black art

Insight: Knowing the Light Within

INSPIRATION

Working with the 6th chakra has helped me to intimately understand how everything unfolds perfectly within the divine’s right and proper time. It has helped me discover depths of perception and insight as they have come to me in a steady progression that reminds me of the lotus slowly unfolding to the light of day. For me, this progression was initiated with the new year as I underwent a week of prayer, journaling, fasting, and detoxification. My plan was to release the old, and use journaling and other rituals to clarify and visualize what I wanted to manifest for the future. This time of release and invocation provided me with a clarity of presence and a wide field of vision from which to gain a greater connection to my guides, higher self, and spirit. I was praying for the removal of that which no longer served me, and the insight needed to move with inspired direction.

It reminded me that seeing is a passive faculty. It is the eyes that perceive, but the mind that sees. When our eyes are open they only pick-up the emanations of light and energy that are reflected from the matter around us. These reflections are then turned upside down and reversed before being presented to the mind for perception and interpretation. Seeing is truly an inside job. The only true light we will ever know or comprehend is the light we find within – physically and metaphorically.  From this perspective, physical sight can also be considered an exercise in intuition since we never actually “see” the matter we encounter in the world around us – but simply intuit its presence and capacities based upon the reflected light and energy it emits. We must trust what light we perceive and intuitively adjust our actions and behavior based upon those emanations. We walk by faith, not by sight. The more light we allow and open our eyes to perceive, the greater our capacity to gain insight and interpret the world around us. Likewise, the more we are still, focused and passive, the better our capacity to perceive and interpret the light we have allowed within. This is why the 6th chakra is dedicated to sight, perception, and intuition.

My week of prayer and fasting help me to understand how much the mechanics of sight and insight are almost identical to one another physically and spiritually. Our chakras and minds do not perceive divine light – because its substance and vibration are entirely too high, but rather the myriad reflections of its movement that have slowed enough vibrationally for our minds to perceive them. These reflections are always there but we are able to perceive them more readily when we are still, passive, open, allowing, and focused upon receiving them. In my experience last month. This state allowed me to begin opening my self to greater levels of reception, which fostered stronger intuitive insights and a deepening of my faith after receiving them. Part of this process was magnified after my guides led me to sign up for a “28 Day Challenge” online course geared toward deepening one’s connection to spirit, higher self, and guides. This guidance was given one week after I had been guided to begin work on the 6th chakra as the next piece in the series, and 3 days after I had completed my research and begun the actual painting! Everything unfolds perfectly within the spirit’s right and proper time. 

Although sight and insight are passive, these passive faculties activate other aspects of our being which are much more active and projective. The more we deepen and open ourselves to receive, the greater our capacity for output through the use of imagination, visualization, and manifestation. The greater our capacity to receive, the greater our ability to project. This is why it so important that we know the light within. Creation and manifestation are birthed from imagination and visualization. The more light we allow within, the greater our capacity to manifest and create – both spiritually and physically. The 6th chakra is both active and passive as it functions to provide clarity, insight, and intuition, while simultaneously being actively present in the work of visualization and manifestation. 

As a point of clarification, I would also like to point out that the third eye is not synonymous with the 6th chakra. Many people convolute the third eye, 6th chakra, and pineal gland but they are not the same thing. Each is its own separate entity. Just as there are other chakras, the third eye is another form of chakra but it is not the 6th chakra. Any well-informed teacher will confirm this. The 6th chakra and third eye often support one another or work in tandem but they are still very separate. The 6th chakra is located deeper inside the brain at or just above eye-level, while the third eye is located in the front of the head between the eyes or eyebrows. If you spend some time meditating upon the 6th chakra and grow more attuned to it you will begin to notice the subtle differences in the energy of the two.  It also helps to spend some time bringing energy into the 6th chakra from the back of the head until you can become more familiar with the differences.

Although I have not been able to find any definitive statement on the exact function of the third eye, I would postulate that it is exactly what its name suggests – a spiritual third eye or chakra geared specifically toward the reception of spiritual light and energies. It functions as our physical eyes by picking up these energies and transmitting them to the 6th chakra so that they can be interpreted, provide wisdom…and then hopefully used by the 6th chakra for the purposes of imagination, visualization, and manifestation. 

Insight: Knowing the Light WithinInsight: Knowing the Light Within

SYMBOLISM

This chakra moves us a step further along the color wheel and higher in vibration. We move from the lighter, cerulean blue of the 5th chakra to the deep indigo of the 6th. The closest representation of that blue is found within the graphic symbol of the chakra depicted above the figures head. Because the indigo is so deep and rich, I was forced to integrate other shades of blue into the composition in order to maintain clarity between the deep purple of the 7th chakra and the deep blue of 6th. Sometimes, the eyes can confuse the two hues with black, and/or not clearly distinguish between them when they are so closely placed to one another. I hope to show the whole series together once it is completed and was concerned that patrons might not be able to easily differentiate between the two – so I took the liberty of using my artistic license in order to create a greater distinction between the hues. This is also why I chose to use a somewhat lighter blue for the background color. Even with the white covering parts of it, the deep indigo would have just been too overpowering.

As in the other four depictions, the figure sits upon a lotus flower, The subtle difference here is that this figure is not just in meditation but also in visualization. We have moved from the vibratory matter of the 5th chakra (she was chanting) to the higher vibration of light here in the 6th. Sight and insight are the material of visualization. Her thumbs are placed upon her heart as she somatically connects head and heart through the action of touch. Scientific studies have shown that placing one’s hands upon the heart, and or touching the heart while meditating strengthens the bond between them thus allowing for increased levels of intuition and greater amplitude from the heart itself. 

The graphic lotus symbol above her head contains the Sanskrit character for the chakra and the two petals associated with the 6th chakra. The white of the background is representative of the cosmic ethers waiting to be absorbed and directed.    

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Flowering of the Cosmic Consciousness

INSPIRATION

To tell the truth, I’m really not sure where this is going? I have been doing a great deal of reflecting in the past few weeks and am in a constant state of awe and gratitude for my present way of being. My decision to pursue my dreams of being a full-time artist has also placed me in the unique position of starting my life all over again. I have literally been given (and co-created) an opportunity to re-create myself and my life. I sit at the potter’s wheel before a massive piece of clay that is ready to be formed into whatever image I desire. But what do I wish to create? What is the quality and content of my vision? I am totally free to fashion and create my life into anything I would like it to be. But this too is a position of both awesome freedom and great responsibility.

I have spent the last few weeks reflecting deeply upon my past, letting go of regrets, forgiving myself for wrongs inflicted upon self and others, examining the present moments, and thinking critically about who and how I want to be in the world. The decisions I make now, and the things I begin to manifest will become the building blocks of my new future – and this realization fills me with terror and exhilaration. But my past and its lessons are also still with me. These experiences have provided me with enough insight to understand that I cannot create a truly new and better future by operating with the same habits and levels of consciousness that have brought me to this moment. I must take a leap both artistically and spiritually. In order for lasting positive change to occur, one must not only know better but BE better!  Creating lasting change is an inside job. Without inner transformation, there can be no lasting and authentic manifestation. It is this realization which has caused me to spend the last few months meditating upon the crown chakra.

There can be no conscious creation without a corresponding change in consciousness. Einstein put it this way, “You cannot successfully solve a problem operating from the same level of consciousness which created it” (paraphrase mine). And so all things must become new. The 7th or “Crown” chakra serves as the gateway to higher levels of consciousness. It is our connection to the highest divinity and a key component in every act of physical manifestation. Spirit has been leading me to meditate upon the crown chakra (and my third eye) so that I can work on opening, widening, and deepening my connection to the higher levels of consciousness needed to become a more connected, centered, intuitive, creative, disciplined, resilient Damon – who is capable of creating and sustaining the life of my dreams. This effort necessitates the flowering of a cosmic consciousness. To leap towards the next level of my enlightenment.

Fron this perspective, we see the true meaning of enlightenment has nothing to do with a destination or goal to be achieved, but a process of ever-deepening discovery, or a never-ending expansion of one’s consciousness into that of the divine.  This expansion brings with it the capability to receive and perceive higher levels of vibration within one’s consciousness as the crown’s lotus expands and opens.  Hence we find that enlightenment is not a state of being, but a journey without beginning nor end.

Flowering of the Cosmic Consciousness

Flowering of the Cosmic Consciousness

SYMBOLISM

The graphic lotus symbol above the figure depicts the crown chakra and its accompanying Sanskrit character “Om” (pronounced A-u-m). The repetition of the Om is purported to be the frequency and sound of the universe (Uni – one and verse – song = one song). As the Om is chanted our song becomes more fully integrated with the universal frequency until all is immersed into one song (the cosmic consciousness).

The color violet is associated with the crown chakra and is thus reflected in various shades throughout the composition. The colors which appear darkest to our eyes also retain the highest frequencies energetically, thus it makes perfect sense that a deep, rich, violet would serve as the highest point of the chakra system while the brighter colors containing the lower vibrational frequencies would comprise the lower chakras.

The figure is seated upon an opening lotus flower, in a deep state of meditation. His hands are formed in the shape of a power mudra as he connects to the source of all power and potentiality. In order to further emphasize the opening or flowering of higher consciousness, I also placed a violet spark on his forehead in the location of the third eye symbolizing the accompanying expansion of consciousness. The swirling mass around the figure is symbolic of the universal energies of creation and their raw unformed potential for physical manifestation. “In the beginning…the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” Genesis 1:1

Look out for a discussion of the sacral chakra next month!

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Memento Mori

INSPIRATION

The inspiration for this piece began about three months ago while visiting a Diebenkorn exhibit. I overheard a comment by one of the docents referencing an object placed within one of the paintings (I forget which one) as a “memento mori”. Her utterance of the term immediately brought me back to my undergraduate art history classes. I was struck by the idea and wanted to begin sketching immediately but I hadn’ t brought a pen or paper because I had ridden to the museum on my motorcycle. I resolved myself to begin creating some kind of work around this theme as soon as time would permit.

About 6 weeks ago I began researching and sketching for the creation of my own memento mori. As I mentioned last month, I was later invited to submit a sketch for a South American “Day of the Dead” Pyramid tribute for Burning Man this year. The sketch was accepted and set to be placed upon one of the blocks which would comprise the pyramid. The image was to be printed onto a sheet of vinyl and then mounted onto one of the blocks of the pyramid. Unfortunately, finances and family commitments prevented me from attending the event, but I assume that everything went according to plan?

THE MEDIUM

Since this piece was much larger than the mock-up it took me quite a bit of time to complete it using scratchboard. In order to remain relatively consistent with the sketch I had previously submitted, I tinted the image with watercolor and color pencil after completing the initial black and white scratching process.  For those of you not familiar with the medium, Scratchboard is a white clay board that is blacked over with ink. The image is then scratch back out using various scratching tools (X-acto knives, scalpels, tattoo needles…). The process is actually drawing using a reverse, subtractive approach. When drawing with a pen or pencil one adds marks and shading – while scratchboard creates shading by revealing the white clay beneath the ink.

IMG_0321_edited-1

Completed Balck & White Image

When coloring the board it must first be covered with some kind of clear fixative in order to keep the ink from running when the dyes or watercolor are applied to the surface. For some reason, I wasn’t obtaining the effect I normally prefer and decided to add some color pencil for additional texture and opacity.

Memento Mori72.5

Memento Mori (final image)

SYMBOLISM

The symbols placed within this work all center around the theme of death. The animated skeleton sitting just outside of his open grave site (lower portion) hints at the notion of life after death, resurrection…while the comic caption-like heart shape spouting from his head is indicative of discussions regarding life review, judgment, and the undying power of love. I intentionally wanted some of the references to be more open to differing various mythologies concerning death and the afterlife.

The two standing figures on each side represent Aunbis (Greek), Anpu/Inpu (Egyptian) the Egyptian god of death. Anubis was responsible for: the protection of tombs and burial grounds/sites, guiding souls to the underworld, and judging their hearts upon the scales in order to decide whether or not the soul was worthy of eternal life. I purposely made the two images slightly different in order to create more variety in the composition. The function of Anubis as a guardian of tombs and judge fits in well with the imagery of the skeleton emerging from his tomb and conducting his own life review as seen in the caption.

The middle caption-like portion is an attempt to lighten up the theme a bit. It was added later in the design process after I began to deliberately link my design to the Burning Man project. Since the Day of the Dead carries more festive connotations I thought it would be good to lighten up the overall composition a bit. The skeleton below is remembering love in his life (the caption-like heart) but still doing so as if he were dead – hence the skeleton within the caption. In addition, he is seated next to a succubus. The succubus is a demonic mythical creature which was believed to seduce men in their sleep. During the act of intercourse, the succubus would drain them of their life force. In this instance, the skeleton is actually not remembering his life, but his dream through which he was drained of his essence!

The skull at the top of the image is representative of the traditional Euroethnic notion of memento mori that can be found throughout the euroethnic art-historical cannon. The symbol placed upon the skull’s forehead is the Japanese character for death.

 

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Moonlight Blues

Greetings Family,

I know its been 4 months since you heard from me, but you haven’t been forgotten. I’ve been pressing on, but there  hasn’t been much creating. My last post in July was part of my normal summer slowdown, but unforeseen circumstances burst onto the scene commanding a large portion of my time and attention. The darker sides of life and people often present themselves to us at unexpected times in unexpected ways.

So I was reminded that into each life, some rain must fall. All of life is a revolving series of endings and beginnings – the sun rises and sets, the seasons transform and change, joys bring us light and sorrows bring the blues. The people and things we love most are very often the sources of our brightest days and darkest nights. The winds of change blew a storm my way and I got the blues.

People say that time heals all wounds, but what we do between the hurt and the healing can make a world of difference.  It’s not just the time, but what we do during the time which determines whether we heal in a manner which is conducive to future growth, or just an exercise in repression which eventually leaves us with more psycho-spiritual baggage. These unseen scars cause more damage and heal much slower than our physical bodies, so we must be more intentional about our healing by doing so from the inside out just as our bodies do.

So I sunk into the blues. I prayed, I wept, I was angry, I felt as if everything in my life had suddenly just shriveled up. I wanted to work, to create, to wash these blues away by birthing something truly powerful from this darkness, but nothing came. I was numb, paralyzed, creatively mute. Sitting in my studio, staring at my sketchbook, living with the blues. There was no light and there was no muse. The only light to be found was reflected from the moon. Moonlight Blues

Every day, everyday I have the blues.

When you see me crying baby, you know it’s you I hate to lose

Seems like nobody loves me, and nobody seems to care

Speakin’ bout hard times and trouble, you know I’ve had my share. 

I’m gonna pack my bags and move on the down the line 

Ain’t nobody worrying and ain’t nobody crying 

Everyday I have the blues

B. B. King 

moonlight-blues-72-5

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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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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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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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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.

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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

To Purchase a Print click on the image above, or use the link below:

Damon Powell – Artist & Theologian

To purchase an original work please contact me directly at:

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