Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Spontaneous Construction, Available Resources

Spontaneous Construction, Available Resources

Available Resources, by Tom Wachunas

By Tom Wachunas

  “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in  prayer.”  ― Martin Luther

   “We should seek not so much to pray but to become prayer.”       St. Francis of Assisi

   Some of you readers (maybe many?) know that my primary use for Facebook is to simply post notice of and links to these blog missives. That’s essentially the extent of my engagement with social media. No Instagram, no Twitter, no Youtube, no…you get the picture. 

   I’ve got serious work to do - books to read, art to make - no places to go before I sleep, and loads time on my hands. Such a blessing, right? 

   Confession time. Thanks to the current societal moratorium on so many things having to do with ostensibly ‘normal’ or contented living, I feel not so much energized or inspired as just plain lazy. I’ve been cruising through Facebook for increasingly longer periods of time, and rationalizing it by convincing myself that I’m staying somehow informed, connected, compassionate and communicative. In fact my over-indulgence in this social platform had begun to overwhelm me with a debilitating cynicism. Navigating through all the hate, lies, ignorance, confusion and anger which infects Facebook had become – emotionally, psychologically, and most importantly, spiritually – a terribly exhausting abuse of time.

   That said, of course there are also Facebook encounters with genuine grace. I’m grateful for all those who share words, sounds, and images that elevate my soul, along with my sense of art (and humor), often fostering real hope and joy. Certainly not least among those are my friends and colleagues who work in all manner of media and continue to post updates on their recent projects. They motivate me.

   And so it was that this morning I rose from my creative doldrums and decided it was time to re-focus, to prioritize, to purify. Time to quit moping, quit treading Facebook water, and just…do.

   The Martin Luther quote above is especially apropos. In fact I prayed, prayer being indeed an action. A verb. This morning my prayer took the form of a modest assemblage I’ve titled Available Resources. The work is a somewhat ramshackle improvisation, an impromptu meditation, made quickly (about three hours, interestingly enough) with eminently timeless materials such as corrugated cardboard, duct tape, twine, bandaids, gauze, glue, paint…and a single white map pin. 

   Covid19 on my mind, to be sure, but something else altogether in my heart. My own handprint in Pthalo Blue. In Cadmium Red Medium, the hand of, well…you get the picture.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Shuttered in Place

Shuttered in Place

By Tom Wachunas

One looks, looks long, and the world comes in.  - Joseph Campbell

The whole life lies in the verb seeing.  - Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

 If you look at a thing 999 times, you are perfectly safe; if you look at it for the 1000th time, you are in danger of seeing it for the first time.  - G. K. Chesterton

There are two ways of seeing: with the body and with the soul. The body's sight can sometimes forget, but the soul remembers forever.  - Alexandre Dumas

   It’s a desert out there. Art museums and galleries - those fertile oases of nourishing cultural preservation, exploration, and discovery - are temporarily gone dark and empty. In this parched landscape, I thirst.

   But wait! What’s that I see in the distance? A light! Getting brighter now. Then, many lights! Now a voice. Then many voices! Getting louder! Why, it’s…it’s…I.T. Information Technology! Internet Therapy! Instantaneous Tutelage! We’re saved!


   During this moratorium on assemblies at our beloved exhibition venues, I’ve nonetheless had ample time to appreciate their presence in absentia. I’m certainly thankful for the expertise and creativity of all the folks who have been diligent in providing virtual viewing via numerous digital platforms and programs.

   Yet such efforts, commendable as they are, can go only so far. “Distance learning” indeed. It’s one thing to look at, say, a digital image of a painting on a laptop or desktop screen, in a classroom power point projection, or for that matter, in an art history book. Welcome to art by proxy. What you’re looking at - no matter how faithful it may be to the actual painting, no matter how excellent in detail resolution - is a photograph. A calculated imitation. A picture of a picture.

   Of course these kinds of academic and social engagements with technology are useful, indeed necessary, for fostering a meaningful and ongoing experience of art on both intellectual and emotional planes. Still, though, they remain inadequate substitutes for a true and full embrace of the art object’s tangible reality.

   To paraphrase G.K. Chesterton (quoted above), I must have looked at 999 pictures of Picasso’s Guernica in my youth, or 999 pictures of Monet’s Water Lilies triptych (made 1914-1926), before actually seeing both of them at MoMA in New York during the 1970s. I remember it like yesterday. Nothing I had previously read, no photos closely examined in myriad art history books or magazines, could amply prepare me for what I encountered on that 1000th occasion. What had long been merely a cerebral reverence for these iconic works suddenly became a wholly thrilling, in-the-moment empirical reality. I was flabbergasted and ecstatic.

Since then I’ve had countless similar experiences of really seeing artworks exhibited in galleries and museums by artists past and present. My soul remembers.

   If I’ve acquired a virus in this diseased season we are currently weathering, it’s my fevered longing for the lights to come back on in our local arts venues. To go to a real place in real time and mindfully be in the presence of made things.

 Virtual schmirtual. Gimme the real deal. I wanna see art the way it’s meant to be seen.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Holy Week 2020: Remembering My Future

Holy Week 2020: Remembering My Future 

Wholly Spirit-drawn to Him - 2010

After the Sermon, 2017

Drawn Clothes to Him, 2013

Jonah Palimpsest, 2020

By Tom Wachunas

   Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ…  - Romans 13:14a

You are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. – Galatians 3: 26-27

For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.  – Matthew 12:40

“…For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity…”  - Jeremiah 29:11-14

   For nearly 20 years, my modest home studio has not been merely a room where I act like an artist. It is a place where worship happens. Not worship of the marks or objects I create, but worship of the One who created me to make them. It is a place where I gratefully listen, meditate, pray, and sing, so to speak, with my hands.

   Additionally, ARTWACH has often been a  platform for addressing the Christocentric motifs of my work. For those of you less familiar with what I mean, I offer two examples, inviting you here to pause, click on and open these two hyperlinks, and read my fervent comments on a work from 2017, “After the Sermon,”  and another from 2013, “Drawn Clothes to Him,” both pictured at the top of this post.

   Just a few days ago I finished “Jonah Palimpsest.” Mirriam-Webster Dictionary defines palimpsest as: (1) writing material (such as a parchment or tablet) used one or more times after earlier writing has been erased; (2) something having usually diverse layers or aspects apparent beneath the surface.

   Lately I’ve been experiencing a renewed fascination with the stylized iconography of illustrated Gospel manuscripts, prayer books, hymnals, and portable devotional images from the Middle Ages. To my mind and heart, that era’s art – replete with signs and symbols so often saturated with luminous hues that bespeak an inspiring and eternal presence - transcended worldly humanism to make the Divine somehow accessible, the supernatural tangible.

   My acrylic painting was made on a wood panel supporting a layer of sheer wrinkled fabric and crinkled translucent paper. The purplish Greek text that frames it comes from the first words in the Gospel of John, equating the person of Jesus with God and God’s word (logos) itself - In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God:

ν ρχ ν λόγος, κα λόγος ν πρς τν θεόν, κα θες ν λόγος.

That tiny scroll held by Jonah as he emerges from the belly of the beast bears the Greek words, from Luke 24:34, The Lord is risen indeed:

 τι ντως γέρθη κύριος

   So why this picture of Jonah? Call it one artist’s Holy Week meditation. The Biblical narrative of Jonah is a distinct pre-figuring, or ‘type’ of the risen Christ. Victorious over death, he is the fulfillment of a promise, the hope and rescue of an afflicted, fallen-away world. My painting is nothing more, and nothing less, than a prayer of gratitude for the infinite love of a Father-Creator who, in Jesus, wants nothing more, and nothing less, than to raise us up to be with him  forever.