A Time to Plant
By Tom Wachunas
There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,… - Ecclesiastes 3: 1-2
EXHIBIT: ALTARED STATES, at The Little Art Gallery, 185 North Main Street (in the North Canton Library), North Canton, Ohio, THROUGH AUGUST 19, 2018
From 1977 to 1991, most of my art was in painting and mixed-media collage/assemblage. The work often had the look of abstract “outsider art” and was otherwise marginally aligned with the “Neo-Expressionism” of 1980s New York scene. When I re-settled in Canton in early 1992, I was wrecked - paralyzed by questions about the meaning, direction, and purpose of my artmaking – indeed, my life. What transpired then was a creative void nearly eight years in duration – a dark period of drunken and artless malaise.
At the end of 1999, I surrendered completely to the cathartic blessing of sobriety. Midway into 2000, I began making art again in earnest. But this time, the abstract traces of personal spirituality that were present only in a general way in my earlier work began to take on a specificity – a new identity and resonance best called Christocentric.
My work of the past 18 years, then, has been a continuing evolution of a visual language that springs from the fact that I have been implanted and indwelt by the realization that I am a servant invited to love his master, Jesus. My maker, muse, and savior. In what, on one level, I regard as his autobiography, the Bible ( a.k.a. ‘The Word of God’), he tells us in the opening chapters how he made all of us in his image, formed us from the dust of the ground he made, and breathed his life into us.
Over the years I’ve come to believe that all artists carry in themselves, whether they know it or not, a potential echo, a remnant spark, a still-glowing ember from the Master’s first explosive utterances of creation, “Let there be light…” and “Let us make man…” Accordingly, I am called to celebrate my Master’s legacy of creation. To make as I have been made. My hope is to somehow give breath - a spark of life and light - to the dust of my chosen materials. Most of the tactile narratives made after 2000 that I’ve included in ALTARED STATES are evidence of my attempt to excavate the merely apparent and uncover the fully real. Many are spiritual tableaux, constructed with a codified language of the heart, symbolizing aspiration, inspiration, faith, and discovery. An archaeology of the soul.
Above are photos of my three most recent efforts, all finished in 2018. In order from the top down, Psaltree – 1,398 Biblical Drawings, Tent of Meeting, and Absent From the Body.
Psaltree – 1,398 Biblical Drawings was more than a year in the making, and began as a salvaged artificial ficus tree. The title is a hybrid of Psalm (a song or prayer), psalter (a devotional book of collected Psalms), and psaltery (an ancient, zither-like musical instrument plucked with the fingers). There are 699 leaves on the tree (each numbered on its underside), and for months they were for me like the double-sided pages of a daily journal, each made to carry an image, symbol, or a single word or a short verse, all from the Bible. I consider the writing of words as a form of drawing. Many of the words and images are repeated at various spots throughout the tree – recurring chants, refrains, songs. Some of the texts are in Greek, a few in Hebrew, the great majority in English. Each leaf represents a time of praise and/or prayer, and a meditation on what it depicts or declares.
Tent of Meeting -fabric, acrylic and gold leaf on wood panel- is drawn from the Book of Exodus passages that speak of a temporary tabernacle - a tent pitched outside the encampments of the Israelites during their wanderings. It was designated as the holy place to meet and commune with God. Absent From the Body – paint-stiffened clothing (acrylic) and gold leaf – is a reflection on 2 Corinthians 5:8, “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”
Until such time as that preference becomes my eternal state of being, I am content to be making as I have been made. Offering up these painted episodes - these marks that I make - is a continuing act of faith, love, gratitude, and worship.