didn’t already know or believe this, but my vision was clouded by my own biases and preconceptions. It is one thing to understand a thing conceptually, but truly knowing it in the depths of one’s spirit is something drastically different.

Most of us believe that God is love, that our souls have come here to give and receive love, that we are loved unconditionally; but very few of us have been able to truly experience the power and depths of divine love – let alone consistently dwell in that state of experience. At best we have epiphinal moments through which we are able to experience glimpses of glory. We know that familiar feeling you get with family or old friends when you feel completely safe, whole, known, accepted and loved. Those moments when all is right with the world and we silently wish that we could suspend time in such a way that would allow us to spend the rest of our lives suspended in that moment.

I am coming to know and rest assured that there is only love. That each of us is loved and cherished with a depth that we will never truly understand on this side of the veil. That our higher selves and guides pray with us, for us, and undergird each of us with an unfathomable love! Find the courage to trust it. Let go of fear and cling to love. What has been holding you back from love – both spiritually and romantically? Be quiet, become still, open your heart to Spirit and in the darkness of that silence, you will come to know that love is all in all.

There is Only Love72.5

SYMBOLISM

I made use of the repeating heart motif because it is easily recognizable within modern cultural iconography. This motif is repeated throughout the composition not only as a symbol of love but as a means of guiding the eye downward through the image. The heart motif with its downward edge helps push the eye downward from the heart of the angelic guide, down through the bottom of the heart shape surrounding the angel, then down through the hands framed in the heart shape, then we dive once more into the heart of the human figure which will also help guide our gaze into the power of love symbol located beneath the figure. A love that is always flowing downward to each of us through various levels of being.

The angelic being who floats in the large heart above the figure is also engaged with the human figure below it in meditation and prayer. This figure also holds and receives divine love with its heart. A love that is echoed in the heart of its human companion. This connection is symbolized in the identical hearts the two figures share. The two figures are communicating heart to heart through the medium of love. Earthly intuition is perceived in the gut, but spiritual intuition is perceived in the heart and transmitted through love. This being holds its hands in the form of a teaching mudra – as it imparts divine wisdom and blessings upon the human figure below.

The halo above this figure is a symbol of divine grace, majesty, and power; while the symbol directly below the figure is an Adinkra glyph indicating divine love.

Since this image is a companion to the When We Pray series it was imperative that the hand motif occupy a prominent role within the composition. As in the other pieces in the series, the hands symbolize the hands of the divine as an ever-present source of comfort, protection, support…etc. In this case, the hands have formed the shape of a heart to symbolize the presence of divine love which surrounds the praying figure within. The hands operate almost like a frame that we gaze into to find the small but significant human being within them. Not only are we surrounded by love, but it serves as the very framework through which all humanity must be viewed.

The figure within the divine hands is deep in prayer and meditation. His closed eyes and traditional meditative posture indicate his turn within- while the halo and biomorphic energy field surrounding him are indicative of the higher spiritual energies he is receiving as a result of his practice. His hands form the mudra associated with blessings and wisdom. His practice brings him both divine blessing and love, but also provides wisdom into the deeper spiritual insights that are only available to those who consistently go within. The symbol below the figure is a West African glyph indicating the power of love. A love which is filling his heart as symbolized by the heart shape within the chest of the figure.

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God of the Oppressed

God of the Oppressed bw300

INSPIRATION

Although this image has flowered recently, the nights of reflection and debate that planted the seeds for its creation go back almost 20 years. Seeds that were planted during my second semester at seminary where I received my initial exposure to the writings of Dr. James Cone, the parent of Black Theology. That seed was then watered by the writings of Gustavo Gutierrez, the parent of Latin American Liberation Theology, and fertilized in the fruitful soil of ongoing theological debate and reflection.

I find both ironic and appropriate that I have given birth to an image of Jesus so close to the season in which his birth is celebrated throughout the world. For some this birth means nothing – and for others everything. The most practical and pertinent questions have nothing to do with whether or not Jesus ever existed as an actual person, is he the son of god…and everything to do with his contemporary relevance in a world where his presence (real or otherwise) has made a lasting impression. There are so many differing voices and factions claiming  possession of Jesus that it’s extremely difficult to discuss his relevance to the current state of affairs, until we ascertain “whose” Jesus we should be talking about? God of the Oppressed is a visual response to this question.

SYMBOLISM

Imagery

The nature of representational imagery necessitates the use of smaller, individual images (image begets image). The smaller individual images within the overall composition were carefully selected to support the overarching theme, “God of the Oppressed”.  In the process of supporting this theme, I have placed the images together in ways that detail or elaborate upon certain aspects of the theme while simultaneously reinforcing or supporting the other images around it. In this way, their interdependence mirrors our own interdependence.

The Asian male with his hand raised in defiance counter-balances the outstretched arm of Hitler behind him. The handcuffed figure in the prison garb is directly connected to the silhouetted figure behind bars – yet both are directly linked to the police officer firing his gun as he holds the dangling head of yet another victim…we go on and on this way as we circle our way around the entire composition.  My point with this effect was to remind us that despite all our futile attempts to deny our interdependence, each of us is connected to one another in myriad ways. The injustices we exercise upon another have an effect upon us, them, and the whole of humanity.

The Scriptural Texts

The figures carrying signs in the image’s lower left corner are central to its interpretation. Each of the figures holds a sign containing excerpts from key biblical texts. The young man in front stands before a sign which contains an excerpt from Luke 4.16-21 that reads: When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  

The gentleman walking behind the young man carries a sign with excerpts from Exodus 3.7-10 which states: Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”

The final text is carried by a woman wearing a hat who marches just behind the two gentlemen. Her message is excerpted from the famous “Magnificant” contained in Luke 1.46-55: And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

The central theme within each of these texts is the emphasis upon liberation from oppression, suffering and injustice. Not only liberation from, but more importantly solidarity with those whose lives are being affected by injustice. Solidarity from a divine intelligence that feels what they feel, hears their cries and provides comfort in the midst of unjust and often hostile circumstances. A divinity that not only identifies with us in our brokenness but also promises to take concrete action toward justice on our behalf. These actions are not solely focused upon comfort for the soul but are grounded in concrete historical reality. There is no “pie in the sky” or promise of future glory in the hereafter. These are the actions of a being who walks with us and works on our behalf within the context of our present reality. Freedom and justice are to be struggled for “now” because they are pertinent to our physical experience.

These texts present us with a divinity that is filled with compassion and actively concerned with justice. A god who not only takes sides but exercises a preferential option for those who are oppressed. This is a divinity who cannot be contained or co-opted by the establishment. A creator who loves us all, but is willing to not only take sides and become proactively involved with our efforts to balance the scales of justice. That is why these texts lie at the core of my personal theology and are intimately connected to every other aspect of this image.

Jesus

The image of Jesus serves as the central figure within this illustration. He is surrounded by a mandorla like shape which is also representative of the fish symbol that the early church appropriated to depict their faith and mission. I intentionally made sure that the figure not only breaks through the mandorla to touch the other figures but the tail portions of the mandorla also connect with the outer figures as well. This helps unify the composition and create a direct physical connection between the Jesus and the figures that surround him. I also opted to make use of the traditional halo surrounding Jesus’ head. Both symbols indicate spiritual light and power that is being symbolically transmitted to the other figures as it connects them to Jesus. The silhouette upon the cross at Jesus’ feet is not only his cross but the cross of all those who are suffering from oppression – yet continue to engage in the struggle for justice and equality.

From my perspective, the real question is not about Jesus, but “whose Jesus?”  The Jesus of the oppressor never was and never can be the Jesus of the oppressed. The establishment has its own Jesus. He is not a person of color. He is not a Jew. He is not concerned with justice or equality and would never condone any kind of rebellion or insurrection. He is a wimp. His only interests are sentimental love and helping to maintain the status quo. Whose Jesus are you walking with?

My emphasis here is upon the person of Jesus as opposed to the risen Christ of faith. A Jesus who was born as a person of color into a minority community that was experiencing multiple forms of oppression. A Jesus who was: poor, stood up to a corrupt religious establishment, established his ministry by serving those who were considered the least within his community, was trapped by his enemies, abandoned by his inner circle, brutalized by the authorities, and ultimately tried and murdered by an oppressive government. This is the Jesus who has stood by my side, labored with me in my struggles and knows me in every aspect of my humanness.  This is the Jesus with whom I identify. This is the God of the Oppressed!

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Live In the Light: I & II

Light

Since the dawn of time all of creation has been living in the light. The first intimations of life on this planet were birthed as a direct result of their interaction with beams of light that penetrated the atmosphere and  pierced the ocean’s surface to cause reactions within tiny micro-organisms. As the process of evolution continued its never-ending project of differentiation and expansion, the foreparents of humanity came into being. And just like the other animals who roamed the earth our foreparents lived, hunted, and died according to the rhythms of the sun and moon. It is no wonder that some of the earliest known spiritual and religious rituals were often centered around the sun and the characteristics of light.

As we developed signs, symbols, and language the notion of light was an integral part of our semiotic vocabulary and eventually became a potent universal metaphor. As an artist, I spend a great deal of time observing, studying and rendering light and its effects upon the world. The way it affects colors or shapes, what it reveals or obscures, how it creates a mood, and the thousands of other ways it influences my imagery. As a theologian, I am well acquainted with the use of light as a metaphor throughout all spiritual and religious traditions. Light is the physical manifestation of both cosmic and supranatural power. The creation of light and the heavens plays a central role in every culture’s cosmologies. From an aesthetic perspective this is an essential point because aesthetics is not just about beauty – but relationships and harmony. How each culture understands and relates to the cosmos and its creation will be reflected in all  its other relationships to some degree. For instance, if your cosmology interprets creation as existing for the benefit of humankind then this perspective will be reflected in your relationship to the planet and all the other beings within it.

INSPIRATION

The initial inspiration for all of my “Live in the Light” themed works comes from the song, “Live in the Light” by Fertile Ground. It just so happened that I was going through an extremely dark and rough period in my life. There was a great deal of fear and confusion about the future during this time. Most days I was struggling just to make it through the day without completely losing it. I was being consistent in my prayer and meditation practice but it seemed as if I was unable to be still enough to find the peace, answers, or relief I so desperately needed. Everything seemed dry. One weekend I couldn’t find the energy or focus to create so I decided to do some thorough house cleaning in hopes that it would declutter my mind a bit as well. I decided to put on some music while I worked and within 10 minutes Live in the Light began to play and I was literally struck by the lyrics as they resounded within my head. I just sat down and listened (over and over again) until I was overwhelmed by a palpable sense of well-being and peace. It was then that I gained my breakthrough. I knew that somehow everything would be alright if I just did my best to live in the light, love in the light. The healing, compassion and all else I needed would come forth if I did my best to stay in the light. I have taken the liberty of reposting the lyrics below:

Live in the Light

If this life is heaven, can we live like the stars? Then all of life is a just a lesson to live in the light, live in the light.

We keep on living life like better days are far away. Each day we pray to god to find our way back to the stars- when we need to heal our hearts.

If this life is heaven, then all that we do is all we have. See, we’ve got to find a way to shine love’s light today – somehow. See, we’ve got to find a way to shine love’s light today – somehow.

So let’s live in the light. live in the light, live in the light Let’s live in the light. live in the light, live in the light. See, this life can be heaven when we find peace of mind. The only way to receive our blessing is to live in the light. Love in the light.

So, let’s stop the wars, stop for peace, stop for love, stop the violence, stop the push, stop for peace, stop the lies, stop the fight, stop the death, stop the hate – live the light. So, let’s stop wars, stop for peace, stop for love, stop the violence, stop the push, stop for peace, stop the lies, stop the fight, stop the death, stop the hate – live the light. Oh live in the light.

Let’s live in the light Let’s live in the light. live in the light, live in the light Let’s live in the light. live in the light, live in the light.

I can see us dancing in the sun looking at the sky. I can see the god in everyone walking side-by-side. I can see us through your walls. I can see us in the stars. I can see the light in every night and peace in every heart. Let’s live in the light, Live in the light, live in the light…

Live in the Light  Live in the Light

SYMBOLISM

The image above was the first created on the Live in the Light theme. It was created using oils paints on a piece of canvas board which someone had given me a few years prior. I still had the canvas because I very rarely paint using oils. This image is the 2nd or 3rd creation I have ever made using oil-based paints.

The standing figure has her arms outstretched with her hands angled slightly upwards toward the heavens.  The figure is in a position of reverence, joy, and receptivity. She stands before the light with open arms and an open heart, ready and eager to receive all that is offered. The red line which outlines the figure is symbolic of love and the Holy Spirit in the Christian tradition. In Hinduism red is associated with the root chakra which is fundamentally raw creative power – the very energy of life itself. The symbol within the figure is the Reiki symbol of enlightenment. Reiki can best be described as a healing modality that utilizes touch and the transmission of divine energies for healing, balancing of the body’s systems, and rejuvenation. She stands upon the earth larger than life itself as she reaches out to touch and be touched by the cosmos. All the while still solidly grounded within material reality represented in the figure’s appearance of growing forth from the earth itself.

I purposely made the sun like shape ambiguous in its origins. This ambiguity symbolizes the very nature of the spiritual life, and the metaphor of light within it. It is unclear whether the light is emanating from the heart of the standing figure or shining down upon it. We are never quite sure if the light we feel, or the divine presence we sense is emanating from within us or touching us from without? In my experience, it is paradoxically both at the same time. Just as it is often said that when we hug someone the love we feel is not only their love for us, but our own love being reflected back within us. So it is with divine light. We must radiate the light even as we receive it – thus that which we extend out is also reflected back to us (you give what you get/like attracts like). The color red is present within the orb, but orange is also there to represent divine benevolence toward the creation. The yellow rays bursting forth from the orb/sun are both physical light and spiritual light which imparts divine wisdom to all (yellow). It was divine wisdom that created the cosmos and sustains it. The thin powder blue line circling the earth is indicative of divine love and inspiration.

Live in the Light II

Live in the Light II – The Grand Design

Live in the Light II  – The Grand Design was created using acrylic paint on a board. Once again we find the larger-than-life figure standing upon the earth. The darker blue is indicative of heavenly love which permeates both the earth and the heavens. The thin powder blue line circling the earth is indicative of divine love and inspiration. Golden rays of divine light pierce the heavens providing power, wisdom, and protection (gold).

This time red is used in both the figure and the symbol within the sun/light. The symbol is called the Grand Design and imparts 2 important meanings: 1) From a spiritual perspective it symbolizes three great world religions Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It emphasizes their unity and connection to the same divine source. All three of which have been revealed to humanity here on the physical plane – hence the color red which indicates divine love for humanity. 2) As an artist the Grand Design points out all of the basic shapes that can be found in nature. All shapes can be comprised using either a square, triangle, circle or some combination. Thus we have the blueprint for every possible design contained within our own powers of creativity as they have been granted to us from above. It is through our various acts of creation that we most purely embody the image and wisdom of our creator. In this image the figure is more clearly defined as she is bathed in the encompassing light of divine wisdom as it flows past her to encircle all humankind (earth). Here the figure is representative of all humanity as it receives divine love and wisdom.

In Conclusion

This series reminds me that we must live in the light. That we are part of the light and its rays can only be reflected in us if we strive to live in it each and every moment. We do this by being present to life, present to our feelings, and present to the divine light within us. This life can be heaven if we allow ourselves to pour forth the aspects of heaven which are innately present within us. Live in the Light!

P.S. I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Mr. Heath Armstrong, Producer and host of the Artrepreneur Now podcast. If you get some time check it out or download it from iTunes (free) so you can listen at your leisure.

To Purchase a Print click on any of the images above, or use the link below:

Damon Powell – Artist & Theologian

To purchase an original work please contact me directly at:

info@damonpowell.com

The Resurrection of Love: Birth, Death & Resurrection

INSPIRATION

As I sit here contemplating what I would like to share about this triptych, I am filled with a sense of wonder and irony. It was around this time last Spring that I was inspired to create these panels. I was compelled by my own personal desire to receive and express love more deeply in every aspect of my life. What better time to do so than the outset of Spring – when the earth itself is being reborn from winter’s death-like grip. A time of rejuvenation, rebirth, and resurrection. There is something about Spring which never fails to revitalize the spirit and fill the air with excitement and anticipation.

As I began to think and read about love, I was drawn to the words of Rumi, “I have no companion but love, no beginning, no end, no dawn. The soul calls from within me: ‘You, ignorant of the way of love, set me free’.” Love has no beginning or end because love is all there is. Love is free for the taking if we would just open ourselves to receive it. But we often travel through life as if we are completely void of the very thing we crave so desperately. If we would simply take the time to look within, listen to our souls, and set free the love already within us, we would surprisingly find more of it everywhere we look.

From a metaphysical perspective love never ends. But it is often born, dies, and is resurrected within the context of our material human experience. This realization was the impetus for my decision to depict the cycle of love in 3 stages: Birth, Death, and Resurrection. The symbolism here lies within the number 3 and the connection between the Christian Trinity, and Jesus’ own birth, death, and resurrection here upon the material plane. It also mimics the cycle of nature (Summer, Winter, Spring) and many of our relationships with others.

SYMBOLISM

Colors

The color palette was chosen based upon the following color symbolism: white = pure spiritual light which like the sun contains the entire spectrum of colors, purple = a karmic and auric color which is indicative of spiritual depth and power, pink = associated with spiritual enlightenment and the crown chakra, lavender/deep rose pink = is often associated with divine love, red = the root chakra which is associated erotic love and life-force, and deep purple = which is often associated with death or the absence of light within the cosmos.

Imagery

Given the metaphysical nature of the subject my initial inclination was to use abstract imagery, or to work with a more Jesus-like figure to represent love. However, as I continued to read and meditate upon the topic, I came to the realization that the characteristics most associated with love are more easily recognized within the feminine. Openness, expansion, mutuality, inclusion,  sacrifice, nurturing, care, acceptance…are all characteristics which led me to personify love within a female figure.  I often speak with God using female metaphors, so it was/is easy for me to translate this use into feminine imagery.

The aureole which surrounds each figure is symbolic of spiritual power surrounding and sustaining the physical form. Despite the figure being human it is filled with  supra-natural power that manifests itself in the aureole-like form.

Birth

Birth

“Love is the path and direction of our Prophet. We are born from Love; Love is our mother. O Mother, hidden behind the body’s veil, concealed by our own cynical nature.” Rumi

Although “Birth” is the 1st piece in the tryptic it was actually the second image I created. My process is often very intuitive and I work upon whatever image or concept I feel most drawn to in the moment. This image is primarily about incarnation as Love is birthed into physical form. The nebulous darkness represents the spiritual realms, the unseen from which Love fashions itself ex nihilo (out of nothing). The viewer is here to witness love’s creation and evolution into physical form. That which is eternal in power and principle, without flesh becomes incarnate to dwell with and among its creation as Love, in love. The remaining pictorial landscape is purposely nondescript and abstract in order to maintain the figure as the primary focal point within the visual narrative. The aureole manifests itself from the portion of the figure which has become flesh (right side) since it is not needed within the spiritual realm.

Death

Death

“Come and be Love’s willing slave, for Love’s slavery will save you. Forsake the slavery of this world and take up Love’s sweet service. The freedom of the world enslaves, but to slaves Love grants freedom. I crave release from this world like a bird from its egg; free me from this shell that clings. As from the grave, grant me the new life. O Love, O quail in the free fields of spring, wildly sing songs of joy.” Rumi

In this image Love is surrendering its’ self to the forces of nonbeing. She is not being killed or forced to surrender herself, but does so of her own volition. Thus Love’s death represents a sacrificial act of self-emptying and surrender of her own physical presence. She does not do so alone as she is surrounded by, and presided over by the four spiritual beings whom are depicted in silhouette in the darkness above the figure.  These faces watch and preside over this act of holy sacrifice as guides and witnesses. The aureole is now red in association with the exiting life force/spirit and the passion of sacrificial death. Notice Love’s Spirit (in red) rises up to join the other spirits as both physical being and eternal observer.

Resurrection

Resurrection

“The moment I first heard of love I gave up my soul, my heart, and my eyes. I wondered, could it be that the lover and the beloved are two? No, they have always been one. It is I who have been seeing double.” Rumi

Although last in the tryptic, “Resurrection” was the first panel I painted.  In this panel Love has been reborn within the physical realm. The solitary figure stands alone striding between the sensual and supra-sensual realms. Once again the aureole is now present in pink and white. Loves physical presence casts a shadow upon the shores as her feet leave traces in the sands. In this panel omniscient divine eyes both see and know self as eternal lover and mortal beloved.

To Purchase a PRINT click on any of the images above, or use the link below:

Damon Powell – Artist & Theologian

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The Creation Tryptic: Goddess, Terra & Humanity

Greetings,

As promised I am posting my first blog in order to provide specific details regarding the inspiration and symbolism found within my creations. While I was pondering what imagery to explore during this initial posting, this tryptic came to mind because it too is symbolic of beginnings. It represents my first attempt at combining the insights I was gleaning through my theological studies and spiritual practice, with my training as an artist. 

These pieces were initially presented in 2004 as part of a 30-page comprehensive examination which detailed the sources and theological underpinnings of the works. To my surprise, one of the professors on my Examination Committee, the Reverend Dr. George Cummings, Pastor of Imani Community Church expressed his desire to purchase the pieces from me shortly after the exam was completed. Luckily, I was able to get the images digitized before the sale. I am still humbled by the interest he expressed in my efforts and am eternally grateful for his support.

INSPIRATION

The images which comprise this tryptic were inspired by reflections upon the creation narrative found in the biblical book of Genesis, chapter 1.  One of my earliest memories of captivation by a work of art is connected to viewing a large picture book that contained images of Michelangelo’s “Creation of Man” painting in the Sistine Chapel. I was touched by the image’s detailed beauty and its spiritual power. When reading the Genesis narrative I would often have flashes of the Sistine Chapel imagery flash into my head.

But as I entered seminary and went on to doctoral studies my memories of Michelangelo’s images became more disconcerting.  This memory was embedded within my mind, but it no longer spoke to me in a manner which was comforting or relevant given my place in a postmodern world. All of life is about relations, and our relationship with the world is one of the primary building blocks for all other forms of relation. How we relate to the world determines how we relate to God, self, others, and the rest of creation. Given my place in the world as a black man, the image of a bearded white male passing the energy of life to another white male was creating obstacles which hindered my relationship to the divine and human history. I decided, no I needed to re-contextualize, reinterpret and re-create the creation story into a form that was more life-sustaining for myself and others like me. This meant going beyond merely putting the same events into a contemporary setting, or blackenizing traditional compositions. It meant attempting to create new images and symbols which could speak on their own by fostering a new set of relations between, God, self, others, and nature.

If Michelangelo’s God was no longer able to speak to or for me, then I was left asking myself the question, “Who is God for me?” Being the person whom I have been created to be, the answer could not manifest itself within purely spiritual or philosophical terms; it must also be concrete and visual. While reflecting upon this question, I was drawn to the words of the Black Liberation Theologian James Cone who stated, “The word ‘God’ is a symbol that opens depths of reality in the world. If the symbol loses its power to point to the meaning of black liberation, then we must destroy it. Must we say that as a meaningful symbol the word ‘God’ is hopelessly dead and cannot be resurrected…oppressed and oppressors cannot possibly mean the same thing when they speak of God…the question then, as black theology sees it, is not whether blacks believe in God, but whose God?”

Cone speaks very poignantly about what I believe my task as an artist to be. To speak whenever, and wherever I can to those who are suffering, struggling, and fighting to break the shackles of oppression-while attempting make sense of their faith and their world. To in some way attempt an interpretation of what God has done not only in the past, but most urgently, today-at this very moment. The nature of this encounter must be grounded in concrete experiences that can enable others to recognize the activity and presence of the divine both in a manner that will help them to identify with the biblical witness from their present life situation. This, more than anything else is what I believe to be my vocation, and what I strive to achieve through my art.

THE TRYPTIC

I researched various representations of biblically themed creation images but none of them spoke the message I felt was needed. As I began focusing upon the Genesis creation narrative, it became quite apparent that one single image could not adequately portray the majesty of these momentous events. It is difficult to focus upon any single event when dealing with a narrative that provides such a wealth of imagery. After reviewing the text several times in several different versions, I concluded that the action basically occurred in three stages: the introduction and initial creation event (verses 1-5), the development of the cosmos with the subsequent development of the earth’s masses and organic life (verses 6-25), and the decision to create humankind in the image and likeness of God (verses 26-31). The emphasis upon three divisions within the narrative also supported my decision to use a variation of the tryptic format that utilized an editorial approach (traditional tryptics often depict a single image across 3 panels).

Use of the tryptic format necessitates that one stay within the same relative dimensions and style throughout all three panels. Since I was conceptualizing the images from a narrative, I felt a need to link the details and maintain continuity by keeping the color palette consistent throughout all three panels. The colors are representative of Western symbolism and Eastern Orthodox iconography: Orange=benevolence, Yellow=wisdom/divinity, Blue=heavenly love, Violet=love and truth. The dark portions of the works represent the primordial chaos and formlessness which served as material for the work of creation.

The dominant shape throughout all three panels is that of the circle or oval which represents eternity, wholeness, and completion. It begins with oval-like aureole, halo, and stomach in Goddess, then takes on a more subtle appearance in Terra as I emphasize the roundness of the form (belly, breasts, buttocks, thighs) and the circular earth shape within the Goddess’ womb. In Humanity the round aureole, breasts and stomach combine with the repeated halo to symbolize the eternal, infinite qualities of the deity. The nudity of the figure is referred to as “nuditas virtualis” and is a sign of innocence and purity.

Creation

A Feminine Deity

“In that cosmic moment pulsating in possibility, God breathed into space and, groaning in passion and pain and hope, gave birth to creation.” This implies that a fundamental aspect of our connection to the divine lies in our ability to reproduce, to create life (being) as God first created it. The witness of human history can be interpreted as the divine’s continuous revelation of love and caring to humanity. Later in the Genesis narrative God blesses humanity and issues the charge of responsibility for the rest of the earth. This charge initiates a continuous process of revelation and disclosure of the divine purpose to humanity. Therefore, all divine revelation must be viewed in a relational context. God wants to be in communion and relation with the creation in a more interdependent and horizontal relationship than we are accustomed to given the unilateral context of most societal power relations. Unilateral power seeks to impose it’s will upon others-to affect while remaining unaffected thus increasing one person while decreasing another. Relational/horizontal power seeks to both affect and be affected. These qualities are most often associated with the feminine.

Relational power is creative and therefore, aesthetic. In the creation narrative this relational aesthetic is depicted using images of God providing gestation and giving birth to the creation. God in effect births the creation out of the divine primordial chaos of nonbeing. It is then cared for and nurtured throughout each successive stage of its differentiation and development. From the creation of light to the forming of humanity, we see images of a being who seeks to be in continual relation with its creation. This conclusion informed my decision to make use of a female deity in the tryptic.

The choice to depict the deity as an African-American female was driven by my initial question, “Who is God for me?” I was already sure that the ideal of God symbolized as a bearded white male was not an adequate depiction. Too many people of color have suffered psychological and spiritual trauma from that kind of imagery. If God is truly for the oppressed, then I must agree with Cone’s statement, “The Blackness of God is the key to our knowledge of God…there is no place in black theology for a colorless God in a society where human beings suffer precisely because of their color.” God is Black! I can think of no other persons more representative of the oppressed than Black women. Black women undergo a tri-dimensional experience of racism, classism, and sexism which places then in a disproportionately higher percentage among the poor and working classes. In addition, no other group has suffered, or continues to suffer such radical debasement from physical and cultural stereotypes propagated by the media, the world of art, and oftentimes the black male as well. If God identifies with the experience of anyone who is oppressed, it must assuredly be that of Black women.

Creation - Goddess

Goddess (Genesis 1:1-5)

This detail depicts the opening of the creation narrative. God the maternal creator is already pregnant with the possibilities of being and physical life symbolized by the ankh (a symbol of fertility and life in Egyptian mythology) and the pregnant Goddess. The outstretched arm and graceful, gesturing, hand is indicative of divine power, grace, and beauty. Notice the head and eyes tilt upwards toward the light (form) that will be manifested as the Goddess eagerly anticipates the coming creative work. The long flowing robe with its purple accents within the folds is symbolic of the passion and sacrifice that accompany this creative birthing. The creation does not come easily, but is a labor of love and commitment which requires effort and creative zeal. The circular halo around the head represents dignity and holiness, while the aureole represents divine power and glory emanating from the divine presence. The orange color indicates the Goddess’ benevolent intentions towards her creation.

Creation - Terra

Terra (Genesis 1:20-25)

In this panel we find the Goddess pregnant with the world itself. A world which was conceived in the divine mind with wisdom (yellow coloring), and created in the divine womb. As the Goddess develops and nurtures the created world through the stages of creation: (differentiation, ordination, and sustentation) the divine hand cradles, protects and comforts the developing world (hands=presence and might of the divine). while the exposed breast represents motherhood and nourishment.

Creation - Humanity

Humanity (Genesis1:26-31)

For this panel, we again see the orange aureole which is now in the form of a mandorla symbolizing divine benevolence and power, while the yellow nimbus around the head is indicative of divine wisdom, holiness and dignity, I once again went back to the robe with its purple accents/folds (passion and suffering) in order to re-enforce the sense of passion and create continuity between the the first and last image. The mandorla shape was used because it mirrors the shape of a womb. We also see the circular form being repeated within the breasts (nourishment and motherhood), belly, halo/nimbus, and mandorla. The countenance of the Goddess is directed down at the human child within-indicating her unconditional love, nurturing, and concern for humankind and all of creation.

I sought to make the hands more expressive than in the previous two, in order to emphasize the tender love and concern which the Goddess exercises for humankind which is being formed in her own image. The hands (divine power and might) of the figure rest upon the protruding belly to provide protection (upper hand) and nurturing support (lower hand); while the infant (humanity) lovingly reaches up almost as if to touch the very hand of God. This bond between child and parent (creator and created) is indicative of the mutual love and tenderness created within a relational context.

THE IMAGES

The images in the Creation Tryptic are available in print format only. They can be purchased individually or as the entire tryptic (contact me personally to inquire about a discount on the entire set).

To purchase prints click one of the links below:

Creation – Goddess             Creation – Terra             Creation – Humanity

Materials:

The tryptic was created using Windsor Newton Watercolor Paints on Arches 300lb Watercolor Paper. Once completed it was coated with Krylon Crystal Clear Acrylic Spray as a sealant.

SOURCES

Cone, James H. A Black Theology of Liberation. Bishop Henry McNeal Turner Studies in North American Religion, vol. 1, 1970. Twentieth Anniversary ed. New York: Orbis Books, 1991

___________. God of the Oppressed. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1975

Ferguson, George ed., Signs and Symbols in Christian Art. New York: Oxford University Press, 1954

Grant, Jacquelyn. White Women’s Christ and Black Women’s Jesus: Feminist Christology and a Womanist Response. American Academy of Religion, Academy Series 64, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1989

Huffaker, Linda A Stark. Creative Dwelling: Empathy and Clarity in Self and God. American Academy of Religion series, no. 98, Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1998.

Irwin, Alexander, Eros Toward the World: Paul Tillich and the Theology of the Erotic. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991.

Mesle, Robert C. “Aesthetic Value and Relational Power; An Essay on Personhood.” Process Studies, 13 (Spring 1983): 59-70

Moody, Linda A. Women Encounter God: Theology Across the Boundaries of Difference. New York: Orbis Books, 1996