Saturday, March 28, 2015

AMERICAN CONTEMPLATIVE ARTIST

Our artist for Holy Week has given us the most number of crucifixions. WILLIAM CONGDON, born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1912 was an American painter who gained notoriety as an artist in New York City in the 1940s, but lived most of his life in Europe, dying in Milan in 1998.

He lived a  profoundly personal and Christian life after his conversion to Catholicism in 1959.  After living for a year in Venice, he took up permanent residence in Assisi where he lived for the next 19 years. In 1979, though not a monk, he moved permanently to a studio apartment attached to a new Benedictine community in the monastery of Saints Peter and Paul  outside of a small village near Milan. For the last 19 years of his life the lowlands of the Milanese countryside were the major inspiration of his art. Many felt this move was "suicide" to his art!

 His own words from his journals speak more than all the critics about the man and his work.
"I know I won't sleep any more .. I am slowly sinking into the depths of original nothingness until at a certain point I recognize that I am smiling and smiling with the smile of another of the Face of the Other who is these pastels who is their naked rigorousness of nothingness that from the Cross  explodes in the shout of all who is this miracle that creates the universe, that re-creates me and from the depths of the anguish of original nothingness I feel myself float up and up again-- and I sleep." (Manuscript, April 18, 1989.)




During the late 1950s Congdon's life was often in a state of agony. Having early in life been deprived of a close relationship to his family and his roots in New England, and his search around the globe for a surrogate had failed. He writes about the "destructive projection of his ego" and also of feelings of self-doubt and sin in his disordered life. In 1951 in Assisi he had met Don Giovanni Rossi, the founder of the association Pro Civitate Christiana, who had welcomed him with affection and who held out hope.

In the Sahara Desert in 1955 a French waiter quite fortuitously gave Congdon a copy of the Confessions of St. Augustine, a book that took on increasing significance for the artist in his solitude. Perhaps it was St. Augustine's conviction that he who searches for God has already found God within himself, which helped the artist in his determination to alter the direction of his life.

He returned to Assisi, converted to Catholicism, and was baptized in August 1959. He was received by the lay movement Pro Civitate Christiana and moved into an old, small house in Assisi, where he began his long cycle of religious paintings. He now no longer painted in isolation,  but felt able to relate his work to a larger community.



"I felt the weight of Christ on my pictures, on my very creative freedom. In those years few pictures came to birth, and they would not have come to birth -I lament-if I always had to think of Christ when I painted. When I heard that the Blessed Angelico painted with a brush in one hand and the Gospel in the other, it struck me as the most absurd nonsense. One of the greatest difficulties for the artist who offers himself to conversion is letting Christ settle in. The autonomy of art is an inviolable, untouchable mystery that, like the Spirit, "blows where and when it wills." "A collision of two mysteries," a friend said to me. One mystery the artist had already within himself. God has given it to him, and the artist will only permit God, with difficulty, to take it from him in order to have the artist accept another mystery that he neither sees nor touches, even if this latter mystery promises to recover and to regenerate the first mystery which was lost."




"After my baptism in the Catholic Church at Assisi in 1959, the figure again became explicit in the form and content of the Cross. However, it is perhaps inevitable that the encounter with Christ and the discovery that his drama of the Cross is also my own- I mean for our salvation - should lead me to the Crucifix through a return to the figure."



Friday, March 20, 2015

CHRIST IN PARIS


This last week of  Lent before Holy week, I present  PAUL AUGUSTIN AIZPIRI  who was born in 1919 in Paris but raised in his ancestral Basque country.

His father, a sculptor, sent him to study at the Ecole Boulle Spécialisée dans l'Incrustation et la Marqueterie.  However, because of his great love of painting he  joined Ecole des Beux Arts in 1936
He  studied  for three years  in the studio of Sabatté. At first he struggled to establish himself as an artist, making a living by repairing furniture and cleaning pictures, before achieving success. In 1939 Paul  escaped from a German prisoner of war camp in Brittany and made his way back to Paris.

In 1946 he won a prize at the Salon de la Jeune Peinture, where he exhibited alongside artists such as Bernard Buffet and André Minaux. In the years following WWII, Paul exhibited to great acclaim all over the world.

He is considered  one of the great masters of figurative art. The unique characteristics of his artwork is exemplified by his contrasts of warm and cool colors rendered with a light and humorous touch.

Paul's  Basque heritage is said to have influenced the hot colors and expressionist style of his work and perhaps his great admiration for Vincent Van Gogh has also played a part in his vivid art.



As far as I could research,  Paul still paints at his Paris apartment, a French castle and his Saint- Tropez villa, which means he is in his late 90s and still at work. His art is extremely popular throughout Europe and Japan.



Saturday, March 14, 2015

CHRIST IN WOOD



Our next Lenten artist is WALTER HABDANK (1930-2001) who was born in Schweinfurt. From 1949 to 1953 he studied artistry and graphics at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. He lived and worked as a freelanced artist, first in Munich and after 1979 in Berg at Lake Starnberg.

Walter was the son of a Lutheran deacon born and his wife.  After High School at the grammar school Theresa Munich he attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich studying painting and graphic arts.

After his studies he was a freelance artist, followed by several years of financial constraints and difficulties. With his meditative woodcuts he become one of the most well-known artists of his type.

His artistic work emerged from and later moved beyond expressionistic roots. He created woodcuts, paintings and watercolors as well as stained glass windows, mosaics, murals and triptychs. He also drafted script and artistic designs for churches and other religious institutions. In the “Habdank-Bible” (Augsburg 1995), the artist illustrated the text of the Bible with 80 interpretive woodcuts.

Many exhibitions and publications made him known within and outside Germany. Through many “picture contemplations” he encouraged his viewers again and again to analyze his work.

Walter was an artist of engaging and representational expression. For him, the human being balanced in the tension between the extremes of joy and pain, comfort and desolation. The artist presented this again and again in his woodcuts, water-colors, and paintings in symbols and parables of mythological or biblical origin the prototypes of human existence.

With his works, he inspires his “picture viewers,” as he often said, to accept the whole of creation, to encounter themselves and their own sensibilities critically and without pretense. This perspective is one of affection and comfort and directs one beyond oneself and one’s own life.






Saturday, March 7, 2015

THE CARDBOARD JESUS




Our next artist for Lent, the only one not to suffer through a world war, is RUDOLPH VALENTINO BOSTIC. He was born in Savannah, GA in 1941. Rudy Bostic is a self-taught artist known for his vibrantly rendered religious images, usually done in magic marker, acrylic, metallic, and enamel house paint on cardboard, with the occasional flourish of glitter to accent his work. 

 As a young boy, Rudy had few toys and resorted to making his own.  At the age of 17, he was asked to draw some religious paintings to be displayed in the church. Further encouragement came from his uncle, the longtime pastor of the Second African Baptist Church on Green Square in Savannah, who asked Rudy and his brother to make religious pictures for his congregation.

Rudy was working at the Derst Baking Company in Savannah in 1979 when he was inspired to use their discarded cardboard boxes as canvases. When he ran his fingers along its smooth, solid surface, he thought it would make an ideal "canvas" for working with all the odds and ends of house paint he had at home. He worked into the early hours of each morning making his first pictures on cardboard panels laid out on his bed. His working style hasn't changed much over the years, but he has since expanded his color palette and his images have branched out to include heroes of history and myth, fantasy landscapes, and everything from angels and hot air balloons, to mermaids and merry-go-rounds.

“Growing up like most children, I believe we all had our dream world... I loved 'Cowboys and Indians,' which became my introduction to drawing. As I grew older, I lost interest in art until I reached high school. In my later years, I took a closer view of art and realized that few artists today capture the power and the glory of God the way the old masters did. Trying to find a way, I studied their works. I love the design, colors and subjects of the Renaissance artists and the way Rembrandt uses dark and light. Inspired by their work, I try to express my love for God and the world.”

Rudy Bostic belongs to the category of "self-taught" artists. He is deeply religious and his favorite subjects are scenes from the bible.  Occasionally, he branches out into something he has seen on television; circus animals, cowboys, and Paris or Venice.  He has great enthusiasm for his art and loves to share his vision with others.

Rudy is gaining recognition as a talented self-taught artist and is included in the collection of The Mennello Museum of American Folk Art, in Orlando, Florida.

Crucifixion I
This creator in cardboard is a true visionary artist. He seldom works from preparatory sketches and almost never retouches finished pictures, which are usually made in one sitting with the cardboard panel, lying in front of him on his bed. With his imagination so steeped in biblical imagery, Rudy gathers his paint pots and brushes, picks up a cardboard panel, and, as he says, "the images just come to me." 

While his paintings are firmly rooted in an Afro-American tradition of “testimony art," meant to share Black historical experiences and religious beliefs, there is something that reminds us of Eastern Orthodox icons.

"The Crucifixion I" is an excellent example of his style of double painting. Clustered around Christ on the cross, one sees visual references to Jesus as “Lamb of God” and “Lion of Judah,” the Eucharistic symbols of bread and wine, an open Bible - even the Ark of the Covenant.


 

Saturday, February 28, 2015

CHRIST CRUCIFIED IN NICARAGUA


Our artist for this second week of Lent is  JOSE IGNACIO FLETES CRUZ who was born in 1952 in Managua, Nicaragua. He is a Primitivista artist, whose naif style of image-making is associated with a utopian Christian community, founded in the mid 1960s by the Catholic Poet-Priest, Ernesto Cardenal, in the remote Solentiname island chain at the southern end of Lake Nicaragua.

A disciple of Trappist Monk Thomas Merton, Ernesto was an ardent proponent of Liberation Theology and believed the Church should actively support the poor in their struggle for social and economic justice. Soon after he arrived on the main island of Mancarron, the parish church became a center where the fishermen and farmers of the archipelago could learn about art, poetry, and radical Christianity.  Thus the Solentiname community was born.

Ernesto noticed the islanders were skilled in decorating gourds, and invited Nicaraguan Figurative Painter Roger Perez de la Rocha to come to the community in 1968 to give art lessons. Many of the locals knew so little about art-making, they thought, at first, the metal tubes of oil paint were colored tooth paste, but they took up painting on canvas with enthusiasm. Soon whole families were creating landscapes, typical scenes from village life, and stories from the Bible in the naif folk art style, which has come to be known as Nicaraguan Primitivism. Fletes Cruz was an outsider who came to islands to take part in the unique social experiment. Born in Managua, he had taken art courses in Leon and shared the community’s Christian ideals and egalitarian politics.

Detail

He had studied for a year at the School of Fine Arts in Leon later joining the community of  Solentiname.  There he created works for the book, The Gospel in Art by the Peasants of Solentiname. During the war (1978-79)  he took refuge in Costa Rica, and contributed paintings to the movement against Somoza. He settled in Leon after the war, and joined the Sutiava group of artists.

He has had exhibitions all over the world. In 2007 fifteen paintings by Ignacio Fletes Cruz were selected for permanent display in the new US Embassy and the offices of the US Agency for International Development in Managua, Nicaragua



Fletes Cruz’s depiction of Jesus Christ Crucified (The Christ of the Poor) brings to mind the 1977 attack on the community by the Somoza National Guard, who appear beneath the Cross, wearing U.S. military-issue camouflage outfits.

Fletes Cruz describes his art as “a visual representation of the revolution of Christ, of what Christ is doing within us.”

Saturday, February 21, 2015

SUFFERING CHRIST- A PEACEFUL REVOLUTION


This week we present an artist who lived in, what I consider one of the most beautiful cities in the world, where I spent one month, ten years after the Velvet Revolution. Czech artist JAROSLAV VODRAZKA was born in 1894 during the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was the son of a miller who married a baker’s daughter. Their family ran a bakery in Prague. Jaroslav showed artistic promise at an early age, drawing on sidewalks and the margins of newspapers. He studied at The School for the Applied Arts, where he learned printmaking. Soon afterward he was drafted into the Austro-Hungarian army in World War I, where he sketched and made watercolors, while serving on the Italian Alpine front. A Czechoslovak state was formed after the war and Jaroslav became a professor of printmaking and graphic arts. In 1923, he went to work with Svaty Martin in Slovakia, where he spent the next 16 years doing book design and typography in the previously suppressed Slovak language, which occurred during Hungarian rule.

Surviving the period of peace between the two World Wars was short-lived, once the Nazis invaded and occupied Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Their endurance of the Soviet forces which separated the eastern block countries from the west placed an enormous hardship upon countless artists and creative individuals.
The early part of the 20th C. saw numerous eastern European artists working under these terrible conditions. They were often called 'internal emigrees', and during the day while at their jobs, they did what they were told. They also fought an artistic 'war' of their own while they struggled to keep creative and produce artwork in virtual seclusion. The penalties for intelligence and enlightened minds was severe and swift. The Nazis were not known for their sympathies for visionary artists or any unrealistic imagery.


On the eve of World War II, Jaroslav left his position in Slovakia and returned with his family to Prague, even though it was a Nazi-run Protectorate. He settled into a life of teaching, book illustration, and print-making. He produced wood engravings, linocuts, etchings, engravings, and lithographs, and was always interested in exploring new printmaking techniques, using materials such as plastic and plexiglass.

From 1939 he and his wife, Ella, a writer-poet,and their son, Jaroslav, who became a noted  musician in classical organ and professor of music, lived quietly in a place of refuge on the West Bank of the Vltava River in Prague with a view of the spires of St. Vitus Cathedral, an image frequently seen in his etchings.

Unfortunately, Jaroslav did not live long enough to see the collapse of the Soviet Bloc. He died five years before the 1989 Velvet Revolution routed the Communists out of power in his beloved Czechoslovakia. The vitality and creative spirit of his work is still relevant for our world today.  His work has a beauty and depth of emotion, and his respect for religious subjects is evident.



 The artist kept a painting of St. Vaclav, the Czech national patron saint, in his own personal library with other examples of inspiration, like a collection of printmakers Rembrandt, Durer and Schongauer. His surviving sketchbooks are full of proposals for never-realized projects of stained glass windows and church sanctuaries. The Cross of his people's struggle is exemplified in His suffering Christ.

Friday, February 20, 2015

THE FIVE FINGER PRAYER FOR LENT


Our Holy Father Pope Francis has given us an easy way to pray- this Lent- and always. It is a prayer that keeps us mindful of all who need our prayers.

Just spread out your hand and use each finger which represents a special intention.

The thumb, which is “the finger nearest to us”, helps us think of and pray for those who are closest to us; “these are the people that come most easily to mind”; praying for our loved ones “is a pleasant duty”. The index finger reminds us to pray for those who instruct and guide others, so “those who teach and care for others”. “Teachers, professors, doctors and priests” fit into this category. The middle finger is the longest and reminds us of our “leaders”, the people “who hold the fate of our country in their hands and influence public opinion … They need God’s guidance.”


Paraclete Press

The fourth finger is the ring finger. “This is our weakest finger, as any piano teacher will tell you.” It is there to remind you to pray for the weak, for those who face trying situations and for the sick,” who need “our prayers day and night”. He also urged faithful to pray for married couples.

Finally, the small finger reminds us that “we must feel little before God and our neighbors” and that we should pray for ourselves: “Once you have prayed for everyone else, you will be able to better understand what your needs are, looking at them from the right perspective”.