The Enthralling Substance of Divine Purpose
By Tom Wachunas
“When we understand God’s purpose, we will not become small-minded and cynical. Jesus prayed nothing less for us than absolute oneness with Himself, just as He was one with the Father. Some of us are far from this oneness; yet God will not leave us alone until we are one with Him – because Jesus prayed, ‘…that they all may be one…’ ” - Oswald Chambers -
EXHIBITION: Pursuit: God’s Chase After Humankind, paintings by Sharon Charmley, with complementary work by Tim Carmany, at Translations Art Gallery THROUGH DECEMBER 29 / 331 Cleveland Avenue NW, downtown Canton / Gallery hours are Noon to 9 p.m. Wednesday, Noon to 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.
This time it’s personal. Rarely have I encountered a painting exhibition so splendidly harmonious with my world view (and certainly not one of my invention) as this one is. For here is an artist who has, in this treacherous era of moral relativism, the inspired temerity to speak a profound truth too often forgotten or tragically denied: God’s unwavering desire, in and through the person of Jesus Christ, to gather humanity to himself.
Charmley doesn’t render God’s “chase” in the literal or historic sense that we routinely encounter in traditional Western culture iconography. Her paintings are instead wholly (holy?) engaging, often gripping narratives set in modern contexts, populated by ordinary-looking citizens of the contemporary world.
These are not your garden-variety Bible illustrations, so to speak. Adam and Eve – white male, black female – are the epitome of self-possessed youthfulness. The Holy Spirit is presented at the baptism of Jesus not as the proverbial dove, but as a cloud from which emerges a wise-looking old woman who becomes progressively younger as she comes closer to her son. Bald-headed Jesus (a working-class hero, to be sure) - fasting and sorely tempted in the desert - struggles, weeps, then surrenders to his mission. An adulteress is portrayed as a male abortion clinic doctor facing one of the Pharisee accusers - a woman arrogantly waving a Bible – while off to the side Jesus stoops to write with chalk on the concrete, “A SIN IS A SIN.”
Charmley’s brush is a highly facile and expressive one, imbuing her style of realism with visceral immediacy. Given the elevated character of her subject matter, call it a refined urgency.
The reverse spray paintings on glass by Tim Carmany are a fitting accompaniment to this compelling suite of paintings. Each of Carmany’s window panes bears Biblical verses relevant to Charmley’s painted episode, along with the image of a Celtic knot. Text and knot appear to float, casting a shadow on the wall behind – surely a metaphor for both the spirit and palpable substance of Scripture. The inclusion of the mystical knots is a brilliant allusion to the eternal God who has no beginning and no end – the Alpha and Omega from Revelation 1:8.
The powerful appeal of Charmley’s work is further enhanced by her insightful writings contained in the printed brochure provided to viewers – a spiritual guided tour of the exhibit. Therein the artist generously shares her thoughts on the Biblical events she has depicted. For example, in addressing her painting of Adam and Eve clothed in the animal skins supplied by God, she muses, “…It is easy for me to forget that the Lord had to kill something that was created, in holy goodness, in order to make clothing for the humans. This is a foreshadowing of Christ’s sacrifice.”
Charmley’s questions and interpretations are neither radical rewritings of Scripture nor arbitrary redefinitions – as if the Bible needs any “updating.” While her commentaries are intensely and refreshingly personal, they certainly don’t signal doubt, but rather an accessible, passionate arguing from certainty.
In as much as this show is a declaration of her faith, I see it also as an eloquent invitation for all of us to embrace the immutable Truth it imparts. More than just skillfully executed scenes, this work constitutes a marvelous visual epistle.
Now more than ever it is a message for our time, meant for those - by the grace of our triune God - with the eyes to see and the ears to hear. Merry Christmas.
Photos (from top): Trinity / 40 Days: Wrestling, Grieving, Letting Go / Whoever Is Without Sin