Newly finished because planting season is here, check out the painting inspired by our series ‘A City on a Hill’ from earlier this spring!
I’m pretty sure this is the riskiest painting I’ve ever completed. For starters, I stretched this canvas myself, the first time I’ve built my canvas since high school! Since I’ve been working with upholstered furniture for the last ten years, the art of stretching fabric is very familiar. Next came the risk of different materials and methods. I chose to paint directly on the raw canvas, no Gesso or under-painting.
A common thread in my work is deep symbolism, ‘A City on a Hill’ is no different. Each detail in the painting is meticulously chosen to represent something specific.
The first image created in this piece was the ‘hill’. At first, I was hesitant to use a mountain landscape in a painting I’d call ‘A City on a Hill’ because the reference seemed cliché’ and too easy. In the end, I stuck with the mountains to directly reference the family of believers with whom I worship and serve together; North Ridge Church.
With the ‘hill’ resolved, my next step was to tackle the ‘city’.
A couple of summers ago, I drew during a series we called ‘Planted’ at North Ridge. One particular message focused on how God places us in a specific place with a specific purpose, to build a city within a city. With that in mind, I could have allowed the mountain range to be both the hill and the city, but that interpretation would have been lost to people unfamiliar with that series.
Instead, I chose to incorporate another re-occurring theme in my work, the use of foreign language that literally translates into the word or idea I aim to convey. This time I stretched my use of linguistics to include Japanese, selecting the symbol that communicates ‘light’. Referencing ‘light’ instead of ‘city’ captures both analogies in the words of Matthew, the city on a hill and the lamp on a pedestal.
These first details; the hill, the city, and the light are all God-designed and God-established entities so I wanted to create them in a way that acknowledged His hand. At the time I was developing this composition I was also starting a vegetable garden from seed; and that’s when the inspiration hit, dirt. Dirt; the original earthen material, one of God’s first creations. Dirt naturally connects our minds with God’s hand in creation so it became the ideal material to use as paint in ‘A City on a Hill’. This was my first attempt at using dirt as paint, so I was nervous from the start. I mixed a saturated paste from leftover potting soil in a plastic dish and used a bamboo brush to apply a thick layer on the canvas. After a couple days drying time, the majority of the dirt held, so I excitedly moved forward with the piece!
I dry-brushed the blue mountain and foggy-looking landscape, then complimented the blue with a red-orange, sunset sky before inspiration struck once again. At this point, I had one step left in the piece as I had it conceived. After seeing the dirt and color as it stood, I felt it was lacking. Bring on risk number three, a white Gesso wash. I often use an ink wash with India ink on mounting board in my work. My hypothesis was that mixing Gesso in the same method would bring similar results on raw canvas. The risk paid off. Using the wash, I dabbed heavy brushes full on the top edge of the canvas frame, allowing the fluid white to stream down the face of the piece and create organic white lines. A “happy accident” (to quote Bob Ross) was that, since the blue mountain had not dried, the white drips pulled some of the blue color into itself. Some drips mixed into a lighter blue, others pulled blue down with it while keeping some of the white hue separate. The result (which I am very happy with) took me to the scripture that inspired my name, James 1:17-18.
Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of Heavenly lights who does not change like shifting shadows.
The Gesso wash created a white rim (the heavens) along the top and runs down to infiltrate the dirt and acrylic paint on the canvas, solidifying the dirt and enhancing the flat blue so that it becomes a very interesting focal point int he piece.
One last detail to add, this one the riskiest of all but the one that makes this piece work. Using a serrated steak knife, I stabbed a hole in the top right of the canvas and sawed at the threads until I exposed a jagged hole. Cutting this hole did not loosen the canvas as much as I expected. The areas I thought I’d have to go back and tighten up remained flat and rigid. The piece was now complete.
As you take in the piece, your eye is drawn to the grossly damaged corner. I image this detail will capture eyes from across the room and make people ask themselves “What is going on there?” or “Did someone vandalize that painting?”. Whatever the question, it is one they can’t escape. Therein lies the point. The frayed cut will capture your eye and refuse to let it free. You must force yourself to look at the rest of the composition instead of its wound.
A city on a hill………..cannot be hidden.