AMERICAN ICONOGRAPHY part Two

Dear Fellow Iconographers:FullSizeRender

With world catastrophes like the Hurricane devastation in Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, and earthquakes in Mexico, we have so many urgent applications for our prayers during our icon writing practice. May God continue to send help in many forms to those people afflicted by violent storms. Provide homes, food and safety, O Lord, and bring forth your victory and hope  where there is despair and destruction, we humbly pray.

Recently, during the Healing Icon writing Retreat I gave at Holy Cross Monastery, we daily put our prayer requests in a basket on the Icon table and prayed over them during our prayer times together. The subject for the retreat was the Archangel Raphael, and we completed the icons in time to be blessed on the feast day of St. Michael and the Archangels!  Each day we spoke about different aspects of the story of Tobit, Tobias, and Archangel Raphael and contemplated the healing aspects of the story, from the fish trying to bite Tobias’ foot, to Archangel Raphael bringing transforming a dangerous woman into a suitable wife.  Our Icons are reminders for us of God’s intervention in our lives, and the role his heavenly angels play in bringing His divine will into the experiences of our lives.FullSizeRender

In working to understand and define what is meant by American Iconography, I think that religious freedom plays an important role.   This country was founded, in part, on the hopes and dreams that new settlers from many different European countries had for  freedom to worship in their individual ways.   They wanted to  express their ideas of how God manifests in their lives and form communities to worship and pray together.  There was a great diversity of expression in the Christian communities, and yet each was given the space to develop and grow, peacefully.IMG_5162

Ideally, America is still that country that respects and allows for individual religious freedom.  Just as Icons are meant to depict a transfigured reality, I think we iconographers are asked to call forth the best in our worlds, to stand for positive change, and to show others how we can pray and experience God even in a very troubled world.

In Icon writing, we look for examples from the early centuries in order to understand and be inspired by the universal spiritual truths they contain. The American philosopher, John Dewey says of a work of art, eg. the Parthenon,  that it ” is universal because it can continuously inspire new personal realizations in experience.”…”The works that fail to become new are not those that are universal but those that are “dated”. He goes on to say “The enduring art product may have been, and probably was, called forth by something occasional, something having its own date and place. But what was evoked is a substance so formed that it can enter into the experiences of others and enable them to have more intense and more fully rounded out experiences of their own.” (Taken from “Art as Experience” by John Dewey)

All this to say that an Icon writer must not only use examples from the past, but must also be able to convey the action and presence of God and the saint depicted through his/her prayers and spiritual efforts of today in order to be an authentic Icon.IMG_5190

Early Celtic Prayer from St. Patrick’s Breastplate

Christ as a light illumine and guide me. Christ as a shield overshadow me.

Christ under me, Christ over me, Christ beside me on my left and my right.IMG_5182

This day be within me and without, lowly and meek yet all powerful.

Be in the heart of each to whom I speak, in the mouth of each who speaks unto me.

This day be within and without me, lowly and meek yet all powerful.

Christ as my light, Christ as my shield

Christ beside me on my left and my right. Amen.

May God bless you and keep you until next month,

Christine

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Advent

Dear Fellow Iconographers:

“Advent asks us to keep vigil for the Christ who comes to us anew in this season. It invites us to keep our face turned toward the horizon in hope. But Advent asks us also to open our hearts to the Christ who keeps vigil for us, the Christ who stands not on some distant horizon but, instead, is already with us, waiting for us to open our eyes to his presence that stays with us always.

As Advent begins, may you be blessed in your vigil: the one you keep, the one being kept for you. In that vigil, may you find your deepest welcome and know yourself at home. Peace.”

from “The Advent Door” by Jan Richardson.

The word Advent comes from the Latin, “Adventus” which means coming. It is the beginning of the Liturgical year and is a time of preparation, looking forward to the celebration of Christ’s birth.  As Iconographers, we rejoice in the implications of this time waiting, the coming of Christ, the Word made flesh.  Truly a symbol of Icons where we write the Image of Christ in remembrance of His HolyPresence and action upon us. During Advent we open our  hearts to His influence and love in joyous anticipation of a life filled with the fulness of His Spirit.

Christ Icon
Christ in Glory Icon written by Christine Hales

I love this Icon of Christ in Glory, especially at this time of year. The predominant colors of red, green and gold ochre are highly symbolic and offer a clarity and simplicity found especially in Advent.  Red and green are opposites and in Christ, both heaven and earth are united, within the context of gold, the color of God’s Presence and light.  The four Evangelists in the corners remind us of Christ’s birth as a fulfillment of both Old and New Testament Prophesies.

In the  two unfinished stages of the Annunciation Icon below, written by Jennifer Richard-Morrow, they graphically depict a sense of waiting, the form is visible, but the details are coming slowly, eventually creating a dynamic picture of a very exciting event in the life of Mary.

written by Jennifer Richard-Morrow
Annunciation Icon written by Jennifer Richard-Morrow-roskrish state.
Nearly finished Icon by Jennifer Richard-Morrow
Nearly finished Icon by Jennifer Richard-Morrow

In Advent, I think of Mary- her waiting.  Keeping her focus on God, her savior, prided a faith filled context within which the waiting became joyous.  Her whole being was trained through prayer  and family lo

Madonna and Child Iconve to honor God’s will and to rejoice that she was chosen for the difficult and perilous mission of being the mother of Jesus.  She believed God was doing great things for her.  God’s will, not her own. “Oh, how I praise the Lord, my savior.” Luke 1 :46.

I encourage you to meditate and reflect, with a Madonna Icon if possible. God has called each one of us.  May we wait with certainty and joy as his plan unfolds.

Brother Aidan, a Benedictine monk of the Holy Cross Monastery, has a weekly blog that this week begins a meditation on Advent and fasting. “Learning How to Fast”.  He talks about how important it is to allow ourselves to experience the feeling of emptiness.  We need to experience hunger in order to know what we are truly hungry for.

“Although Advent is not a penitential season, it is a season of waiting and watching, a season of expectation. Our Christmas celebration will be all the sweeter if we sit in the gathering darkness of winter and allow ourselves to long for the dawning of the light rather than turning on every lightbulb in the house in an effort to cast out the shadows. Let’s relearn how to fast. It will make our feast all the more joyous when it comes.”  Brother Aidan, Holy Cross Monastery

Mary Icon almost finished
Mary Icon almost finished

 

“For a true Iconographer, creation is the way of asceticism and prayer, that is, essentially, a monastic way.” Leonid Ouspensky; The Meaning Of Icons

Sending love and prayers this beautiful Advent Season.  May you experience the love of God and Mary especially this Christmas.

Christine

 

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What is an American Iconographer?

What IS An American Iconographer?

Good question. When we speak of Greek Iconographers, or Romanian, or Russian, or English we immediately have a picture in our minds of what those “styles” look like.  Even the contemporary European and Eastern Iconographers, while experimenting with new ideas, are still working from the old style.  That old style consists of illustrative images, cartoonish almost, with a kind of light and form that differs from “natural” light and form, but it is varied in  interpretations.

America as a country is home to people of many different national origins, so our nationality is defined more by citizenship and allegiance than by ethnicity. After many years as a “melting pot” of different cultural ideas, America has come to have its own identity, even amongst diversity.

So what does an American style of Iconography look like?  Many American Iconographers I know have styles that are derived from the teachers they studied under. So much so, that one can see their Icons and immediately know whom they studied with.  In part this is due to the notion that copying is the approved way of making an Icon.

In my training, I was taught that we always use models for our Icons  created before the Renaissance and this is because after the Renaissance, the age of humanism dawned and people created art not to glorify God, but to glorify man’s achievements.  I was and am so grateful for this awareness, for it helped to break me free from the traditional art college training I had had and allowed me to see a more ancient, God centric approach to making art.

Entry into Jerusalem Icon
Entry Into Jerusalem Icon by Christine Hales

That being said, I do however, owe a lot to some of the really good art teachers available in the art world.One of those, Arthur Wesley Dow (1857-1922) said “Good drawing results from trained judgement, not from the making of facsimiles or maps.  Train the judgment and ability to draw grows naturally.” So this more experience based approach to drawing is what I use in creating my Icons.  I research, find models from before the Renaissance (or just at the turning point- a time when many painters were trained first as Iconographers), then spend time praying, reading relevant Holy Scripture, the saints’ biography, listening to sacred music, and enter into a prayerful creative experience with the Creator.  This last, being in a prayerful state is of the highest importance in the “writing” of an Icon.img_3107

That is the gift of the practice, it lifts us up out of our intellect into our creative selves, that discipline of getting past the chatter of the mind is facilitated by the practice of prayer and painting. (paraphrased from Tim Hawkesworth).

This being said, one would not wish to ignore the importance of Tradition in Icon writing.  “Since in its essence the Icon, like the word, is a liturgic art, it never served religion, but, like the word, has always been and is an integral part of religion, one of the instruments for the knowledge of God, one of the means of communion with Him.” Leonid Ouspensky, The Meaning of Icons.  It is not a question of either or, but both and.

Jesus, Peter, Icon
Icon by Dahlia Herring

I know that many of my students’ Icons are reflective of a deep relationship and personal experience with God.  An example of one student’s faith and desire to bring others into relationship with God, is Dahlia Herring’s Icon of Jesus pulling Peter from the water.  Another student, W. Michael Shirk, an Independent Catholic Priest, writes his Icons while praying constantly, and this is often reflected in attention to detail.

Icon, Joseph of Arimathea
Joseph of Arimathea Icon by W. Michael Shirk

When I wrote my Icon of the “Entry Into Jerusalem”, I was identifying with Jesus and thinking about the human aspect of what it’s like when one goes forward to one’s destiny.  His looking back seems so human, and his movement forward, Divine.  As an artist I gain strength and guidance from this moment, and I keep this Icon to remind me to pray for God’s will, not mine.

This country is so vast geographically, and there are many Iconographers in each of the 50 states.  I hope someday to have a list of all the American Iconographers and their contact details on this site, in order for people to contact them for commissions and classes.  I do get asked if I can recommend an Iconographer in different cities and hope to be able to serve as that kind of an association for Iconographers in the future.

Please contact me if you are an Iconographer, if you’d like to be listed on this site with a link to your website.

In prayer and blessing,

Christine Hales

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