fine art

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

To purchase an original work please contact me directly at:

info@damonpowell.com

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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

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:

info@damonpowell.com

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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.

The Creation Tryptic: Goddess, Terra & Humanity

Greetings,

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

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

INSPIRATION

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

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

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

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

THE TRYPTIC

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

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

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

Creation

A Feminine Deity

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

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

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

Creation - Goddess

Goddess (Genesis 1:1-5)

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

Creation - Terra

Terra (Genesis 1:20-25)

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

Creation - Humanity

Humanity (Genesis1:26-31)

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

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

THE IMAGES

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

To purchase prints click one of the links below:

Creation – Goddess             Creation – Terra             Creation – Humanity

Materials:

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

SOURCES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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