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For the patrons who purchased my The Return of the Prodigal — Happy New Year and Happy Anniversary too! As promised — a bit of explanation — thought process and working process for your new painting.
If you read my previous post you will know that I received a “gift of gold” the summer before last. I began to explore its use incorporating it into my paintings. In March last year, I prepared a waiting 48 x 48 inch panel with red bole as the surface on which to float the fragile leaf (water gilding). Random red lines showed between the leaf that would be incorporated into a final painting. At this point, I had no idea what this panel would evolve into. But if you look closely at the finished painting (above) you will notice that the red lines formed a red cross intersecting the two figures joined in embrace.
If you look closely, you will also notice that the leaf on the left side of the panel is a bit greener or lighter. I used the gift of antique leaf Made in Italy on the left and the leaf Made in Germany on the right. Then I turned it clockwise so the variation in shade made a bit of a horizon “where earth and sky meet in dimensions” (Micheal O’Brien).
Finally after burnishing it and using a UV sealer I could begin to paint on it.
I recalled an image that I had torn out of the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal. It was an cancer drug ad with the large word — HOPE — written on it and a loving kiss for someone needing hope. It was a powerful image of love, so I searched for it and taped it to the gold-covered panel. It would be the inspiration for a painting about The Parable of the Prodigal Son.
Appropriation is the use of pre-existing objects or images with little or no transformation applied to them. This is a very informative link if you are not familiar with this art world terminology. The use of photography in the postmodern era has reduced the importance of drawing skills and manipulation of the image is a common and acceptable creative art form. I incorporated a found image into my painting, but integrating it successfully into a strong painting is not always easy.
The large text would have to be painted out and the figures manipulated to create two figures with bodies to beautify and strengthen the metaphor of heavenly love and the glorious embrace. Fortunately, using an image with a female cancer victim would add to the narrative that God’s grace and forgiveness are for both prodigal sons and prodigal daughters. I wanted to manipulate it to suggest either gender.
Using oils mixed with cold wax medium, I began to suggest the large shapes — the negative light shape behind the prodigal’s head and the positive dark shape of the father’s hair, which I later balanced by the dark negative shape of the foreground — dividing heaven and earth. I especially allowed the gold to come through the figure of the Father, and through his extravagant robe. I also began to paint the faces, extending the Father’s face into the gold and adding ashen tones to the Prodigal’s face.
I added green and wine paint to the Father’s robe and red paint — the color of grace — to the Prodigal’s covering. While the paint and medium were still wet, I made random marks. And later when the paint and medium had partially dried I added the Hebrew text “tattooed” on the Prodigal’s arm the text on the Father’s beard. It read, “I am my beloved’s” and my beloved’s is “mine,” from the Song of Songs (Song of Solomon 2:16). The Prodigal is no longer separated from his family. He thankfully accepts his Father’s embrace, is clothed in his Father’s robe, given his Father’s ring, and welcomed to a celebration feast.
A parable is an earthly story that has a heavenly meaning. The gold leaf background is a perfect metaphor for the lavish heavenly love of God the Father.
Jesus often spoke in parables. He told his disciples that not all would understand them, but those with eyes to see and ears to hear would understand. Read The Parable of the Prodigal Son below or in Luke 15: 11-32.
“Stories immerse us temporally in a world other than our own, and in doing so, they provide us with a deeper understanding of our own identities, values, choices, and purpose” (You Can’t Have Ethics Without Stories by Russell Moore ).
The Parable of the Prodigal Son
And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” ’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’ ”
The forgiving Father remains constant in his love throughout the story. He is a picture of God himself. It is the memory of the Father’s goodness that brings the prodigal son to repentance (Romans 2:4). The wayward son had no right to claim a blessing and he had nothing to offer except a life of service. But he repents. He is prepared to fall at his Father’s feet begging forgiveness and mercy. The Father sees him coming from afar and runs to embrace him. He joyfully greets him with a kiss of love. This is the moment captured in the painting.
He is so filled with jubilation at his son’s return that he doesn’t even let him confess. He does not question or lecture him but unconditionally forgives him, honors him, and accepts him back into his house. He tells the older brooding brother, “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive!”
God greatly loves us, patiently waits for us to repent so he can lavish us with His great mercy (Ephesians 2:1-10). What wondrous love is this!!
An earlier Prodigal painting Weep for the Wiping of Grace was used for the cover for a 1993 issue of Christianity Today. It shows The Prodigal Son living with the pigs. He has left the splendor of his Father’s home and is huddled, seed-like, in the dark, earthy pig sty. Gold descends from his heavenly home onto three fence posts. This radical Prodigal God left the glories of his Father’s house to live with sinners. The fence posts on his back perhaps symbolize the three crosses of Golgotha — the place of Jesus’ death.
Other paintings from 2017 using gold-leaf are The Gardener and The Miracle of the Five Loaves and Two Fish (see next post).
Last year when I was about to begin a large commission called The Fisherman, I received an email from this sweet lady who had found my studio on the River Arts District website. She wrote, My father passed away a number of years ago and left from his tools of the trade – boxes of gold (as well as composition gold made from copper and zinc and aluminum and silver leaf as well as his daggers, burnishers, and brushes). My brother was going to throw them out but I took them thinking that they would be of use for someone. . . . I went on the internet and googled for artists in the Asheville area. Spotted a short description of the artwork you produce and with religious themes I felt this was the right avenue to pursue since my dad and grandfather did work in churches back in Ohio.
What perfect timing! I already had a specified 60 x 76 inch surface constructed — three panels bolted together vertically — like an altar piece with The Fisherman on the central panel. The commission was to be abstract with The Fisherman overseeing the scene below — his fishermen drawing in their nets. The clients were familiar with my work since they had purchased a painting called One Who Came On The Waters of Time / The Fisherman and had also commissioned a piece for their wine cellar, Water into Wine/The Wedding Feast Miracle . But they needed a large painting for their Florida residence — a focal point of faith in their home. We talked extensively. I received relevant fabric swatches, which inspired me to order powdered mineral pigments like malachite, azurite, and chrysocolla to compliment their colors and the ocean near their Naples home.
However, I had not expected the divinely sent “gift of gold”! How would I best utilize it, since my painting method is a process of layering paint? Would I hide the gold beneath the layers of paint? This layering process did in fact influence my decision to save the 23K gold-leaf for surface application and I would use the composition gold, an alloy of copper and zinc, beneath the wax and oils. (Composition gold would tarnish to a brown-green over time, actually adding to the colors of the sea. But cold wax medium that I mix with my oils has damar resin in it, which acts as a protective varnish. Even cold wax medium alone can be used as a final layer. I tell my clients that for extra protection, after a piece has dried for about six months, an additional UV varnish can be applied if they choose to do so.)
In the ancient suitcase of leaf were other metals used by her father — metals like silver and aluminum leaf. Rather that using the supply of silver leaf which tarnishes to black, I used the aluminum leaf as the ground surrounding the gold-leafed figure of the Fisherman. This foundational figure with resurrection arms raised would be calling and sending his fishermen. Also the fact that The Fisherman would be mostly hidden beneath the subsequent layers of paint and wax became an appropriate metaphor for the sovereign Fisher-King who works his ways of effectual calling mysteriously “behind the scenes,”
I researched water-gilding, the process of applying leaf which is so fragile and hammered so thin that the slightest air movement makes application difficult.
The figure-ground would be painted with two different colors of bole, a clay based paint.
I chose a blue for the aluminum leaf and deep red for the gold. These colors would show through the unevenly applied leaf to become part of the overall composition. As the red bole appeared through the tears and rips in the leaf, it reminded me of Christ’s sacrifice and the color of grace.
Then the layering of paint and wax could begin! I covered both figure and ground with colors of the sea and began to develop the fishermen at the bottom of the painting. I allowed the gold and silver to become integral to the composition by scraping off the surface layers before they dried. I also inscribed lines that reminded me of my The Nets of God Series and the boat shape which was thematic in my Vessel Series. The large Fisherman held his nets in the heavens as the small fishermen drew nets into their vessel below.
While the paint and wax were soft and pliable, I also made marks suggesting speech and Word of God. I incorporated automatic writing suggesting joy and song and later deliberate mark-making as in the Hebrew text השיחה (the call) under the face of The Fisherman inscribed when the paint and wax were drier.
Capturing the mystery of the face of God was a challenge. Nothing sentimental or trite would do for The Fisherman, whose sovereign rule spoke the world into existence and who dwells in unfathomable mystery. The Hebrew text הדייג in his diadem reads The Fisherman.
Some of these details are difficult to see from far or if the light is not reflecting on the gold leaf. This mystery adds to the glory and transcendence of the GOD and Creator of all things including faith! “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2).
The clients are happy that The Fisherman will be overseeing the gathering of many friends and guests who visit their home! The “gift of gold” was indeed a timely gift of grace.
It has taken me all year to write about this first painting using my “gift of gold.” I hope to write about the rich metaphor and mystery in the commission that preceded this commission, The Wedding Feast / Jesus’ First Miracle. It will have to wait, as I am currently working on another miracle, The Miracle of the Five Loaves and Two Fish!
In 2017, I also painted The Return of the Prodigal, and The Gardener, using gold leaf as the foundation.
Happy New year — 2018 — from Soli Deo Gloria Studio.
Last year, guest curator Eric Drummond Smith invited me to be part of the “historical” show Cherry Bounce/ The American Elections at the William King Museum in Abingdon, VA. It was historical in subject matter–its theme the history of the American elections from George Washington to Barack Obama, the 44th President. His well-chosen title Cherry Bounce, an Appalachian liquor, alluded to either hope or despair as we anticipated the yet undecided outcome of the November 2016 election. It was historical because I was assigned the Nixon/McGovern race of 1972 (the Nixon poster called for “a sense of history, not histrionics”), and historical also because my own Christian faith believes all of history is a story with a divine plot and the post-Fall battle for power.
I am a painter who is conscious of this “grand narrative” called history. My statement reads, “Bomer is concerned with the human condition surprised by the grace of God” (www.gracecarolbomer.com). This assumes the spiritual world and the God who is involved with history. In Psalm 2 God says, “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and his Anointed” . . . but God in heaven laughs because his appointed Son rules and will judge the world in righteousness.
Christ’s birth happened in real history. His Incarnation is the focus of my work (see Abstract/Incarnation). Jesus, who is God made flesh, brings heaven and earth together. His death and resurrection ended the battle that began with Adam’s rejection of God’s authority, when God put enmity between those who follow Satan, the Father of Lies, and those chosen by God to be followers of Christ (Genesis 3:15).
This first piece is called Box of Lies. I used encaustic wax medium because it dries immediately as the beeswax and images are fused onto the surface with a torch–an important feature as I had an August deadline (and this was July).
At the top left of the painting, I positioned the image of Guido Reni’s, Saint Michelle the Archangel, a symbol of the promised Redeemer. His foot is on Satan’s neck, symbolizing who wins the battle while lips lie and cherries bounce.
The battle for power is further symbolized by the central Tower of Babel, which ironically looks like a large rat–its forked tail suggesting the infamous Watergate tapes.
The Tower of Babel painting by Pieter Bruegel (1563) has been an on-going motif of my Global City Babel Series. I find this Babel image particularly relevant to our culture and the postmodernist belief that language is power and necessary to create one’s own truth. Postmodernism is anti-foundational. It promotes relativistic language, where the meaning of words becomes merely a social construct and “the world is a text.” Lying is good if it promotes our cause. We design our image and construct “a name for ourselves.” Bill Clinton’s infamous phrase “It depends what the meaning of ‘is’ is,” marks him as our first postmodern president. God’s name “I AM” is the root of the verb “to be” or “is.” The God who is the author of language will judge every word we say. He is also called The Word of God.
I included text from John 1–“the Word became flesh and lived among us.” It is visible above the fiery tower of the second painting called Come HOME America, the title taken from McGovern’s anti-war poster in this 1972 election. I filled the central O with cherries.
I wanted the poster to become Christ’s call to “Come to Me (America) all you who are weary and I will give rest for your souls.” The red of the cherries is the color of God’s extravagant grace and the red apple (a motif found in both paintings) is a symbol of man’s fallen human condition.
The Nixon lapel button embedded in wax was from my husband’s political days and the “box of lies” image was taken from a story in the Asheville paper about a rigged 1964 election. In my process of arranging images, the shape of a large “Babel lizard” is rising out of the slime, its eye the burning civil war Henley submarine.
By combining text and image, both important aspects of my work as explained in my statement, the assigned challenge of combining history–the American elections with all its words and propaganda posters–into a coherent and meaningful work of art was challenging. Using beeswax and oils to embed images and words allowed me to create connections and metaphors that pointed to the mystery of the eternally relevant story–or history! Much of my work is more abstract, so this was a refreshing assignment in the midst of the contentious 2016 conflagration.
Russian film-maker Andrei Tarkovsky said, “Art is born and takes hold wherever there is a timeless and insatiable longing for the spiritual.” This longing for spiritual meaning makes sense because we are body, mind, and spirit, created to worship–to give worth to–the God who created us. If we do not give worth to God, we will worship something or someone else–yes, perhaps the zeitgist of the age and the belief that man can determine truth from falsehood without divine truth to guide him. The spiritual world is as real as the material world. And because there is a spiritual battle, the conflict of ideas and images will continue. I want my work to be art that wrestles with and acknowledges the spiritual–work that illumines the invisible world. Babel is in the heart of every man, but God’s grace is bigger. God rules over history and elections. America Come Home to this God who rules in the heavens and rules the affairs of men. Return to truth and righteousness found in his Word.
We do not wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places, (Ephesians 6:12 ).
Anatomy commonly relates to the
“Art is work and the making of things is about process—a ‘truthful activity,’ Makoto Fujimura calls it–-that which unveils the veiled truths of what it means to be human, to plumb the depths of reality”(Catherine Page). My work is about this process of revealing true reality. It includes experience, art practices, education, intuition, and a “liberated imagination“–liberated by faith in the Creator God who holds all reality together and is the wellspring of truth and light.
I had no pre-planned idea where this painting would take me. I had been reading Island of the World by Michael O’Brien and his poetry at the back of the book (“Beneath the Waves,” p. 822-825) was an important influence. A 4′ x 5′ gessoed panel was ready for the application of oils and cold wax medium. My main tool, a yellow-handled dough scraper, was lying ready on the table.
I chose a warm Quinacridone Gold as the unifying base color (and a bit of red), hoping that fiery glory might show through later. Then I layered these warms with cool blues to begin a watery theme.
The blues blended into the oranges while the paint was wet. I welcomed the subtle mixing of these compliments. I scumbled my scraper across the surface, allowing imperfections, scratch marks, and lines to add interest and texture. Scribbled words also enhanced the mystery and meaning in the layering process.
This Hebrew word, abba, was hidden in subsequent layers.
I began working horizontally but the darker blues on the right suggested ocean and “the one who came on the waters of time.” Then a “swimmer” appeared in my imagination, so I scraped off some of the darker blue to reveal his shape “beneath the waves.”
“To you, the one who came on the waters of time, like a swimmer, you passed in front of my eyes . . . . You were there a sudden presence, a form, a fire, slow silent fire . . .” (Michael O’Brien).
But “the swimmer” was hidden in the subsequent layers of blues and became “the form, finely wrought, fire upon the water” (ibid).
Then I waited several weeks before returning to this painting. It was too monochromatic and lacked a strong focal point. Courageously I attacked it with red. Perhaps I was seeking Incarnation and “the one who came by water and blood — Jesus Christ; not by water only but by the water and the blood”(1 John 5:6). I allowed a figurative shape to appear in the negative shapes and added warm oranges and a lurid yellow around it. This layering would build the “history” of the piece, allowing glimpses of red and yellow to show through later. I also sprayed these warm colors with mineral spirits. They ran down the center of the painting to break up the space on the lower half.
I applied gold leaf above this figurative shape to suggest glory. I was thinking of the One who walks on water, but unfortunately controlling the miraculous is not possible. Instead of mystery my painting felt contrived. To unify it, I had to forgo any predetermined outcome. I had to release it and approach it as design. Then, perhaps a miracle could happen.
The colors were not right, so I added glazes of red and greens and covered the distracting (and contrived) gold leaf. A large painting is more difficult partly because it is challenging to mix the correct amount of color needed for a large area.
(Sadly at this frenzied turning point, my process overshadowed my concern for taking photos!)
I mixed bolder colors — a huge amount of the complimentary color — a dark purple. I covered the intrusive figures (now there were two “water-walkers”) and courageously lost the entire top half of the painting, using rollers. It was an ominous dark, but I left a bit of white to the left side and scraped away an arch shape.
I do not recall how the two figures emerged from the grey blue that I layered over the purple. But to break up this dark expanse I loaded my brush with mineral spirits and began making automatic marks, the music of the spheres or perhaps God singing His Creation into being. Then I immediately subtracted the dissolved color with a sponge roller to reveal the very first blue layers underneath. The miracle was beginning to happen!
In releasing or “giving up control, “mystery and beauty began to emerge. The random large “speech marks” became God’s voice on the surface of the deep as He spoke creation into existence.
Finally, I worked the central figurative focal point by incising the painted layers down to the first layers of paint. The Nets of God “emerged” next to the figures referencing my Nets of God Series. I removed some of the paint around the two figures, but the tiny cross between them was unplanned! The crux of history showed itself miraculously. It subtly joined the two figures — God the Father and God the Son (The Fishermen), who were coming to gather the elect from every nation. They were standing at the gates of heaven.
I am always amazed how the wrestling and work that is painting is a miracle — a miracle given to us as creators by The Creator which allows us to reveal the God who created the visible and invisible world. Painting is indeed a process of working and waiting on God to direct my heart, soul, mind, as well as my hand.
“For in Him we live and move and have our being, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are his children.’” Paul is explaining the divine to the Athenians at the Areopagus in Acts 17. Life is sacramental. We are created in the image of God to give him glory.
HAPPY NEW YEAR from SOLI DEO GLORIA STUDIO
Epiphany isJanuary 6th. It commemorates the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles in the persons of the Magi or Wise men; the Twelfth-day of the Christmas celebration which ends the last of the five weeks or forty days of Advent (December 29-January 6).
After forty days of awaiting the birth of “Emmanuel” (God with us) at Bethlehem, we celebrate the climax of Advent, Epiphany, when Jesus Christ is recognized as King by the wise men of the world. Christ Jesus is shown forth not just to the Jewish people but to the Gentile world.
Yes, the 40 days of Advent are over. The King of Kings is here! Wise men still seek him.
And we wait during our “40 years of tribulation” for the final Epiphany when every eye will see him, and every knee will bow and confess that Jesus Christ is King.
The Magi were members of the religious hierarchy of ancient Persia and Media (the region corresponding to modern Iran). They were scholars and practitioners of astrology and the first Gentiles, men of renown, to come and worship Jesus, the King (Matthew 2:1-12). Hieronymus Bosch painted an account of this historical event in 1495 (detail left — now in Madrid’s Prado).
To “show forth” Jesus to the world, Epiphany also celebrates The Baptism of Jesus and The Wedding Feast at Cana as depicted in these two modern day icons. The Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River is seen as Jesus’ manifestation to the world as the Son of God.
The Wedding Feast at Cana shows forth his divinity as he performs his first miracle. This wedding was performed in a Gentile town in Galilee, not Judea. It is a fitting anticipation of Jesus’ own Wedding Feast in eternity celebrating with all nations tribes and tongues the Wedding Feast of the Lamb!
My recent commission (below) about the joy at the taste of new wine at the wedding feast in Cana or Jesus’ first miracle could be named Epiphany! An epiphany is also “
In the lower part of the painting are the six water jars for Jewish purification. The wedding celebration is happening! The central jar is the crucible of the cross, “the still point where the dance is” (T.S. Eliot), and the miracle truly happens. Jesus, the God-man, mediates between heaven and earth and out of his pierced side blood and water flow.
This crux of the first miracle is Jesus’ own blood sacrificed for sin that makes celebration in heaven possible. You may be able to see his thorn-crowned head in the red central stem of a chalice connecting heaven and earth. Christ is looking down on his mother Mary’s face in the base of the chalice.
At the top of the chalice (the top of the painting) is the figure of the Bride dressed in embroidered garments meeting her Lover, and on the left side The Lamb of God stands on a golden throne.
The chalice suggests Holy Communion, one of the sacraments that Jesus instituted for his “Bride” while she awaits full and perfect communion in heaven. Blues, reds, and golds symbolize the colors of water, blood, and Spirit — the three that bear witness to this first miracle that “shows forth” who Jesus is, the God who came to redeem a people (his Bride) for himself, the God who celebrates and loves his bride in the splendor of holiness and beauty.
This manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles and the revealing of His divinity are critical in the history of Redemption.
Advent has ended and we await the Second Advent with anticipation!
Happy New Year.