PACT (Prayer and Creativity Team) is a group of Christian artists associated with Hill Country Bible Church of Austin, Texas, where they host a series of themed art shows. For more details see http://www.pactofaustin.com/. The next show, entitled “Perspective,” has its opening reception from 7-9PM on Sept. 30. Below are three of the recent 12″ x 12″ pieces I have submitted for this show.
This piece shows the traditional symbols assigned to the Four Evangelists. Each of their historical accounts presents the life and works of Jesus Christ from a different perspective, but all blend together to give us a unified picture of our Lord and Savior.
In Their Own Eyes (collage)
The Book of Judges ends with the words: “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.” As Americans who almost deify the concept of personal independence, we should realize that this statement was not one of approval by God, but a condemnation of the people’s actions during that turbulent time period.
Grasshopper Men (collage/acrylic)
The warped perspective of the spies sent into Canaan caused them to characterize the inhabitants as giants and themselves as mere grasshoppers. We sometimes exaggerate the power of the enemy and do not sufficiently take into account God’s power over our circumstances.
Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA) has several traveling art shows each year. Go to civa.org for the scheduled showings. Two of my works, shown below, are featured, respectively, in the shows “Parables” and “Work: Curse or Calling?”
The Kingdom Is (2005)
Concerning the above piece, Tyrus Clutter stated, “The parable of the net is one of a series of parables in Matthew that begin ‘The kingdom of God is like…'” Jesus states that at the end of the age the ‘fish’ will be divided at the final judgement.David McCoy explores these parables in his mixed media assemblage, following Christ’s example by placing materials from everyday life into his work. These objects–such as tiny seeds–become potent symbols, or metaphors, that encourage us to discover the eternal in the ordinary.”
Joel Zwart comments on the above piece: “Also consider the work of David McCoy’s Sowers. McCoy’s laborious cutting and pasting ennobles the concept of mundane work, in this case a farmer’s daily occupation and an artist’s cut-and-paste process. His collage yields a bird’s eye view of mesmerizing activity where the eye is led to survey the panoply of vignettes. It finds kindred spirit with the paintings of Pieter Bruegel the elder, where human activity dominates the picture plane and the artist’s use of aerial perspective unifies the work.”
The Book of Proverbs is an ideal source for the type of semi-surrealist art that I do since each chapter juxtaposes a variety of diverse images. Back in 1999, I did a series of 31 small (5″ x 7″) collages on canvas board–one for each chapter of Proverbs. A few of these are shown below.
Turn to the appropriate chapter of Proverbs and see if you can identify the literary source for each image.
The somewhat hazy appearance of these pieces is due to the fact that the final finish was created with several thin layers of Elmer’s Glue.
Proverbs 26 Proverbs 17
Encaustic is an ancient art technique that is still used today. However, it is very messy, somewhat dangerous, and requires specialized equipment and materials. An easier, if somewhat cruder, technique that I found is as follows:
(1) Purchase some purified beeswax and candlewax and place equal portions into an old tin can where they can then be melted together over the stove by placing in a pan of boiling water.
(2) Pour the molten wax into a shallow container that will serve as the “frame” for your picture. I constructed small wooden boxes for my pieces.
(3) After the wax has solidified, outline your picture by scratching the design with a stylus.
(4) Then shave slivers from appropriately colored crayons onto the surface, using your design as a guide.
(5) Carefully melt the crayon by touching it with the tip of a hot woodburning tool.
Interesting effects can be obtained as different colors blend together upon melting, and the surface can be easily scraped off if a mistake is made.
The three pieces shown below represent symbolically the various sections or chapters of three of Paul’s letters.
I Corinthians (1986)
In this piece, the circular divisions were made by imbedding plastic communion cups in the molten wax. Some of the detailed design was created by rubbing black ink into inscribed lines in the wax.
II Corinthians (1986)
Some variety in technique is shown in this piece by imbedding metal, porcelain or plastic objects in the molten wax of the bottom compartment.
This piece incorporates all of the techniques of the other two but adds further variety by filling some of the compartments of the box with plaster of Paris or with epoxy resin.
Last night I saw the recent movie Secretariat and thoroughly enjoyed it. The movie starts and ends with a quotation from Job 39, given below in the New Revised Standard Version.
“Do you give the horse its might? Do you clothe its neck with mane? Do you make it leap like the locust? Its majestic snorting is terrible. It paws violently, exults mightily; it goes out to meet the weapons. It laughs at fear, and is not dismayed; it does not turn back from the sword. Upon it rattle the quiver, the flashing spear, and the javelin. With fierceness and rage it swallows the ground; it cannot stand still at the sound of the trumpet. When the trumpet sounds, it says ‘Aha!’ From a distance it smells the battle, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.”
In 2006 I created a collage based on Job 39 (which can be seen in my 6/12/10 posting) so I looked again at my picture and saw that I had illustrated the verses above with a photograph of a race horse. Then I looked at the racing colors of the horse and realized that it was SECRETARIAT. This either falls into the category of “Great minds think alike” or the leading of the Holy Spirit.
The story of Solomon given in I Kings 2-11 is a cautionary tale picturing one of the few examples of apostasy in the Bible, Old or New Testament. The dual before-and-after collages describing his sprititual decline are shown below. These were created this year on oval canvases mounted on 20″ x 24″ hardboard backings.
Solomon: The Sage
Solomon began his reign auspiciously with God giving him the wisdom of seven men as well as power and wealth beyond imagining. His wisdom is amply demonstrated by the collection of Proverbs ascribed to him. Images from this book surround his composite portrait.
Solomon: The Apostate
Unfortunately, his end was not as glorious as his beginning. Chapter 11 of I Kings tells us that he married many foreign women and adopted their pagan religions before he died. The images surrounding this portrait are taken from the Book of Ecclesiastes, which is about, and possibly by, Solomon. This book describes the various futile experiments of someone who has everything attempting to find ultimate meaning in life. The various sayings in Ecclesiastes can be described as anti-wisdom in that they demonstrate that the general truths of Proverbs regarding the fates of the wise and foolish do not always play out simply in this life. In this manner, the book resembles that of Job.
As with Job, however, the author does not resort to nihilism but, as one author has said, “He is even skeptical about his own skepticism.” This phenenomenon plays itself out in the literary structure of Ecclesiastes in that each section, however negative in tone, concludes by coupling a cynical statement such as “All is vanity and a striving after the wind” with a positive qualifier such as “there is nothing better than that all should enjoy the work God has given them.”
I am always on the lookout for inexpensive alternatives to stretched canvases as backings for my collages. I came across some interesting, and cheap, 10″ x 10″ wooden frames with recessed mirrors in the center at IKEA and used twelve of them to create a series centering on key incidents found in Genesis-Joshua, before the Jews settled in the promised land. The scripture references are given with the titles in case you wish to look up the relevant Bible passages.
Mail Order Bride (Genesis 24)
Highway to Heaven (Genesis 28:10-22)
Night Wrestling (Genesis 32)
Bushfire (Exodus 3)
All Decked Out (Exodus 28 & 39)
Calf Casting (Exodus 32)
The Big 10 (Exodus 34)
Encamped (Numbers 2)
Twice Struck (Numbers 20)
Sympathetic Healing (Numbers 21)
A Memorial Forever (Joshua 4)
“And Blow Your House Down” (Joshua 6)
The fascinating and perplexing story of this love triangle is narrated in II Samuel 11. Interestingly, there are many parallels between this story and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. In both, an apparently godly man of prominence in the community has a secret affair with a married woman resulting in a child. He admits his guilt publically at the end of the story. In Hawthorne’s novel, each of the main characters is missing one key component of a balanced personality. In the case of Pastor Dimmesdale it is the will, Hester is short on intellect, and her husband Chillingworth shows little emotion. (An alert reader will see the same deficiencies even more obviously in Dorothy’s friends in The Wizard of Oz.) Hawthorne may have deduced these character flaws in the original Biblical account since it is obvious that David’s problem is indeed a will too weak to resist temptation, and Uriah does seem to be lacking in emotional content. Bathsheba is somewhat of a cipher, and we don’t know if her actions result from the cold calculations of a scheming temptress wanting to better her situation, or just reflect someone willing to “go with the flow” of events.
Each 12″ x 16″ collage in my 2007 triptych pictured below centers in on one of the three personalities in a somewhat cartoonish fashion.
David’s dual nature is clearly pictured here. This story presents a powerful lesson in sincere repentence followed by God’s forgiveness. Some people have a major problems with the fact that David is called “a man after God’s own heart” despite his adulterous behavior and subsequent cover-up. In addition to the obvious observation that all human beings are sinners, I found some comments of C. S. Lewis helpful in this regard. He categorized sins into two types: carnal and spiritual. The former sins (such as lust, gluttony, drunkenness, etc.) only lead people to become more like a beast. In contrast, “spiritual” sins (such as spite, envy, idolatry, etc.) are much more dangerous since they cause one to become more demonic. David’s sins, unlike those of his predecessor King Saul, were carnal in nature. It should also be pointed out that the rest of David’s career as king will be overshadowed by personal tragedies in his own family, beginning with the death of his son with Bathsheba. Sin, even when completely forgiven, is still accompanied by inescapable consequences.
Bathsheba is pictured as a literal “bathing beauty” along with others. The inner workings of her mind remain as much a mystery as those of Mona Lisa.
Uriah is pictured as the soldier par excellence. His whole world is the army, and duty is his highest calling. One wonders whether there is any room left in his life for his spouse.
Old wooden printers trays (also called type cases) are readily available in a variety of styles and sizes on the Internet or in antique shops. Although they are widely used as decorative display cases for small knic-knacs, they can also function as the basis of more serious art projects. The divisions within these trays provide a built-in structure to the piece, and they have the added advantage of not needing an external frame. Some of my attempts to work within the framework of printers trays are shown below.
10 1/2″ x 13″
The embossed letters in this case suggested the theme of the piece since the four chapters of Lamentations are each arranged as an acrostic with the opening lines beginning with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Within this literary framework, however, there are variations so that each succeeding chapter becomes increasingly disordered, mirroring the disintegration of the nation of Israel after the capture of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BC.
When I purchased this printers tray, it was somewhat damaged. This prompted me to actually remove additional dividing slats so as to provide larger frameworks for the most prominent collaged images. Thus, the use of chance elements can be used to advantage by the artist even if they seem to be problems at the time. Witness Marcel Duchamp’s comment when his Great Glass masterpiece was dropped by workmen, cracking a glass panel—“Now it is complete!”
The Book of Genesis is the theme of the above piece. The literary structure of this book actually forms an interesting, and contrasting, counterpart to that of Lamentations. Ten of the eleven major sections of Genesis begins with the words “This is the generation of.” The first sections have no recognizable sub-structure, but slowly a pattern emerges. By the time the last section appears– the story of Joseph– it is seen to have a highly organized symmetrical structure. In this manner, the whole Book of Genesis is seen to reflect the creation of an ordered world from chaos and God’s choosing of one particular family over the many people on earth. This increasing symmetry can be seen by comparing the patterns of divisions in the tray going from left to right.
6 3/4″ x 8″
A very unusual variety of printers box was used for the above piece. It is a hard rubber tray used for linotypes. The title and subject were felt to be appropriate ones for the material in question. In biblical parlance, a “type” is an Old Testament forerunner to a New Testament person or event. In a way, it is a form of hidden prophecy whose meaning is only revealed later under the influence of the Holy Spirit. In this particular collage, the example is that of Jonah, who was a type of Jesus in that they were both “buried” for three days before being raised (see Matthew 12:38-40)
One For Many (2003)
32″ x 16 1/2″
It is hard to see much detail in the photo above, but at least one can admire the inherent artistry in the unusual tray itself. The major divisions in the tray gave rise to the arrangement of the collage elements with the center panel representing Christ’s crucifixion and the flanking panels showing events on heaven, earth and hell (going from top to bottom) before and after, respectively, this key event in history. The title comes from Caiaphas’ inadvertant prophecy (John 11:49-51) that one person should die on behalf of the many, who are represented in the portraits lining the bottom row.
God’s Plaything (2009)
32 1/2″ x 16 3/4″
This rather playful piece pictures the mysterious, composite sea creature called Leviathan. It is described in detail in Job 40-41 as the epitome of God’s creation in the ocean. Despite its power and invincibility, it is a mere plaything for God (Psalm 104:26). Its immunity to man’s attempts to capture it with hooks or spears prompts the inclusion of the encapsulated objects in the upper and lower rows of the picture. Note that I removed almost all of the wooden slats from the original type case before constructing this work.
Dubious Denouement (2009)
32″ x 16 3/4″
The strange images in the above piece are appropriate to the rather strange passage that forms the ending (chapter 16, verses 9-20) to Mark’s Gospel in some, but not all, modern translations. The controversy over whether to include these verses arises from the fact that the majority of ancient Greek manuscripts end with this passage, but not the earliest ones. My own studies of this gospel from a structural viewpoint have led me to the following theory: Mark ‘s original ending to his gospel was lost early in the history of its transmission but reconstructed later from memory by his associates. Luke, but not Matthew, had access to the original edition of Mark’s Gospel when he wrote his story of Christ’s life and teachings so we can get some further idea of what was originally in Mark from the ending of The Gospel According to Luke.
In 2004 I created a series of assemblages entitled “Strange Waters” highlighting some particular, and peculiar, stories in the Old and New Testament that involved transformations of water by God’s power. Four of them are pictured below.
Waters of Impurity (3 1/2″ x 4 1/4″ x 12 1/4″)
The regulation which this piece illustrates is found in Numbers 5. Anyone who becomes ritually unclean by touching a dead body or coming into contact with human bones may have an uncontaminated person sprinkle a slurry of ashes on him and his house using a hyssop branch. Such purity laws may seem foreign to us today, but they helped instill in the Jewish people the notion of God’s absolute otherness, or holiness–a concept that we tend to take too lightly today.
Waters of Testing (10 3/4″ x 5″ x 3 1/2″)
The above assemblage is based on the unusual procedure outlined in Numbers 5 by which a suspicious husband may determine his wife’s fidelity. She is to appear before the priest with her hair unloosed and holding a grain offering. After pronouncing an oath of innocence, she is then to drink from a mixture of dust, ink and water. If she has lied, she will suffer from a fallen uterus. There are, of course, obvious spiritual and supernatural elements present in this ritual. But, in addition, it should be noted that the trial, by its very nature, is heavily weighted in favor of the wife (unlike other trials by ordeal) and probably discouraged husbands from making baseless accusations.
Bitter Waters (8″ x 3 1/4″ x 2 1/2″)
Exodus 15 records the story of Israel in the wilderness after escaping from Egypt. At Marah, the only water they found was too bitter to drink. God revealed to Moses that the waters would be sweetened if he threw in a particular piece of wood. There have been attempts to find a naturalist explanation for this event. For example, it is known that activated charcoal will remove impurities from water. But at the least, the revelation to Moses of the knowledge of how to accomplish this purification should be regarded as a miracle. When this work was half completed, I decided that the inclusion of a bottle would be appropriate. I came across an antique medicine bottle in my collection with the inscription “Atwood’s Jaundice Bitters Formerly Made By Moses Atwood.” Such “chance” happenings have occurred often enough in my various creative enterprises to convince me of the continuing guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Transformed Water (9 3/4″ x 2″ x 8 1/2″)
Moving to the New Testament, the first recorded miracle of Jesus involves water– the transformation of water into wine at the wedding in Cana. One may safely disregard the several ludicrous attempts to explain this as a purely naturistic event. However, as C. S. Lewis points out, this miracle (as the other New Testament miracles) is not merely arbitrary but demonstrates God’s telltale modus operandi. It simply accomplishes in a speeded-up manner what God also carries out through natural processes in the vineyard and through fermentation. Appropriately, this piece is constructed using materials from a water testing kit.