A City on a Hill

A City on a Hill

 

Newly finished because planting season is here, check out the painting inspired by our series ‘A City on a Hill’ from earlier this spring!

Matthew 5:14-16

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.

North Ridge Church

 

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.

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For God and Country

Once again, we enter into the home stretch of an election year, bracing for an overload of partisan propaganda and wild rumors of certain Armageddon scenarios if particular candidates are elected. Today opens the ballot boxes for early voting in some states, marking the beginning of the end for this chaos. Looking over the brainstorming notes for future series ideas this summer, a four word phrase coinciding with this season demanded my attention; For God and Country. Despite not having any guarantee this will become a series of messages and drawings, the idea took root and creating this piece became inescapable.

I am a huge Marvel comics fan, Stan Lee’s creations inspired much of my early work. Combine that with enjoying the occasional Colbert Report and the phrase, “God and country” immediately brings Captain America’s shield to mind. The summer’s release of ‘The Avengers’ and resulting influx of Marvel paraphernalia in toys aisles across the country have, once again, defined this symbol as an indisputable icon of heroism and American patriotism.

Exciting as the initial surge of patriotic adrenaline may be, let’s step back and listen for what this piece is saying.

The first panel of this piece is a sheet of plywood with a smooth, finished face. This is the start of creation, smooth and untainted. As the image moves toward you, the first layer is segments of this original material, cut into smaller panels. Subsequent layers mimic this panel appearance, but are constructed of lower-quality OSB board. As the piece progresses toward you, it regresses in material quality. This tainting of the materials represents our working relationship with creation. We take the raw materials God invented for our use and destroy them, then reassemble the fragments into something that mimics the original design in an attempt to make the original better. Often this process of re-creation will benefit society, but the materials I chose are an example of the opposite reaction. The imagery here is God’s original creation and our use of that creation to build life as we know it. Just as the materials lose their quality as they are layered, the more effort we spend elevating ourselves, the more fragile our creation becomes.

The icon of the Captain America shield is what stands out on this piece. Each layer contains the full shape of the shield, covered by the next layer then spray painted back on.  Painting the shield on to the original, smooth panel create the highest quality and most aesthetically pleasing image. As I added the layers of smaller panels and re-applied the shield, the original image lost its crisp quality due to over-spray. We have parts of our original design in sight, we can even discern the full image when we step back and look at the whole picture, but the panels (our efforts to re-define creation) disrupt the image. This distracts us from seeing the big picture, only focusing on a piece or two at one time. As the old adage goes, we can’t see the forest for the trees.

The piece hangs on the wall in an awkward position in relation to the floor. Artwork is normally hung in a position that is perpendicular to the floor. This irregular display will drive some viewers crazy, at least, that is my goal.

The angled display and fuzzy background layers of this piece communicate to most minds that something is off. Many will want to intervene and repair what they see off, to make sense of the image and settle the uneasiness its imperfection creates in their conscience.

Take action to mend what you see broken, redirect what is misguided, cultivate what you find neglected. Be the difference you long to see.

Own your responsibility. 

For God and country.