Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Life, Liturgy, and the Pursuit of History
Life, Liturgy. and the Pursuit of History
By Tom Wachunas
Not long ago a woman commented to me, after seeing my piece in the current show at Second April Galerie, that my work has “definite Christian leanings.” And I thought, “…leanings. Leanings? That’s all you got…LEANINGS??!” My ego, as is often the case when it comes to comments on my work, had shifted into search-and-destroy overdrive. I wanted to hear something like, “That’s the most amazing formalization of a relationship with Jesus that I’ve ever seen.” Honestly, though, I was sincerely pleased with her observation and said, simply, “Thank you so much.” As it turned out we had a mutually edifying conversation not so much about my work, but about…you guessed it, Jesus. And once again I learned that when I, and my pursuit of praise, get out of the way, God can advance his purposes.
More recently, at the beginning of Holy Week in the Christian liturgical calendar, I had the distinct privilege of addressing a group of Tuslaw Middle School art students. My aim was to give them a very general idea of what had influenced my art work over the past 10 years. Some of the presentation consisted of powerpoint slides of historic “religious” works by masters I admired as a child - astounding works by da Vinci, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, El Greco. It occurred to me in preparing the presentation that while I as an artist never came even reasonably close to the level of technical excellence of those masters, their work established in me a sense of Christianity deeper and more abiding than anything I learned from catechism studies. Those masters showed me the power of art to convey profoundly beautiful mysteries as well as life-changing truths. They made me want to be an artist. It also occurred to me that prior to ten years ago, little if any of my work had an ostensibly Christian ‘message’, much less ‘look’.
I tell you this not because I think that all art must, by definition, beat us soundly about the head and shoulders and declare in no uncertain terms that Jesus is Lord (though that wouldn’t be such a bad idea, come to think of it). I do tell you this only because my ever-growing relationship with the Lord of the Universe is such that it has greatly affected the content of the art I make, and indeed the very reason I continue to make art. And to a considerable degree, that relationship has also affected how I see and respond to the art I encounter (be it visual, literary, musical, or theatrical) in terms of its capacity to inform, enlighten, or encourage what is good, noble, pure, and beautiful about being alive in a universe I did not create.
After showing the Tuslaw students a few examples of my admittedly obtuse Christian assemblages (you know, the ones with the “definite Christian leanings”), I ended with showing them slides of a few small (9”x12”) oil paintings I’ve done over the last few years. These are images that actually look like something from the real world, a.ka. representational, naturalistic art. I make one every year at and have it digitally copied into a small “edition” as a Christmas card. The image you see accompanying this post is the most recent. It’s a crude hybrid, to be sure, of Michelangelo’s marble miracle, “Pieta,” and Grunewald’s “Resurrection.” Jesus’ birth was more than an historic event, albeit a joyous one. It must be viewed as one part of a plan intrinsically connected to his death and, most important, his resurrection. I think we greatly diminish his significance – in fact deny his truth - when we see him as merely an influential individual in history. He IS history. Our history. Our present. Our future.
And so it is that I was gratified and elated to see Charita Goshay’s excellent article in the March 27 edition of The Repository about “Stations of the Cross,” the upcoming exhibit at Anderson Creative in downtown Canton. It’s a great story about artists embracing the Greatest Story.
Stations of the Cross, at Anderson Creative, 331 Cleveland Avenue NW, will be open for viewing and meditation from 12noon to 5p.m. Tuesday, March 30, through Good Friday, April 2 (when the gallery will be open until 10p.m.). Worship services at 5:30p.m. and 7p.m. on Thursday.
Exhibit will remain on view until May 1.