african american art

Ascension III: Breaking through the Veil

INSPIRATION

Although the appearance of this image is very different from the two which have preceded it, the impetus for its creation is deeply embedded within the same concept. “Breaking through the Veil” is still very much about ascension. At the most fundamental level, each of us is spirit and exists as such in this dimension and those beyond it. From a quantum perspective, we know that more dense slower moving particles (lower vibration) can not maintain their integrity in the presence of less dense particles (higher vibration). The more dense particles must either be accelerated to the higher frequency or be destroyed by it. From a spiritual viewpoint, Spirit must literally descend to a lower frequency in order to become encased within physical matter. The portion of human consciousness which exists within our bodies had to literally descend and break through into this 4th-dimensional reality. 
Part of our spiritual work is the practice of more fully embodying this higher energy and consciousness within our physical body. At our best, we do this through a process of spiritual formation and an intentional cultivation of the inner life that will help spirit become increasingly more present within every aspect of our being. At our worst, we live unconsciously and are driven by ego, habit, and basic physical impulses. Siddhartha the first Buddha is a shining example of the potential we possess when the spiritual life is cultivated with discipline and intention. As we read his story we are privy to an ongoing process of transformation which culminates in him embodying so much spiritual light that he could phase up and out (ascend) into the higher dimensions of consciousness. He took the small spark which had initially broken through the veil and fanned it into a bright and shining light that brought about his ascension. 
When we review the life of Jesus and the events which led to his resurrection and subsequent ascension we find another point of entry. As a boy, we are told that Jesus was constantly spending time with the spiritual masters of his particular tradition. We also find that a significant portion of this embodiment work was completed during his baptism in the river Jordan under the hand of his cousin John the Baptizer. We are told that when he presents himself to John for baptism, Jesus rose up from the water and the spirit descended upon him like a dove. Whether we view this literally or symbolically, the essential point is that he was transformed in a manner which was easily identifiable by those around him. In this case, he was provided with an inpouring of spiritual power for the performance of his particular mission within the earthly realm. This descension could be interpreted as a greater connection to his higher self, or a greater capacity to access the frequencies within the higher realms. This capacity allowed him to perform various works which seemed to be miraculous by our limited perspective. 
The examples above inspired me to create “Breaking through the Veil”. The images I create are not only birthed from my vocational practice but are the result of spiritual insights that have accompanied my own process of spiritual formation.
 

Breaking the Veil 72.5

SYMBOLISM

“Breaking through the Veil” symbolizes ascension and descension. The piece was created using scratchboard because the stark contrasts between dark and light were an essential part of my vision for the image. We encounter utter darkness on the left and right sides of the image. For me, this blackness is pregnant with symbolism. In Western Euroethnic culture, blackness is associated with that which is base and evil. But in other cultures this isn’t the case. The blackness encountered here is associated with formlessness, the void, a place absent of any “thing” yet pregnant with infinite possibility. Science refers to it as anti-matter that fills the spaces between space and as such it is the blank canvas of the cosmos.   

On the left side of this expanse, we find a single point of light shining forth within the darkness. This light, this single spark from source is filled with infinite knowledge which is symbolized by the all-seeing eye contained within it. This single divine spark is filled with all knowledge and therefore, an infinite capacity to act upon and within the darkness which surrounds it. It uses its very being to pierce through, manipulate, and mold the slower moving anti-matter into a form that a portion of its consciousness can embody. In the process of descension and embodiment so much is of its former brilliance is lost that it, we, so often forget that how truly powerful, brilliant and expansive we are. We forget that there is so much more to us than theses bodies and thoughts could ever contain. We forget that this is not all there is and that the reality we know is simply the tip of a massive iceberg buried deep within.  

The child-like figure finds shape and form as it emerges from the darkness yet it is not fully formed as none of us truly are. Some of us will live a thousand lifetimes and still remain partially unformed. unfulfilled, and never fully mature into the possibilities for which we were intended.  This is why we must work at embodying the spark, bringing forth the light which yearns to become fully actualized within us. Live in the Light!

The rings emanating from the figure are indicative of both spiritual light and the dissolution that accompanies time. The first one is bright white and clear as we grow into our full maturity. The second aura is much denser because it represents the genesis of our physical forms process of decline. Notice that each successive emanation has less form and greater degrees of dissipation.  What is spirit must return to spirit. Eventually, the physical form will return back into the void from which it was birthed, and the spark will once again merge with its own omniscient brillance. As Job reminds us, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The spirit gives and the spirit will take away.” Amen.

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Damon Powell – Artist & Theologian

Ascension I: The Son of Man Ascends

INSPIRATION

Inspiration is a funny thing. It is often born from the most unlikely sources and flashes into consciousness at the worst possible moments. Yet these capricious insights are an integral  part of the creative process. To be inspired is to be “in Spirit” and that was exactly how the seeds of this image began to sprout.

Over the course of 3 weeks, I had been listening to several talks by various thinkers and intuitives on the topic enlightenment and the expansion of consciousness. The more I absorbed their perspectives and meditated upon the topic the more insights poured into my mind and spirit. Over those weeks, I felt a growing need to not only synthesize these insights but to share them with others.

As human beings, we often think of ascension as an upward, and often hierarchical  movement, but in reality, ascension is circular and holistic. Ascension is about expansion! The expansion and integration of one’s consciousness throughout all levels of self. Thus, one becomes fully self-actualized and self-aware physically, mentally, spiritually, and  energetically. From this perspective, one can only ascend outward and upward to the level or depth one has also gone downward and inward.

This can be evidenced not only in Jesus’ life and ministry but in the writings and biographies of all the spiritual masters. We see what can best be described as a kind of implosion. Each master first begins by going within in an effort to know the self’s inner world and locate that quiet, silent place of inner spaciousness. But in each instance, the master begins to discover that the journey within is simultaneously connecting her/him more deeply to all that is without and beyond. Paradoxically, each one discovered that the universal resides within the particular. Yet each reached a point upon the inward journey where there was no further they could go. The journey inward was then replaced by an opening, a flowering, or a rapid outward expansion which completely altered their way of being. This transformation occurs as a result of the inward exploration and is directly linked to the act that we refer to as ascension.

SYMBOLISM

I chose Jesus because he is the most easily recognizable figure within my particular context. Since Jesus’ ascension is directly linked to his death and resurrection, I felt it was extremely important to make reference to these events within the work so that one can see the continuity between them. I began researching Jesus and the ascension using various theological texts and the biblical narratives. The main features of the biblical narratives are Jesus ascending up into the heavens, the presence of heavenly beings, the elements, and the disciples who stand in witness.

Materials

The image is painted using acrylic paints on a large solid wood board. I actually found the piece of board lying outside near a trash pick-up site. I was walking down the street and noticed this large piece of wood supported by a couple of trash bins. The wood’s surface was distressed by scrapes, peeling layers, and various rippling textures. Normally I wouldn’t even have paid attention to something like this but the surface was so intriguing that I decided to take it to my studio.  It literally sat in my studio for a month and some days I would just sit in the studio and stare at it. I felt a connection to it in some way but I had no idea what to do with it? It wasn’t until I was halfway through my sketches for Ascension that I understood why I had been drawn to this block of wood.

The panel is 1.5 inches thick and weighs about 80lbs. Its surface is rough, pitted, and unfinished. This large piece of wood is reminiscent of the Jesus’ death on the cross. Its surface and texture are not only symbolic of a cross but it is earthy and grounding just as Jesus’ death truly was. It reminds me that life, death, and ascension are not heavenly conceptualizations to be spiritualized, but real-world, natural, embodied experiences that are played out within the earthly realm.

Ascension I: The Son of Man Ascends

Imagery

The two angels found on the upper right and left portions of the composition are representative of heavenly witnesses and guides. The angel on the left holds an ankh which symbolizes rebirth and new life. The angel on the right wields a spear which makes reference to Jesus’ death by human hands and the piercing of his side by the Roman centurion’s spear during his crucifixion.

The elements of cloud and sky have always held a prominent place in spiritual symbolism. The clouds symbolize both the divine presence and the biblical narratives’ description of Jesus ascending up into the clouds as he entered the heavenly realms. In the biblical tradition, the divine presence is often symbolized by clouds so I felt they were appropriate for this image. The golden-yellow sky is symbolic of light and spiritual illumination. The divine light pours forth bringing both physical and spiritual illumination to Jesus and the disciples who see and comprehend the events with supra-natural clarity. The symbol floating in the sky above Jesus’ head is the West African Adinkra symbol for transformation.

The silhouetted figures found in the bottom portion of the composition represent the disciples who not only witness the ascension but later receive a portion of Jesus anointing and divine power with the arrival of the Holy Spirit as it is described within the biblical book of Acts. These figures are in various positions of prayer and supplication as they worship their ascending master. Each figure is not only connected to the next, but each is connected to Jesus through the orange mandorla which surrounds Jesus who is ascending up above them. The deep blue depicts the figure’s silhouettes since they are surrounded by the dark clouds of divine presence. They are also encircled by red and orange halos (respectively). The former represents Jesus’ shed blood which covers the figures and provides both protection and connection with the divine presence. The orange halo is symbolic of the disciples sharing in the same spiritual power that Jesus himself possesses.

 Jesus is depicted within the very center of the composition floating upon a cloud as he ascends into the heavenly realms. The viewer’s eye is directed to this focal point by the use of an orange mandorla surrounding Jesus. The same orange also surrounds his actual figure as an aura. Orange is an expansive color that is often used to symbolize energy and power. Since ascension is expansion I thought the orange was an appropriate means of symbolizing this reality. In addition, the biblical narrative clearly connects Jesus’ ascension with the notion of power, both spiritually and physically (“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me…”). This power pours forth from the figures’ eyes and body (if the eyes scare you stop watching so many horror films).  The symbol that accompanies this new state of ascended transformation is the reiki symbol for enlightenment emblazoned upon his forehead in red.  The red robe is reminiscent of Jesus’ death and the blood he shed upon the cross. His sacrifice will be the catalyst through which those who follow him will gain access to the heavenly realms. His hands are outspread in a gesture of welcome as his forefingers grasp his thumbs to form a mudra.

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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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Damon Powell – Artist & Theologian

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Leap of Faith

LEAP OF FAITH

INSPIRATION

There are times in life when we are compelled to take a “Leap of Faith.” Times when we must step out into the unknown with no possible idea what the outcome may be. Times when it has become just too painful to stay where you are. You may not know where or how to move, but deep in your gut you instinctively know that something must change. Oftentimes, we begin to examine our lives and the ever fearful voice of the rational mind says, “No, don’t do that you had better play it safe.” In those moments of decision we can either: let fear win and once again settle for less than what Spirit had intended for us; or we can listen to that still small voice, and take the leap of faith.

Every moment of life is an opportunity to step back into safety, remain where we are out of anxiety and fear, or leap forward in faith. We will never know what we are truly capable of until we begin to release our doubts, disbeliefs, and fears in order to replace them with optimism, hope, and faith. Last month in Winds of Hope I quoted the famous biblical verse from Hebrews 11.1 “Now faith is the substance of things we yet hope for, and the evidence of the things we do not yet see.” I also defined hope as, “The belief that the things we desire are capable of becoming reality”. As such I posited that hope is an essential component of faith. If hope is the precious cargo that each of us holds deep within, faith the is the ship which will carry it safely through life’s storms.

Faith is a convictional stance that embodies hope within a framework of trust. It offers the heart assurance that the hope one bears can be realized despite life’s apparent contradictions.  Many would have us believe that faith lies in opposition to or contradicts reason, but in reality faith it transforms.  This transformation is brought forth by bringing the objective (rational mind) and the subjective (inner heart) together in balance and focus. A healthy faith creates balance and focus by helping us to validate the self as an agent in achieving our hopes while simultaneously acknowledging that there is a greater source of truth that is available to aid and guide us. This transformation allows us to focus our thoughts and actions upon that which we hope for despite any lack of physical evidence to support our decisions because we trust that doing so is the only way that anything actually will change. Thus we see that faith requires that we take a vital and dynamic stance toward life. A stance which requires will, commitment, persistence, and trust that a source of wisdom far greater than self is ready and willing to provide us with assistance if we are prepared to accept it.

This is one of the reasons why faith is always exercised in the present. Faith forces us to live and be present in the “now” because that is the only time it can be actively expressed. We choose to trust now, act now, plan now, commit now, persist now…and this choice to focus our thoughts and actions upon the thing which we hope for prepares us to eventually receive it. Just as an idea or inspiration is lost without execution, so too “faith without works is dead.” Being conscious and present is always about expansion. To shrink back or stay put is about contraction and fear. Ultimately, fear is not about the obstacle you face, it’s about the level of faith and trust you are willing to act upon in that particular moment. Being in the now requires expansion, and as we expand for the leap out into what appears to be unknown; god, the universe, source, spirit expands to meet us. Faith prepares us to face the unknown but without action we are unable to receive it.

John Calvin defined faith as, “A steady and certain knowledge of divine benevolence toward us that is revealed in our minds and confirmed in our hearts” by Spirit. I truly believe that there is something beyond us. A center around which all other facets of being revolve. And that center is benevolent, kind, just…and willing to work in and through me to the degree that I am willing and prepared to accept it. For me, “Leap of Faith” serves as a symbolic reminder to move forward, take the leap out into a loving universe that is waiting meet me at the point of expectation. “According to your faith it shall be done for you.”

LEAP OF FAITH

LEAP OF FAITH

SYMBOLISM

I knew that something more than a single figure painted upon the paper was needed to create any kind of relevant composition. But the leaping figure was so visually powerful that I didn’t want to overburden the rest of the composition with too many additional details. The problem was incorporating an image or symbol which resonated with my inspiration but did not compete with the central image for the viewer’s attention. I needed something that was consistent with my vision but subtle enough for me to maintain control of the leaping figure as the image’s primary focal point.

The Japanese symbol Mitsudomoe provided exactly what was needed. The Mitsudomoe is found throughout Japan in many of the country’s Shinto temples. The three comma-like shapes within the circle are called “tomoe” and are reminiscent of the same tomoe found in the Chinese Yin-Yang symbol. In Shintoism the mitsudomoe represents the three realms of existence: humanity, earth, and sky. These three exist in a tripartite relationship of mutuality and interdependence. This conception correlates with my previous discussion of faith if we see humanity as the subjective aspect of the faith equation because our individual hope is always personal and subjective. Sky symbolizes the divine as the objective aspect of the being and its’ eagerness to work with us in the process of bringing our unique vision into materiality. The earth corresponds to the realm of action where humanity and sky come together in the project of materialization. A mature active faith requires all three and recognizes their interdependence.

The three swirling tomoe imply movement and action while simultaneously embodying the three aspects of faith.  In “Leap of Faith”, the leaping figure represents a healthy humanity expanding itself in a forward leap. The figure is both purple and lavender. Purple is a color often associated with spirit or spiritual strength/power while  lavender is reminiscent of the colors found in the higher chakras. The pink and blues in the composition are symbolic of both sky or heavens (blue) and the higher chakras or spiritual realms (pink). The brown represents the earthly realm where the demonstration of faith will ultimately be manifested.

In this case, the leaping figure takes the action by leaping out into the unknown, but this is not possible without divine aid to guide, protect, and provide all that will be needed. Simultaneously, the results and context in which all of this activity takes place is the earthly realm. Both the leap and the evidence of divine support must both be played out within the context of earthly life. Thus, the three realms work in mutual interdependence. For me, this relationship is symbolized within the mitsudomoe.

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Damon Powell – Artist & Theologian

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Winds of Hope

Winds of Hope

INSPIRATION

Recent events in my life have led me to the contemplation of hope. It just so happens that life has been moving along at its own steady pace. Sometimes intense and other times slow, but thankfully there have been no major upsets or crashing waves. When things are like this I often find the breathing room needed to catch my breath and connect more deeply to my higher self. It is during the steady rhythm of life that I am more easily able to reflect upon life’s deeper layers and connect with Spirit from a much more grounded place.

These times of recollection and reflection usually start with gratitude. I find myself grateful for the periods of sunshine that burst forth from the heart in the seasons between the storms. When I am quiet, I can observe a kind of in-gathering within my mind and spirit as all the myriad pieces of my identity are gently de-fragmented and reconnected to one another. I review the progress I have made, see things moving forward, and am filled with gratitude. But even more than that – I am filled with hope.

I am able to see the bigger picture and all the small but progressive steps that let me know I am moving forward towards my goals. This acknowledgment fills me with hope. Hope that that I can succeed. Hope that I can achieve my goals. Hope that I have and can make the right choices, and hope for the future. Hope is foundational and inspirational. The bible reminds us that,  “faith is the substance of things we yet hope for, the evidence of things not seen.” Most of us focus upon faith in this passage but the statement clearly places an even weightier emphasis upon hope – as the foundation which makes faith even possible. Without hope, life has no meaning. Without hope, faith is not possible. Without hope, there is no vision for the future. From this perspective, hope could best be defined as an assurance that the things we desire are actually capable of becoming reality. Thus my stepping back to acknowledge my progress. express gratitude for my current place, and celebrate my accomplishments fills me with hope.

Hope is the wind which blows through my spirit filling me with renewed determination and inspiration. My sails are full so, I do a bit more dreaming and make a few more plans. Then I stretch my arms out wide, lift my head towards the heavens and bathe in the hope’s breeze. HOPE

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

I began this blog because people who view my works often inquire about the meaning within my imagery and the symbols I employ. Since a great deal of my work is about spiritual insight and visual metaphor, symbology plays in integral role in my creative process. Lately, visitors to my studio have also begun asking about my medium, techniques, and the ways in which I am able to integrate them into my overall creative process. So I took the time to snap a few photos of this work in various stages of my creative process.

Everything starts with an idea or inspiration. It may be something I see, a spark gleaned from something I’ve been reading, an image or feeling that is impressed upon me within my meditations…but  things keep coming so I just try to remain open. Once I have solid grasp upon the concept, I begin doing sketches and/or looking at various images that may help to translate my inspiration into concrete visual form. This particular image had a rather long germination which began last winter while I spent 2 months viewing a package of subliminal message videos I had purchased. The actual composition came together quickly after I began researching images.

I am an extremely visual person and an artist so I often save random images that speak to me. While watching one of the videos, the image of the young man standing in the field struck me so I saved it. A few months later I was on google images (I just do that sometimes) and the grassy knoll just kind of popped out at me so I saved it as well. A month or so after that, I was at work making myself a cup of tea. I pulled the last tea bag out of the box and I saw the image of a lotus flower on the inside so I ripped the box apart and took the image to my studio so that I could digitize into my image library.  Shortly after that, I was sitting in my studio sketching. I was feeling really good and reflecting upon how well about things had been going and I got this very full, glad, hopeful feeling. I began to try and sketch it – so I pulled up a few images from my image library to see if anything might create a few more sparks and these three spoke to me.

As you can see from my initial thumbnail sketches it didn’t take long for me to come up with a workable composition. There are days and weeks when it doesn’t  come this easily and I may spend weeks researching, or end up producing 20-30 thumbnail sketches until I can find an inspiring and workable composition. Once I have a good composition, I will often produce 2-3 larger ones (4 x 6) to work out some of the light and shade problems.  For this image, I didn’t feel the need to do so. I moved directly to creating some small color roughs. The circled Image with the double stars is the color combination I decided upon using. With an extremely complicated image, I will create 1 or 2 larger-scale color roughs (4 x 6 as well) to alert myself to any potential tonal problems that may arise before I get into the actual process of execution.

Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 3.52.39 PM

The Work

For me, getting down to the actual work of creation is also an act of worship, and ritual. This aspect of my vocation involves the use of several rituals that I employ to move me toward concrete acts of creation. Creativity necessitates form. An idea or concept is no better than a daydream until you give it form through acts of concrete physical manifestation. Just as “faith without works is dead” inspiration that are not accompanied by acts of manifestation die shortly after conception.

Keeping the above in mind, I often let the work itself determine the medium from which it will be manifested. At some point during the sketching stage, the imagery begins to inform me about which medium would be the best vehicle for this particular expression. In this case I knew the colors needed to be bright and vibrant so scratchboard was not a consideration. Once the color roughs were completed, it became clear to me that watercolor would be a better medium since the white paper beneath would produce a much brighter, ephemeral, and luminous quality than I could achieve with acrylics.

I begin by engaging in prayer, and then slowly and mindfully laying out my materials so that they are easily accessible and functionally placed within and around my work area. I then choose my material (in this case watercolor paper), and outline the image upon the surface. I often us a projector for larger layouts rather than drawing everything out by freehand. In this case, I used a thinner sheet of paper than I normally prefer to work with (I prefer 300lb Arches watercolor paper), so I had to size the paper before I could begin any actual painting (many artists don’t lay out their imagery until after sizing, but I prefer to do it beforehand).

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Before I begin to do any creative work I spend at least 10-15 minutes in prayer and meditation just before I begin. I created a small altar in my studio that contains candles, incense, crystals, a bell, and other items of significant personal value. After completing my meditation, I spend about 2-3 minutes with my Ipod selecting what (if any) music will be playing for that particular creative session.  With Winds of Hope I began by painting the first layer of washes upon the largest areas of the image. Although it is not depicted here, each area of color has anywhere from 5-8 thin layers of color upon it. This technique allows for the vibrancy of the colors to reflect up through the paper as each successive layer builds upon the next.

As you can see from the images below, the vibrancy of the colors slowly builds intensity with the application of each successive layer. The more subtle details and shading are added in as each layer of color is applied. For me, this process is more like sculpting than painting. I often imagine myself pushing, pulling and molding the various surfaces and contours of the image rather than drawing or rendering them with the paint brush.

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Finishing Touches

As you can observe from these photos, I save the more precisely detailed portions of the image for last. In this instance, it was the waving grass and the figure’s skin tones. These final details were part of my work activities on days 5-6.  Sometimes, I will initiate changes to the image based upon insights or promptings that come to me during my preparation meditations. For this particular piece, there were no promptings over the course of the process, but once the work was completed several people pointed out that the figure resembled me. This was not a conscious decision on my part and I honestly hadn’t noticed (oftentimes, we do more than we can know or say).

The piece was unveiled in my studio for the First Fridays Art Murmur without the facial mustache and goatee, but after the 7th or 8th comment about the figure resembling me, the following day I removed it from the frame and added the mustache and goatee so that the figure would resemble me more closely.

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SYMBOLISM

There are only two actual symbols in this image: the lotus flower depicted behind the central figure, and the West African Adinkra symbol floating above them both. The work’s title, “Winds of Hope” embodies the notion of Hope being the wind which blows through mind, body and spirit, filling us with renewed determination, enthusiasm,  courage, and willingness to sacrifice for the creation of our dreams. Hope is the literal wind beneath our spiritual wings. The figure lifts his head toward the heavens and opens his arms wide to be caressed by the spiritual winds of Hope in a display of gratitude for blessings already received. The lotus behind the figure is also indicative of hope as it springs up from the muck and mire of muddy riverbeds to show forth its splendor. The Adinkra symbol floating above the main portion of the composition literally symbolizes Hope in West African symbology. I thought it very apt and appropriate that hope is connected to the heart’s symbol. For hope too is about the heart –  it’s dreams, passions, and desires. Purple is indicative of spiritual power and love, red passion, and yellow symbolizes wisdom, happiness, and divine benevolence.

Winds of Hope

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Damon Powell – Artist & Theologian

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Joy: It’s a Spiritual Thing!

INSPIRATION

It took me a long time to realize it, but joy is a spiritual thing! I spent a good portion of my early years in an ongoing search for happiness. There was a great deal of activity, but the brief moments of happiness I enjoyed were often intense and fleeting. Each and every time I felt as if I was on top of the world. I had reached the mountaintop and would do my best to stay there within the spirit of that moment, to remain present to that experience. But I was never able to carry those feelings back down into the valleys and plateaus of daily living (not for long anyway). So, off I would go seeking my next slice of happiness, my next wave of experience. As I look back on some of those moments, I am now able to connect with a tiny, persistent, nagging, element of despair that was ever-present but almost always unacknowledged. This despair was grounded within an innate knowing that these moments were not meant to last. It was this knowing which made them so much more precious and rare.

My growth along the spiritual path has helped me to understand the differences between joy and happiness. In my experience, the fundamental flaw in happiness is its primarily external orientation. This orientation renders it inherently capricious and subject to the ever-shifting tides of time, circumstance, and emotion. In our search for happiness, each of us becomes vulnerable to various kinds external and often random influences that we depend upon to produce whatever conditions we imagine will result in our happiness. The more favorably these influences and circumstances are able to fit within our particular set of criteria, the better we are able to enjoy deep and lasting happiness. Thus, we continually give away our power and reduce our capacity to exercise agency within our lives due to our continual pursuit of happiness. We must also note that for many of us happiness is also deeply connected to the ever-changing tides of our emotions. We can be happy one minute, see or hear something disturbing and then be unhappy or even dejected the next.

But joy is a spiritual thing. It  bubbles up from the spirit and bursts forth through the heart. Joy is an internal experience that moves from the inner to the outer world. Because it is spiritually based it is not subject to external influences or circumstances. Joy is a realization which can often burst forth within our own interiority. This spiritual quality is what makes joy superior to happiness in every possible way. Joy can be found within (and often in spite of) the most unpleasant and horrible circumstances because its internal origins are connected to higher levels of being. Quantum physics has revealed that everything in the universe resonates at its own frequency; on a scale of consciousness higher levels of consciousness begin around the resonation level of love (love is 500), while joy resonates even higher (joy = 540, peace= 600).  Reclaim your power by connecting with spirit and finding the joy within!

SYMBOLISM

This image was inspired by the experience of joy and the realization of its power within my life and spirit.I wanted the image and the figure to have a certain energetic, open fell but still be dense and bright. This is why I opted to portray a leaping figure within a circular composition. These two elements combine with the emanating rays of light to create a sense of energy and movement. The use of the lotus flower symbol is reminiscent of spiritual awakening, beauty, the rising sun, and eternity in various traditions. Just as the lotus blossoms upward from the murky waters of the muddy river bottom, we often find joy in the midst of the muck and mire of life as it seems to burst forth and lift us above it all. These ideas correspond to the rays of light which appear to both expand from and move toward the center of the composition.

One of the most interesting things about this piece is that its square format and circular composition allow it to displayed from any side. Turn it left, right, or  completely upside down and it is still just as intriguing. In the present view it appears as if the female figure is leaping for joy with all her might – It’s almost as if she could fly away. If you turn the image so that the figure’s hands and feet would appear to be pointing downward, you will notice that her positioning is very similar to the yoga asana “Upward Bow” (Urdhva Dhanurasana) which helps to open the heart chakra. Joy is a spiritual experience which is felt within, and bursts forth from the heart.

FEATURED

This image Live in the Light III, JOY was accepted into two (2)  juried art publications, “American Art Collector”  and “Bay Area Art Today.” Both publications are forthcoming in October 2015. American Art Collector is a yearly juried publication produced by Alcove Books and circulated nationwide for the past 12 years. Bay Area Art Today is a juried publication that is distributed throughout the 10 counties which comprise the Bay area. I am excited and honored to be one of the artists featured in these publications.

Live in the Light IV: Joy

Live in the Light III: Joy

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Damon Powell – Artist & Theologian

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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.

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Damon Powell – Artist & Theologian

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MEDITATIO: A VISUAL MEDITATION

INSPIRATION

I have been incorporating various forms of meditation into my spiritual tool box since the mid 1990’s. My initial exploration into the practice of meditation began after I read the writings of Ron Hubbard in the early 1980’s. I began experimenting with some of his practices but was too young to maintain the discipline required for me to gain any substantial benefits from my practice – so I eventually abandoned it.

My first consistent exploration was the result of my participation in a Tai Chi class. Tai Chi is a martial art form that can also be used as a moving form of meditation. The first 15-20 minutes of class were spent under guided meditation that would help calm and center the students before we began practice with the movements and forms. The practice of Tai Chi provided a solid foundation that has served me well.

The inspiration for this image came about as a direct result of my meditation practice. The focus of that particular morning was upon maintaining my awareness of the inner and outer dimensions of my experience simultaneously. Sitting quietly, calmly focusing upon my breath and then expanding my awareness gently outward in hopes of being more present to both the internal rhythms of my body (heartbeat, breath…) and the external, sensual dimensions of my surroundings (smell, hearing, feeling…). At some point I entered a space of deeply personal stillness as if I was suspended in a single moment and was completely aware of both the external and internal dimensions of my existence, but there was also something more – an acute awareness of energy flowing in, through, and around me. it was active and dynamic, but also gentle and delicate at the same time.  The result of that experience left me with a burning desire to communicate what I was feeling in some way.

These kinds of insights have been recognized by many spiritual teachers who have called for the elevation of intuition over reason, and pushed for greater acceptance of the kinds of knowledge and experience gained through practices like meditation, intuitionism, and super rationalism. They postulate that this knowledge is based on experience which is sui generis, that is – of a different kind. In my experience ultimate truths have always been more readily accessible through intuitive, mystical, or artistic experiences. Earl Coleman finds that both the aesthetic and the spiritual often share identical traits. Both artists and those who engage in spiritual practices have often spoken about reaching a point in which they achieve a heightened state of awareness. A space in which they are “caught up” into a higher level of consciousness that allows them to see, and feel in a new heightened way. Many have felt an acute awareness of a power greater than themselves at work, yet it was all-at-once a part of their “self.” For instance, those who engage in meditation experience the same brain wavelength patterns as persons who are engaged in “creative” activities like drawing, composing, writing….etc. The feelings one experiences during times of creation or meditation are much more distinct, and of a drastically different quality than ordinary emotions (sui generis). Both the spiritual and the aesthetic give one a sense of having come in contact with the ineffable, ultimate reality, or what theologian Paul Tillich often referred to as the “ground of being.” At the least, these activities create experiences which are out of the ordinary, thereby moving us toward a deeper connection with something beyond.

MEDITATIO

SYMBOLISM

Center Oval

The overarching theme of this work is about the balancing of energies. I wanted to make a direct connection between the spiritual energies that surround us and their presence deep within us. The seated figure at the center is the both the sender and receiver of these divine energies. The figure is seated in a meditation pose which is often found in the yogic tradition. The Yin Yang symbol directly between the legs is situated at the point of the root chakra. This placement of symbolic energies here mirrors the outer spiritual energies which swirl around the outer portions of the composition. Notice the mirroring effect as the placement of the orange and yellow swirls is opposite of the placement found around the outside of the composition. 

The praying figure behind the young man is representative of both the “higher self” and/or a spiritual guardian who both protects and intercedes when needed. The idea for this figure has validation in a wide variety of traditions whether it be in the form of guardian, angels and spirit guides, or ideas about the existence of a higher self or astral body. Notice this figure is also in a position of prayer or meditation as it works to support the other’s spiritual efforts. My own experience often includes the feeling of being held, watched or even connected to a greater presence which is in some ways me, but not me. I equate this with the concept of the higher self or the inner observer who notices what I notice. 

The green and blue swirls are representative of the earth which acts as source of energy and ground for us here in the physical realm. The dynamic swirling action reminds of the flow of physical energies of land and sea as they swirls connect directly to the outer swirls in a continuous line outward from the center of the composition. The thin white line serves as a transition point between the two forms of energy as they transition back and forth from one form to another. 

Outer Oval

The outer oval portion of the composition is depicts the swirling spiritual energies that surround and support all physical life. These higher forms of vibration are responsible for both spiritual power and the divine’s raw untapped creative potential. They are directly linked to the earthly energies via the transitional line that governs their transformation into the physical realm. I chose to include the two star points to balance out the composition and to indicate the spark of divine light and mind that governs the swirling mass of raw creative potential. it is mind and higher light which directs the all creation. The very act of creating necessitates some kind of form without it there could be no creation.  The character located within the star points is the Sanskrit symbols for Om. In the Vedic tradition, Om is the meditational frequency of the universe (creation). 

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MEDITATIO

SOURCES

Earle J. Coleman, Creativity and Spirituality: Bonds Between Art and Religion. (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998)

Exodus: A Visual Interpretation of the Biblical Book

Any examination of Black American history reminds us that the bible has always been a treasure trove of artistic inspiration within the Back community. Leslie King Hammond reminds us that “The narrative and moral parables of this sacred text provided…visual artists…with contextual and thematic strategies to artistically express their responses to the awesome and incongruous realities of the Africa-American experience.” One of the central themes in Black American theology-freedom has been a source of inspiration for Black American artists of every kind.  It was the desire for freedom which inspired some of our nation’s most treasured forms of art, the Negro Spirituals.

A BLACK AMERICAN SPIRITUAL 

Go Down Moses, Way down in Egyptland Tell old Pharaoh, “Let my people go”

When Israel was in Egyptland, “Let my people go” Oppressed so hard they could not stand, “Let my people go”

“Thus saith the Lord,” bold Moses said, “Let my People go: If not I’ll smite your first-born dead, “Let my people go”

“No more shall they in bondage toil, Let my people go, Let them come out with Egypt’s spoil, Let my people go”

The Lord told Moses what to do, “Let my people go” To lead the children of Israel through, “Let my people go”

Go down Moses, Way down in Egyptland, Tell old Pharaoh, “Let my people go”

This spiritual is a very poignant reminder of what I believe to be my task as a Black American artist and theologian. To speak whenever and wherever I can, to those who abuse their power in a manner which limits the freedom of others. With that thought in mind, part of my goal has been to attempt re-interpreting and re-creating biblical texts and themes into forms which are more reflective of modern life. This process must go beyond merely putting the same ideas and events into a contemporary setting, or simply depicting the characters with Negroid features (blackenizing) to the creation of new images and symbols which speak on their own terms.

In many ways. I am attempting to apply and illustrate theological and sermonic principles into the creation of my art. For me this process is primarily as one of prophetic proclamation using visual media. In my efforts to achieve this goal, I realize that my interpretations will always be filtered through my own being, personality, and experiences. I see this as an interpretive asset which helps to authenticate my vision.

Keeping the above in mind, one of my main goals with this creation was to re-interpret the Exodus narrative holistically using graphic, symbolic, imagery which focused upon divine action, presence, and liberation.

EXODUS

EXODUS

SYMBOLISM

Most of the works which I encountered in my research seemed to focus upon either the person of Moses, or a single event within the Exodus narrative. These positions de-emphasized the role of God in the former, and kept me from grasping the significance of the event as whole in the latter.

The drama of the Exodus event is grounded in experience. It was a decisive event in Israelite history through which God revealed God’s self the liberator of an oppressed and downtrodden people. The primary agent within the event is God. God initiates the liberation narrative by identifying with the cries and suffering of the children of Israel, “And the people of Israel groaned under their bondage, and cried out for help…” (Exodus 2:23-25).

It is God who takes the initiative, God who reveals the divine self, and God who liberates the Hebrew community. Exodus 6:6 reads, “Say to the Israelites, ‘I am the Lord, and I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians and deliver you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.” I felt this declaration was a  key element within the Exodus drama overall. If we examine the narrative in its entirety this declaration becomes a very decisive element in how we must interpret everything else.

Not only does the role of God keep recurring within the narrative, but there is also an emphasis upon divine power and might. It is the might of a God whom is deeply immersed in the Hebrew community’s daily realities, and is not hesitant to be partisan, nor flinch from taking sides. The divine will and purpose are revealed by a divine disclosure of God’s goodwill toward the Hebrew community. This disclosure ultimately results in socio-political liberation through the destruction of the Egyptian oppressor’s military power. In other words, God takes the side of those who are oppressed (the Hebrews) and then initiates a series of events which  ultimately dismantle the existing socio-politic, economic, and military power of the Egyptian nation (represented by Pharaoh).

Among the many images present within the narrative, I particularly found the imagery of the hand and out-stretched arm of God acting, intervening, and protecting the Israelite people to be particularly potent. This emphasis upon the arm and hands is repeated throughout the story. God makes Moses’ hand leprous, Moses tells Pharaoh that God has declared that he, “Let my people go…” which definitely connotes some type of hold or grip which Pharaoh has upon the Israelites. At one point, the mighty hand of God is outstretched toward Pharaoh.  The outset of almost every mighty act Moses performs is initiated by stretching out his hand (with the staff), so that the hand of God may perform a mighty act for the people. It was from this constant reference, that I opted to use the hand and arm imagery as the primary symbol within this work.

The hand as a multi-functional symbol throughout the Exodus narrative. It can represent a variety of things on a variety of levels. It is the mighty outstretched hand of God which rises up to deliver. It is also the outstretched hand of the people crying out to God for liberation from their oppressor (lower right corner). It is the hand of Pharaoh raised in defiance of the divine imperative to free the Hebrews. It is representative of the hands of Moses and Aaron outstretched over the waters of the Red Sea. There are multiple meanings that can be derived from this image.

The shackled wrist represents the oppression of the Israelite people-but more importantly, God’s self-disclosure within the context of their liberation. God is the God for, and of the oppressed. “The God of the oppressed is a God of revolution who breaks the chains of slavery.” The shackled band signifies divine solidarity with the people while they are still within their state of oppression. God has declared that the Hebrews are to be set free. God has declared their liberation, and initiates actions which will make that declaration a reality by making use of political activity on their behalf (hence the broken shackles).

The orb represents the divine possession of the world as a whole, and the divine omniscient, omnipresent eye of God that not only sees and knows all, but continually speaks within the context of human history. That same God is still watching, and speaking to us now by calling each of us to aid in liberating those who are oppressed. The orb serves as a reminder of divine presence, control, and compassion for creation. When I think of divine compassion within the Exodus Theologian Elsa Tamez reminds me that “The oppression the Hebrews suffered in body extended as well to the innermost parts of their being. It touched their inner-selves, the transcendental part of their being, their dignity, their persons.” God is a compassionate being who relates to, and cares for all of creation in a every aspect of its existence.

The figure in the lower-right corner represents Moses. It is the prophetic figure of Moses who speaks on behalf of God in order to initiate the Hebrew people’s radical break from the social inequities which they were suffering in Egypt. Walter Breugermann points out that “…Moses dismantles the politics of oppression and exploitation by countering it with a politics of justice and compassion. The reality emerging out of the Exodus is not just a new religion or a new religious idea or a vision of freedom but the emergence of a new social community in history, a community that has historical body, that had to devise laws, patterns of governance and order, norms of right and wrong, and sanction accountability…Israel emerged not by Moses’ hand-although not without Moses’ hand-as a genuine alternative community.”

The figure of Moses serves as a reminder that God is still working in, and through the minds and hearts of ordinary people. Hopefully, God still speaks through us to proclaim the divine message of freedom and aide those who are in need. Below Moses’s figure, the people stretch their hands forth to God while at the same time seeking direction and guidance from the prophetic figure before them. Not only are their hands raised in defiance of oppression, but to also obtain direction and hear, “What thus saith the Lord.” The figure is representative of the eternal shepherd who must rise up, step forward and interpret the will of God with, and for the community.

The left-hand corner depicts the wilderness experience. It seemed unnecessary to depict a large group because the mass of figures would detract from a more pertinent point: despite the people’s liberation from Pharaoh, they still had to survive the wilderness. Even after liberation, they were still in constant need of divine guidance and direction. They were out in the open, alone, and vulnerable facing the harsh realities of the world (starvation, shelter from the elements, rest…), because of this they were still very dependent upon divine benevolence.

In a sense, each of us must face the world alone. We each must face the reality of the world’s vastness, and yet somehow find a sense of direction and purpose both physically, and spiritually. The wilderness is the place where we do this. The wilderness is the place where the Hebrews become a nation (Israel) as they cement their relationship to the divine by means of a covenant. I attempted to depict this journey through the use of a single figure traveling through a vast expanse. A single female figure represents the Hebrew community that will become the bride of Yahweh by means of the covenant. The power and presence of God is symbolized by the rain which is falling upon the figure. This rain is also symbolic of the harsh elements which can be encountered in the wilderness.

The elements which form the background operate on many levels. The rain falls steadily and equally throughout the composition. It is the permeating presence of God within the world both physically and spiritually. Just as water eventually permeates, covers, and touches everything; so does the divine presence. Thunder, lightning, and clouds are all a part of the experience of rainfall. In the bible, they are very symbolic representations of the divine presence and power. In the Exodus narrative, God speaks to the Israelites through a cloud, and is present with them in a cloud. Thunder is a symbol of God’s awesome power. The same power which was manifested to Pharaoh as he was forced to grant the Israelites their liberation. Thunder and lightning are part and parcel of the awesome display of divine power which accompanies the mighty hand of God.

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EXODUS

Exodus is available in print format only. 

SOURCES

Brueggermann, Walter. “The Alternative Community of Moses” in The Prophetic Imagination. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1978.

Cone, James H. God Of The Oppressed. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1975.

____________, A Black Theology of Liberation: Twentieth Anniversary Edition. New York: Orbis Books, 1986.

Cress Welsing, Francis. The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors. Chicago: Third World Press, 1991.

HarperCollins Study Bible New Revised Standard Version.

Hooks, Bell. Art On My Mind New York: New Press, distr. By W.W. Norton, 1995.

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

Studio Museum of Harlem, Challenge of Modernism: African American Artists 1925-1945. New York: Studio Museum of Harlem, 2003.