“My steps have held to your paths, my feet have not stumbled.” Psalm 17:5
I discovered a steep cobble stone path leading up the mountain from the port to the town center. The ferry had arrived after sunrise to take us a short distance across the Mediterranean to the small island of Capri off the Amalfi coast. The rest of the abroad students lined up for a boat tour around the island. Apathetic to the idea of going back out on a small boat in the rough waters for two hours, I ventured off from the group and determined to find la spiaggia (local beach).
Fumbling to communicate with the local storeowners and window cleaners using my limited Italian vocabulary, I gained a general understanding of the direction I should take. A complete foreigner in an unfamiliar location, place, and language, I continued walking on despite my lack of clear direction. Making my way up the mountain, I was in awe of my surroundings and quickly accumulated inspiration to further seek adventure. Slightly out of my comfort zone, frustrated, and lonely during many stretches of my journey, I persevered, setting my mind on my final destination.
After about two hours of hiking, wandering, and searching I stumbled upon a sliver of an opening in the white stucco walls, just wide enough for a broad-shouldered man to pass through. Hidden between the luxurious, celebrity villas and high fashion boutiques lining the streets of the wealthiest island in Italy, I discovered a messy, filthy, yet functional workshop. There was so much beauty behind its antiquity. The chipped paint on the interior walls revealed layers upon layers of history. The rustic tools were arranged in an organized chaos that only the shopkeeper could understand. Behind all the material wealth and breath-taking scenery, I found the truth in the reality of authentic hard work and labor. One tool caught my attention as my eyes traveled through the space of the narrow workshop. Hung on the wall and shaped like a cross was a metal gadget meant for a specific usage foreign to my understanding. I was drawn to the metaphorical meaning of it all. Meditating on the journey that had led me to this unsolicited place, I was held captive to the symbolism that it provoked in relation to my personal journey of faith in Jesus Christ.
Painting is an attempt to give my journey of faith a visual form. The perpetual question that I wrestle with before I begin any work of art is: how can I translate words and truth into a communicable visual language on the canvas? Analogous to my adventure in Capri, I begin painting with a goal. In Capri, my mission was to find la spiaggia. I had no idea what it looked like, where it was, or how to get there, but I had a goal that initiated my path. As I begin a painting I choose a memory, usually a photograph, and a scriptural passage that establish a primary destination worth working toward. Ambiguity leaves room for adventure.
“The world says freedom – freedom means I can do whatever I want. But, I do not have the freedom to sit down at the piano and play Beethoven. I must choose that path if that is the direction I want to go.” – Pastor Benson
In order to become an artist, I must separate myself and give up control, choosing to be open minded to the independence of creativity and rejecting failure imposed by worldly or societal expectations. Letting the palette knife and oil paint develop a fluid relationship with the canvas invites elements of surprise into my process. Surprises are growth experiences and I do not intend to keep them a secret from my audience. Assuming a dual role of artist and tourist, I photographed each stage of the painting process from the blank canvases to the final paintings. Exposing the visual struggles, failures, and resolutions that construct the layers of thick paint behind the finished product hanging in the gallery allows the viewer to actively connect to my personal journey. My desire is to establish a sense of intimacy and vulnerability with my audience in order to gain their trust and credibility for sharing my message.
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Romans 12:2
Just as I chose to separate myself from the tour group, as a follower of Jesus Christ, I also had to make a conscious choice to separate myself from the ways of this world in order to walk in the ways of God.
Blindly searching for la spiaggia in Capri symbolizes humanity’s blind search for the Truth, which is an analogy for the process I initiate at the beginning of each painting.
“But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:14
While many ignorantly passed by the “eye sore” of the soiled workshop embedded in the white, stucco walls, others merely did not notice it in light of the atmospheric splendor of the summer day. Very few, I presume, discovered the treasure and history magnified in this antique workspace, let alone longed to meet the shopkeeper. The narrow, steep, less-traveled path that day led me to find Christ in the most unexpected place. My original goal was to find la spiaggia and eventually I made it there, but it was the adventure of getting lost, seeking direction, struggling physically and emotionally, and finding hidden treasures of truth and clarity along the way that defined my journey.
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Luke 12:34
A process or voyage can easily become frustrating when the determination is strictly focused on the end product and the most direct path to the final destination. I never attempt to see the finished painting before I begin working, for fear of losing the unanticipated meaning and visual surprises that arise when I let the work come alive. Not only had I found an ere long sanctuary to reflect, but after capturing a snapshot of the Italian workshop a seed of inspiration was planted that became the starting point of my final triptych.
“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants on the man who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” 1 Corinthians 3:6-9
Having discovered the message that I wanted to convey, I had to find the visual language on my canvas. Paul uses the metaphor of fellow workers in a field to expose the reality that the body of the church is made up of many different parts, each with a specific purpose, talent, and spiritual gift. The crowded workshop holds a diverse collection of tools that were crafted for a very specific function. In the same way, the Creator designed each individual to contribute unique gifts to the unified purpose of representing the Kingdom of Christ as fellow workers. Just as a builder does not favor one tool over others, the body of the church should not show partiality to any of its members; for it is only God who makes things grow.
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?’” Matthew 16:24-26
Just as it was not always evident that I was following the right path or understanding the Italian shopkeeper giving me directions to la spiaggia, seeking direction in life and understanding spiritual gifts are difficult and confusing at best. After continuing on up the cobble stone steps to the city center past the captivating workshop, I was filled with peace, despite the fact that I had not reached my intended destination yet. I had not lost sight of my original goal, but my focus had shifted and I became more open to the ambiguity of the adventure.
“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’” Isaiah 6:8
The handcrafted paper cranes attached to the tree limbs, blowing in the wind, pictured in the painting titled Here am I, Send Me! represents a visual interpretation of this second stage of my faith journey. Crafted by God to fly, I have chosen to connect myself to His branch, which is the word of God, and find life in the guidance and direction of His wind or will.
“Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’” Matthew 9:37-38
With the ambition to find la spiaggia, I persistently asked the locals for help but could only retain hints of direction from hand gestures and fragments of recognizable Italian phrases. The final painting of the series was inspired by this exciting lack of direction experienced on the island of Capri. Instead of painting directly from a photograph of harvested corn stalks, I began painting from a drawing that abstractly mapped out the shapes and highlights of the photograph.
Anxious to reach my destination at this point, an answered prayer came in the form of a bronze-skinned, energetic, elderly Italian woman who was traveling on her daily trek to the beach, down the other side of the mountain. The immense language barrier proved only a minor obstacle that was immediately overcome by her joyful, obliging, patient spirit as I wrestled to find words to explain my journey thus far and my desire to reach la spiaggia. Parallel to this experience, is my process of working to convey my message through the abstract imagery of my harvest drawing. Searching for the language to explain la spiaggia to the Italian islander correlates to the search for visual form that depicts my intended message of the Lord’s harvest in Matthew 9:37-38.
Taking my hand, I walked the remainder of my journey to la spiaggia with this lively elderly woman, casually conversing in a foreign language as if it were my own. Reaching my final destination was a relief, but more importantly were the places, struggles, and people I met along the way. Finishing a body of work is not the summit of my journey, but just as la spiaggia was located at the bottom of the opposite side of the mountain from the port, the final product is merely the final destination. As an artist, the most rewarding aspects of painting come from the process of discovery.
My art is a language. The brush, pallet knife, and oil paint are my vocal cords; the technique is a composite of my vocabulary; the form and composition represent my syntax and grammar; and the subject matter embodies my message. I have learned that each painting requires me to learn a new language. Subverting visual conventions as I work, it is a dynamic process of learning new visual vocabulary, editing the physical syntax and revising the aesthetic subject of the painting as its meaning develops and matures.
While my visual language translated onto the canvas is not evident to all, my final paintings serve as a platform to ignite contemplation for the viewer and encourage discussion around the intended message. My beliefs and faith are not shared by all, but it has been an extraordinary part of my journey to witness the transformative impact that each painting has had on my life and others through the process of creation and the explanation of the meaning behind each image to those who have been open to listening. Painting is not only a medium to give visual form to my own life experiences and relationship with Jesus Christ, but I intentionally paint imagery that invites each reader to approach each painting burdened with their own life experiences and influential memories. Once a viewer is invested in the visual aesthetics and/or imagery, it is my hope that he or she will question its intended symbolism and seek to further understand the message of truth expressed by each layer of paint.
2010, Oil on Canvas, 48in x 36in
Righteous Harvest, 2010
2010, Oil on Canvas, 48in x 36in
2010, Oil on Canvas, 48in x 36in