Icons as Symbols

Madonna and Child Icon
Madonna and Child by Christine Hales

In thinking about the differences between religious art and icons- the subject of one of iconographer Betsy Porter’s online discussions, I came up with the following ideas that I hope will be helpful to iconographers and artists alike.

One of the key differences between religious art and icons is the very nature of the  symbolic language of icons.  In icons there is no attempt to portray “reality of the natural world.   Rather, the icon is all about being a sign and a symbol which points to the reality of God’s presence. 

The study of semiotics can be helpful in thinking about this topic. Semiotics is a specialized language dependent upon the use of symbols for communication and created for the purpose of achieving greater exactitude. 

Semiotics is often used in reference to the symbolic language of computer programming, but it applies equally here as a way of formulating thought that describes the process of how human beings reach understanding through the use of abstract symbols.

Semiotics is a key tool to ensure that intended meanings (of for instance a piece of communication or a new product) are unambiguously understood by the person on the receiving end.

Semiotics, put simply, is the study of how an idea or object communicates meaning — and what meaning it communicates.

A sign is any motion, gesture, image, sound, pattern, or event that conveys meaning. The general science of signs is called semiotics. The instinctive capacity of living organisms to produce and understand signs is known as semiosis. And, of course, this very issue is at the heart of the difference between religious art and religious icons.

Acts 2:22 – “Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know”.

Rublev’s Doubting Thomas Icon

Miracle Working Icons

Theologically, all icons are considered to be sacred, and are miraculous by their very nature because they are a symbol of the incarnation. They are a means of spiritual communion between the heavenly and earthly realms. However, it is not uncommon for specific icons to be characterised as “miracle-working”.  God has chosen to glorify these icons by working miracles through them. Such icons are often given particular names (especially those of the Virgin Mary), and even taken from city to city where believers gather to venerate them and pray before them. 

Icons represent  concrete events of sacred history and indicate the inner meanings visually. Icons are meant to be a transfigured art form,  not  reflecting the problems of life but answering them

Sts. Boris and Gleb, late 14th Century, Novgorod
Sts. Boris and Gleb, late 14th Century, Novgorod

The flat space in the icons remove the illusion of three dimensional space and a depiction of the natural world that our eyes see.  The connection between figures and objects becomes conventionally symbolical the image is reduced to a minimum of detail at a maximum of expressiveness.

The Icon is essentially inseparable from church art because the spiritual reality it represents cannot be transmitted otherwise than through symbols.In the icon of the Trinity that was painted by Andrei rublev in the 1400s the image represents the three men in white who are shown as angels in the icon who came to Abraham and Sarah to tell them that they would have a child despite their age, and to whom the couple showed hospitality under the tree of Mamre. This is the story from Genesis Chapter 18.

Holy Trinity Icon, detail by Christine Hales, a copy of the Andre Ruvlev Icon of the Trinity

This icon came to be used as the key image of the Trinity in the Orthodox tradition partly because it was believed to be the first visible revelation of divinity to man but also because it provided an image through which to represent the godhead without representing God the father. The angels were not at this stage associated with specific persons of the Trinity. This imprecision is what enabled the image to remain mystically unknowable. Rublev passes over the inessential details of the subject reducing the image to its contemplative essence- the unity and Trinity of the godhead. This icon is imbued with the contemplative spirit of Hesychasm.  This icon epitomizes Russian icon painting at its most pure and intense, silently revealing the triune God to the inner eye or heart of the faithful. The theologian philosopher Pavel Florensky said of this icon that it is in itself proof of the existence of God.

I hope this article is helpful food for thought, as we move forward to creating new icons for the twenty-first century. I think many discussions on the subject would be very helpful!

Some Resources used in this article: “The Meaning of Icons” by L. Ouspensky and “The Avant Garde Icon” by Andre Spira.

Please visit my website to learn about my icons and icon writing classes!

http://online.iconwritingclasses.com

May God bless the work of your hands,

Christine Simoneau Hales

Gilding

Greetings:

This month we have an article contributed By Olga Iaroslavtseva on a form of gilding that she recommends. There are many ways to gild our icons and it’s helpful to be aware of each one until an iconographer finds the way that works best for them. Thank you so much for contributing your time and experience, Olga!

Gilding Method with Water-based Glue

Gilding Is Important In Iconography

Gold in the icon is a symbol of Divine Light, Truth and Glory. Since ancient times, Byzantine iconographers have used gilding. With its help, they were able to simultaneously convey both eternity – the absence of time and space, and the holiness of the depicted. Such depth can only be conveyed with gold, colors are powerless in this. The gold background looks like the icon has no bottom. Gilding in icons is found already in the IX-XI centuries. This technique came to Rus in the 13th century. Iconographers often gave icons to professional gilders for gilding. Presently, many people can master this skill by themselves.

In my practice, I use only real gold leaf. I don’t use imitation in principle. Holiness, greatness, heavenly world – this is what the gold on the icons symbolizes. All this is absolute truth. Therefore, we should use genuine gold. This is my creed.

Various gilding techniques are known, both simple and more complex. Here, I share the simple technique, suitable for beginning iconographers as practitioners. This is gilding on water-based glue.

Preparation, Shellac and polishing

After the drawing is made on the gesso, the areas for gilding should be covered with shellac. Use a wide, flat synthetic brush for that. Apply several coats of shellac with an interval of 15-20 minutes between them. Each coat should dry before applying the next one. I make shellac myself. For this, I dissolve 5 ounces of shellac flakes in 500ml ethanol – 95%. If you use shellac from a store, I think you may need more layers. Usually, it is a less concentrated shellac than self-made. After all layers have been applied, dry the surface thoroughly. This usually takes one to three days, depending on climate. Dried shellac hardens and is easy to polish.

For polishing shellac, use sandpaper with a grain size of 800 to 2000. When polishing, please be careful not to expose the gesso. Otherwise, the applied glue will absorb during gilding and the gold will not adhere. Also, you can use wet sandpaper. Just drip some water when polishing. This will speed up the process. Eventually, the polished surface should be smooth – without scratches, because  all of that will be visible after gilding. Perfectly prepared surface – perfect result of gilding. After polishing, the icon must be completely cleaned of dust. Also, clean the room from dust before gilding.

Gilding

Now come for the gilding icon. For this I use a cotton pad. I usually mix 1:3 glue with water. I take 1 portion of water to 3 portions of glue. The middle icon consumes a teaspoon of the glue mix. Then I fold the cotton pad in half, dip it in the glue mix and wring it out. With quick, neat, even movements I wipe the areas for gilding. Be careful, please do not leave dry areas. I wouldn’t recommend wiping the same place several times. After the first coat, wait 20 minutes to dry out, then apply a second coat. Wait 20 minutes again and start gluing the gold leaves. You can take your time, the surface remains sticky for a long time.

For gilding, I prefer to use loose gold leaf books, but transfer leaf books can also be used. I cut the gold with a Snap-Off Blade of a common knife. To avoid damaging the gold leaf, I put it between two sheets of paper like a sandwich. Usually, I use one sheet of paper from a leaf book. I cut it to size, then gently slide one piece of paper to the right to reveal the edge of the gold leaf on the left. I apply the open edge of the leaf to the sticky area of the icon, loosen my hand and slowly continue to move my hand with the pieces of paper from left to right. Since the edge of the leaf has already caught on to the glue, the gold leaf neatly lays down in the right place. Paper helps keep the gold leaf from crumpling. Finally, I lightly clap the leaf with a squirrel brush imperfectly, because the final pressing will be after gilding of all areas.

After finishing the gilding, you should carefully examine the surface. If there are holes or cracks, you need to patch them up with small pieces of gold leafs. They usually stick well in these areas. Next, take a new cotton pad and smooth the gilded surface with high quality. Do this with gentle pressure to smooth out wrinkles. Again carefully examine the surface. If the holes remain and they no longer stick, take a toothpick and wrap some cotton wool around the tip. The tip should be like the tip of a pencil. Dip it in the glue mix and squeeze it a little on clean paper so that there is not too much glue. Apply glue with the tip of a toothpick to the holes like a restorer. Try not to go out to the gilding area.  Glue pieces of gold to these places and wait 10 minutes. After, smooth these places with a new cotton pad. This is very delicate work.

Remove excess glue and gold residues from areas under painted. For that, use an ear stick and white spirits. Be careful not to damage the gilded area.

Next day, apply shellac in one or two layers with a soft synthetic brush to protect the gilding.

The advantages of this technique of gilding are

– simple application of glue;

– the ability to glue gold leaf after 20 minutes after application;

– easy to patch holes.

The disadvantage of this technique is streaks remain when applied with a cotton pad. They are visible after gilding, though this may not be noticeable to the non-expert. Looked closely, you will notice the vibration of gloss and dullness.

In summary, the gluing technique with water-based glue is fast, simple and gives a good quality gilding. I use Italian water-based glue Ferrario La Doratura Missione ad Acqua.

Olga Iarolslavtseva and a finished icon

About me

Iconography has been my professional occupation for 18 years. During this time, I have painted hundreds of icons in different styles and techniques. In 2017-2019, I lived in the United States with my husband, a priest in the Orthodox Christian mission. In 2019, there was an exhibition of my paintings and icons in St. Louis, Missouri. Presently, I live in Lipetsk, Russia. I am happy to share my method of gilding with the American Association of Iconographers. Hope, this will help the development of the iconographic arts in North America.

For more information about my experience in iconography, please visit my social media: @facebook.com/OlYAgallery; @instagram.com/olya_gallery. There I share my art, exhibitions and progress.

Blessing and help from God to the American Association of Iconographers and all iconographers.

Artist-iconographer

Olga Iaroslavtseva

May you all be blessed and safe until out next newsletter at the end of August!

Love and prayers,

Christine Simoneau Hales

American Association of Iconographers New Christian Icons Icon Classes

If you have an article you would like to submit that would help other iconographers, please contact me below. Also, if you have any thoughts or comments for Olga, please contact me and I will pass them on to her!

Medieval Russian Icons

Archangel Michael, 1300
Archangel Michael, 1300

MEDIEVAL RUSSIAN ICONS  11-17TH CENTURIES

In the creation of Icons today, I find it particularly helpful to keep looking to the past in order to understand the nuances and dynamics of Icon making through the centuries.  Medieval Russian Icons and their development  is particularly applicable to this task.  The following is excerpted from the book, A History of Icon Painting,  and this chapter was  written by Angelina Smirnova; Moscow, 2005.

St. Nicholas, late 12th Century, Moscow
St. Nicholas, late 12th Century, Moscow

Early Russian Christianity

Since the adoption by Russia of Christianity  in 988, Christian art was able to develop and flourish.  Particularly in the metropolitan areas like Moscow and Kiev, the foundation was laid for Christianity and its art to spread through Russia, Belarus, and the Ukraine. While in these early centuries Icons were favored by Monks and used as devotional images in chapels, churches and monasteries.  They were very important inRussian Orthodoxy.
The first Russian icons were heavily influenced by Byzantine culture which formed the basis of knowledge concerning the canons and painting traditions of icons.

Our Lady Enthroned with Archangel Gabriel and St. Sergius of Radoneh, 15th Century
Our Lady Enthroned with Archangel Gabriel and St. Sergius of Radoneh, 15th Century

Wealthy princes and czars commissioned spacious churches that required large painted images, resulting in clearer silhouettes and pronounced rhythm and contours that could give a compositional unity.
The themes of overcoming suffering and the hope of salvation dominated the subject matter of these icons which laid the foundation for Andrei Rublev’s painting in the fifteenth century.
“The saints on Russian icons are often endowed with a particularly forceful expressiveness in which Christian spirituality clearly demonstrates the power of saints over the cosmic forces of nature.  The images on Russian icons are more open and direct compared with the refined intellectualism of Byzantine art, which drew more strongly on the Hellenistic tradition and was more remote from the sphere of everyday emotions.”

Prophet Elijah and scenes from His Life, 13th Century
Prophet Elijah and scenes from His Life, 13th Century

Comnenian Icons

The second half of the eleventh century Russian princes  built churches to establish their governments and required monumental icons to adorn them. Most of the themes repeated Byzantine icons but there were some original ones depicting the Russian saints, e.g. Boris and Gleb.

Sts. Boris and Gleb, late 14th Century, Novgorod
Sts. Boris and Gleb, late 14th Century, Novgorod

The Comnenian style, characterized by more muted expressions, light transparent colors, and the addition of a blue/azure color, developed in twelfth century Russia. By the thirteenth century, after the devastating effects of the Tartar-Mongol hordes, icons began to show expressions of strength, resolve, spiritual integrity and power.
A Russian style of icon painting  was becoming clearly evident by the thirteenth century.  In comparison with Byzantine art there was now a flatter picture plane and composition, rich color, and a more open yet inward  expression on the figures.  There were local exceptions, such as Novgorod, which retained a simplicity combined with vibrant colors.

Virgin Orans, Great Panagia, 1224, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Virgin Orans, Great Panagia, 1224, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Moscow Icons

As Moscow became the political and cultural center of Russia in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, a clearly defined style emerged.  Fifteenth century Russian icons represent the ideal heavenly world and God’s grace, in contrast to the fourteenth century icons which showed believers the steps to overcoming obstacles to spiritual development.  Now, ideal harmony was the theme of icons and that is perfectly expressed in Andrei Rublev’s Holy Trinity icon.  Rublev’s icons exemplify Byzantine classicism and seem to combine aspects of earlier styles of Russian icon painting in a mystical and beautiful way.  Later, Dionysius would elongate figures and open out towards the viewer, compositional elements and figures. (For more on Dionysius see earlier post on this blog site.)

Dormition, Dionysius, late 15th Century
Dormition, Dionysius, late 15th Century

The Paleologue period of Byzantine iconography, 1261-1453 continued to influence Russian Icons of the sixteenth century, but there was also  more of a theological-didactic narrative to these icons. A western influence began to be seen in the modeling of the faces and forms and a more naturalistic rendering of space.
I hope this brief history encapsulation is helpful to
iconographers of the twenty-first century who seek to maintain the canons of Iconography and also create religious art that relates to and inspires Christians today. 
A good source of images can be found in some of the digital libraries that are now being made public:
May God bless you with a sense of community as Iconographers, and bless you with health and grace.
Christine Hales, Iconographer/artist

Some Useful Iconography Links

Icon Books and more:  Kolomenskya Russian Icons

Icons and Their Interpretation– A blog which features articles about Icons

Christians In The Visual Arts: An international group of Christian artists

Face Book Group: American Association of Iconographers

The Transcendental Nature of Icons

The Transcendental Nature of Icons

This month, I wanted to share some reflections taken from reading the book, “The Avant-Garde Icon, Russian Avant-Garde Art & The Icon Painting Tradition, written by Andrew Spira.

ELijah and the Chariot of Fire Icon 14th Cent.
ELijah and the Chariot of Fire Icon 14th Cent.

Exploring the potential of icons in the context of the modern world, Andrew Spira speaks to the integration of the ancient spiritual truths found in Icons into modern culture. 

We are looking today at just the first chapter entitled “Icons: An Introduction”, particularly focusing on the development of the Russian iconographic tradition from the seventh to the sixteenth century.

Spira gives a brief history and explanation of the iconoclast controversy that I particularly appreciate due to the information about the widely spreading religion of Islam that was iconoclastic and therefore provided some of the impetus for the negation and destruction of icons in the seventh century.

Archangel Gabriel Icon, School of Dionysus, 1502
Archangel Gabriel Icon, School of Dionysus, 1502

During the iconoclastic controversy, an official theology of icons was developed maintaining that, by incarnating in matter as Christ, God established a principle that it was lawful and appropriate  to represent the Divine in material form.  Like the Eucharist, icons were regarded as extensions of the body of Christ.  It was their sacramentality that mattered, more than the artistic quality or their symbolic meaning. Therefore, The definitive characteristic of Icons lies within their mystical identity.

The effort to create a form of art that could communicate the mystery of the incarnate God took place within the Eastern church before the 10th century.

In 1453 the capital of Russia moved to Moscow from Constantinople after the fall of the Byzantine Empire.  Then, from a spiritual point of view, the monastic discipline of Hesychasm, an ancient practice of unceasing prayer, led to a period of religious fervor that resulted in an increase in the development and proliferation of Icons throughout the church.  Russian icon painting silently reveals God to the inner eye, or heart, of the believer.

St. Boris & St. Gleb with scenes from their life, late 14th century
St. Boris & St. Gleb with scenes from their life, late 14th century

The contrast between a rational, western, didactic approach and the more mystical, contemplative and sacramental approach to Icon writing is something that icon painters today have to come to terms with in order to develop an art that has its own artistic integrity and sacramental presence.  This contrast  can be seen not necessarily as  two polarities, right and wrong, but as both and, permitting a creative synthesis of the two approaches.

Modern Icon Painting

Although the influence of the western Renaissance in 16th century Russia was largely not experienced, there was still a disintegration of the medieval interrelationship between spiritual life and popular culture.  This was evident in modern Russian and Eastern Icons from the sixteenth century onwards.

Russian Icon circa 14th Century
Russian Icon circa 14th Century

In an attempt to change the course of Russian modern icon painting in the seventeenth century from secularization back to spiritual traditions,  attempts were made to formalize the pure tradition of icon painting. But these  undermined the principles of insight and experience that also formed the basis of the tradition.  This resulted in a westernized icon, realistic, narrative, and  in a lack of feeling and spiritual depth in the icons of modern periods.

Many post sixteenth century Icons reflect the lack of depth of feeling that is characteristic of the earlier icons due to rigid adherence to copying icons and focusing on technical skills as opposed to contemplation on theology and prayer.

It is the contemplative tradition that supports the practice and principles of Icon writing from within. This is the spirit of the tradition of icon painting as a sacramental medium for the transmission of the incarnate God to the world.

Angel Icon, Dionysus, 16th Century
Angel Icon, Dionysus, 16th Century

The contemplative awareness that is seen in the expressions of the saints in medieval icons calls for a corresponding orientation on the part of the viewer.

I hope this article has been informative and helpful.  It is my intention to present views that further the development of contemporary Icon writing and provide a sense of community by sharing my research, prayers, and work.

May you all be blessed and prosper in the art and spiritual discipline of Icon writing.

Christine Simoneau Hales

USEFUL ICON LINKS

Icon Boards     Traditional Icon Boards   

Icon Boards Icoane FB Page

Brushes         Dick Blick

Icon Classes 2020

Icons- A Symbolic Language

Hello Fellow Iconographers:

American Association of Iconographers, God the Divine Geometer
God the Divine Geometer, circa 1220 AD

Icons as Symbolic Language

Have you ever wondered about the symbolic nature of Icons?  It is the very source of their power as Holy images that convey the many faceted religion of Christianity.  One dictionary definition of “symbolic language” reads: ” a specialized language dependent on the use of symbols for communication and created for the purpose of achieving greater exactitude…”

Symbols allow us to bring our spiritual awareness out of the church and into our secular world.  Communion with God through the Icon is achieved through a symbolic language where gestures, clothing, and style of drawing are precise and fixed.  There are only a few gestures that Christ’s right hand will take, and the drawing of the faces and human form fall within a canon of proportion and scale that relates to the theme and subject matter.

American association of Iconographers, Romanesque Style
Romanesque Style, circa 1145AD

C.S. Lewis, when asked to write another book for his adult audience replied that he now preferred to write in symbols and metaphors for a younger audience (The Chronicles of Narnia), in order to intrigue readers with Christianity unawares.  Similarly, Icons can bring the presence of God to people’s hearts whether or not they are Christians at all.

Icons are based on a Greek notion of proportion and symmetry applied to facial features and bodies.  Even color has great significance for understanding the mysteries of our faith. The light emanating from an Icon must be indicative of the uncreated light of God’s Presence and the divine light of grace. Through contemplation on these symbolic images, Icons, we can pray for the Holy Spirit to help us become more like Christ in our everyday lives.

American Association of Iconographers, St. Theodosia
St. Theodosia, 1225 AD

The very nature of Icon writing is that, following the principles of ancient art, we seek to make a sign which will convey religious meaning specific to the subject matter of that particular Icon.

Ancient Egyptian design is at the heart of the Icon.  You can see this in the Fayum portraits, and also in the flat linear depictions of people and religious symbols found in the pyramids. These influences combined with early Greek flexibility of line and brushstroke  form the basis of all early Iconographic composition.

Today, as we Iconographers research, ready, and study to be able to encompass the path to writing authentic Icons that speak to God’s people today, we must still look to the ancients in order to fully grasp the complexity of those seemingly simple designs and processes.

American Association of Iconographers, Duccio Icon
Duccio Icon

Below are some links to resources to inspire and resource your Icon writing in the new decade!  Wishing you all a blessed and joyous New Year!

Christine Hales

Icon Classes                       Icon Prints

Modern Russian Icon Website:  Book of Icon drawings for tracing.  This book also shows where the highlights will go.  Excellent for beginners.

Temple Gallery:  Several Beautiful Books with old Russian Icons – good source for creating Icons

Natural Pigments.com: A very good source for pigments and lots of other Iconographers supplies and materials.

Training for Iconographers

Greetings Fellow Iconographers :

Training for Iconographers

St. Basil
St. Basil Icon by Christine Hales

This month I am recommending two articles that have been published in an on-line journal- The Orthodox Arts Journal– as elements contributing to  good training for Iconographers.  As I go around the country teaching an “Introduction to Icon Writing Class”, I am aware of how little knowledge people in general have about Icon painting.  It is impossible to gain enough knowledge of this art from a few classes to be able to make truly authentic Icons.  I recommend two things:  look at as much art and as many Icons as you possibly can. Books, online resources, museums, all of these will help your painting to become mature as you practice what you see.  The second thing I recommend is to read as much as you can about the history as well as the technique of Icon writing.   Both of these activities go hand in hand with taking workshops and practicing at home.

Two Articles for Iconographers in Training.

First Article

Mustard Seed Manual of Painting
Mustard Seed Manual of Painting

The first article is written by English Iconographer Aidan Hart and it is entitled, ” The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting,: A Chinese Painting Manual Offers Inspiration to Iconographers.”  This article contains quotes from the Chinese manual as well as comments by Aidan Hart as to their usefulness for Iconographers.  It is quite a beautiful and clear article that speaks to some of the nuances of Icon painting.  Here is a quote from that article. The italics are quotes from the manual, and the regular text is Aidan Hart’s commentary:

“You must learn first to observe the rules faithfully; afterwards, modify them according to your intelligence and capacity. The end of all method is to seem to have no method. (17)

When we learn a second language, we consciously study its rules of grammar and learn its norms. But as we gain knowledge and confidence, we find our own voice. Iconography should be the same.

I have heard it said by some Orthodox thinkers that iconography is not art. I disagree. The icon is indeed more than art because it is part of the liturgy and exists for more than aesthetic delectation. But it is at least art. Although the icon’s sacred purpose means that its aesthetic categories are more extensive than those of secular art, it should nonetheless include them. The same universal colour theories and composition principles apply.”

One more quote:

“If you aim to dispense with method, learn method. If you aim at facility, work hard. If you aim for simplicity, master complexity.(19)

Hard work is the only path to the authentic abstraction. In the years that I have taught iconography I have found that drapery is the most common stumbling block for learners. Prolonged and analytical study is required to understand the drapery that the icon tradition abstracts. Drapery’s complexity needs to be mastered in order to make sense of its simplification, otherwise it becomes irrational, not supra-rational. Lines need to be understood as horizons of forms and not strings hanging in space.

Here is the link for the entire article.  Enjoy!

Anton Daineko
Anton Daineko

The Second article is written by Anton Daineko “The Living Icon”, also published in the Orthodox Arts Journal.  In this article, Anton grapples with the issue of what is the criterion used to make  authentic Icons?  This is not a simple or easy question to answer.  He cites examples of Iconographers from the past such as Andrei Rublev, Hilandar and Panselinos in order to visually show the necessary qualities of good Icons.

In this article, he also speaks about the importance of the Iconographer’s direct experience, through prayer, with God.

“The Criterion

Commenting on copying in iconography, Father Igor, a priest from Minsk and himself an icon painter, noted that “There are no icon copies; each icon is a REVELATION”. Naturally, this raises questions: is it even possible to define such a delicate matter as REVELATION, and what aspects should be included under the resultant definition?

It cannot be answered in a few simple words. With some icons, everything is easy: one look at the Redeemer from the Zvenigorod deesis tier, and you feel that it really is a REVELATION. But with most icons, the matter is far more complicated.

Confession of St. Peter Icon
Confession of St. Peter Icon

“It would be appropriate here to recall the words in the epigraph to this article, the Apostle Peter’s reply to Our Lord’s question “Who do you say that I Am?” – “YOU ARE THE CHRIST, THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD“.

Perhaps this line holds the key to understanding much about the Church, including the canonical texts: in those texts, the early Christians saw an image of the LIVING GOD, crucified and raised from the dead. And that is what is most precious in the Church. It is precisely the PRESENCE of the Living God that sets the Christian Church apart from other religions and other communities. And it is precisely this PRESENCE that we can observe in scripture as well as virtually everything else in church life. The icon is no exception in this regard.

The iconic image consists of many simple elements: strokes, stripes, and smudges, while the different colors are obtained by various combinations of minerals and egg yolk. Taken separately, none of these elements carry any artistic – let alone spiritual – meaning in and of themselves. But when these elements come together in a particular combination, a miracle occurs: the strokes, the stripes, and the smudges cease to exist, and we see the Face of the Living God looking directly at us. It is as much of a miracle as the image of the Living God emanating from the simple words of the Gospels’ narrative.”

I suggest again, reading the entire article in order to fully understand the nuances and also to see more examples of the Icons mentioned in the article.  We are so blessed today to have great contemporary Iconographer who are sharing their wisdom and experience to those who are eager to learn.

Enjoy, as we come to the official close of summer, and may God bless all of your Icon writing with His Presence.

Christine Hales

Christine Hales’ Icon Prints 

Icon Classes Taught by Christine Hales

 

Picasso and Icons

Greetings Fellow Iconographers:

“The Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your Glory.”  Isaiah 60:19

The summer stretches out before us with plenty of opportunity for good reading. This past month I have been reading Francoise Gilot’s “Life with Picasso”.  While I am surely not a fan of Picasso’s, I believe that the creative output of that era has many important facets worth gleaning for art practice today.  You may be surprised, as I was, with the following quote of Picasso’s, as related by Gilot in the book:

Egyptian painting
Egyptian painting

” You have to go all the way back to the Greeks and the Egyptians.  Today we are in the unfortunate position of having no order or canon whereby all artistic production ism submitted to rules.  They- the Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians – did.  Their canon was inescapable because beauty, so-called, was, by definition, contained in those rules.  But as soon as art had lost all link with tradition, and the kind of liberation that came in with Impressionism permitted every painter to do what he wanted to do, painting was finished. When they decided it was a painters sensations and emotions that mattered, and every man could recreate painting as he understood it from any basis whatever, then there was no more painting; there were only individuals….what the artist gains in the way of liberty he loses in the way of order, and when you’re no longer able to attach yourself to an order, basically that’s very bad.”

The Value of Order in Icon Writing

Surprising as this quote is coming from Picasso, it underscores what we as Iconographers have been blessed to experience, i.e., the order and beauty of Icons brings with it a sense of peace and fulfillment that can be found in no other form of art.  If you’ve read my book, Eyes of Fire, you know that I have made the correlation between contemporary art making and Icons.  The reason for this is that Icon writing is a living art form for today.  While we seek to incorporate the canons of Iconography into our work today, we also need to allow God to speak to our hearts as we work.  We need this practice of praying and painting in order for the Icons we create today to be authentic to our time.

Christ Icons at Holy Cross Icon Class taught by Christine Hales
Christ Icons at Holy Cross Icon Class taught by Christine Hales

Icon Writing Retreats

Order was very apparent in the recent Icon writing retreat at Holy Cross, an Episcopal Benedictine Monastery in West Park, NY.  Here we were able to participate in the Monk’s reciting of the daily hours: Morning prayer at 7AM, Breakfast at 7:45, Eucharist at 9AM, then Icon writing until Diurnum at noon.  After lunch we had more Icon writing until Vespers at 5, then supper, and at 8pm, Compline. Great Silence was observed from 8PM until 8AM. We were able to fit these intervals of prayer and silence in between Icon writing sessions and experience the refreshment this practice gives.  Painting and praying all through each day, being part of a living community of praying people allows us to experience the lift and support needed to practice the spiritual discipline of Icon writing.

Holy Cross Icon Class with Christine Hales
Holy Cross Icon Class with Christine Hales

Icon Retreats in 2020

In 2020 I will be teaching two more Icon writing retreats at Holy Cross, May 12-15 and July 21-24,  and one at their other monastery, Mount Calvary ,  in Santa Barbara, CA, March 3-6.

Interesting Links for Iconographers

Museum of Russian Icons , Clinton, Massachusetts    The current exhibition shows work from  the school of one of my valued teachers, The Prosopon School. The exhibition is called : Wrestling With Angels, Icons from the Prosopon School of Iconology and Iconography.  July 19-October 20, 2019

Icons and Their Interpretation is a blog about Icons and their meanings.

British Association of Iconographers is a group based in London, UK.  They have a website and newsletter available to members.

That’s all the news for this month!  Please keep us in your prayers as you are in ours.  Never forget the joy of spreading Icon writing through out the world.

Christine Hales

Icon Website

Christine Hales teaching at Holy Cross Monastery
Christine Hales teaching at Holy Cross Monastery

 

Message to an Iconographer

Greetings:

Dionysus Fresco
Dionysus Fresco

This month is a continuation of last month’s article on Hesychasm and Icons.  There is an interesting book that was produced in fifteenth century Russia called, “Message to an Iconographer.”  Message to an Iconographer is believed to have been written by St. Joseph of Volokolamsk.  It is helpful in explaining the role and meaning of sacred art and Iconography. It is believed that this book was put together at the request of the famous Iconographer, Dionysius for the purpose of training future Iconographers.

Part of the reason for creating Message to an Iconographer was a concern that after Andrei Rublev’s Icons, there was a progressive lack of focus on the spiritual depth and meaning of the Icon in favor of beauty of artistic form.  Message to an Iconographer  provides an answer to the prevailing heresy of the time and is a defense of the Icon and its veneration.  It is also a positive contribution that explains its spiritual content. Here is a quote from “Theology of the Icon, Volume II” by Leonid Ouspensky:

“How much more appropriate is it then, in this new time of grace, to venerate and bow down before the image of our Lord Jesus Christ painted on the Icon by human hands…and to adore His deified humanity taken up into heaven.  This also holds true for His All Pure Mother.  Likewise, to paint images of all the saints on icons, to venerate and bow before them is equally appropriate.  By painting images of the saints on Icons, we do not venerate an object but, starting from this visible object, our mind and spirit ascend toward the love of God, object of our desire.”  This statement echoes the defense of Icons by Gregory of Palamas.  Taboric light and the divine energies form the basis of this treatise.

Dionysus Fresco, Mary
Dionysus Fresco, Mary

The Jesus Prayer

Here is another quote from the Message to an Iconographer: “When adoring your Lord and God…let your whole heart, spirit, and mind be lifted toward a contemplation of the holy, consubstantial and life giving Trinity, in purity of thought and heart…Let your bodily eyes ascend to the divine …venerate them spiritually in your soul and visibly with your body.  Be completely turned toward the heavens.”

“The Message” is about a lifestyle of asceticism and inner prayer that is appropriate to an Iconographer.

“Wherever you may be, O beloved, on sea or on land, at home, walking, sitting or lying down-ceaselessly pray with a pure conscience, saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.’, and God will hear you. ” “Close your eyes to the visible and look at the future with your inner eye.”  These are instructions to an Iconographer from The Message.  They are intended to create a platform of prayer and faith from which to work on the Icon.”

Christ Fresco, Dionysus
Christ Fresco, Dionysus

I would suggest reading this chapter in its entirety to fully understand the context and  intent of the author.  It is from Chapter 13  Hesychasm and the flowering of Russian Art, in Theology of the Icon, Volume II, Leonid Ouspensky.  There is a great deal of value in the rest of the book also, and I highly recommend it for Iconographers.

One last quote that is a gem:

“The painter must be acutely aware of the responsibility that rests upon him when creating an Icon.  His work must be informed by the prototype it represents in order for its message to become a living, active force, shaping man’s disposition, his view of the world and of life.  A true Iconographer must commune with the prototype he represents, not merely because he belongs to the body of the Church, but also on account of his own experience of sanctification.  He must be a creative painter who perceives and discloses another’s holiness through his own spiritual experience.  It is upon this experience of communing with the archetype that the operative power of an Iconographers work depends.”

Dionysus Icon
Dionysus Icon

May God bless your Icons, as you grow in wisdom and understanding in the practice of writing the Holy Image.  Next month will be an article on the fifteenth century Iconographer Dionysus.

Christine  Simoneau Hales

Icon Website

Icon Classes

 

 

 

 

 

Heat Wave and Icons!

Hello Fellow Iconographers and Greetings:

Christine at the High Line Garden in NYC
Christine at the High Line Garden in NYC

Polar Bear Zinnia in Christine's garden in Hudson Valley
Polar Bear Zinnia in Christine’s garden in Hudson Valley

The month of July has been consistently hot and so beautiful here in the Hudson Valley. Although temperatures usually reach 90 degrees+ each day, Icons are still being created and the Monday night class keeps working right on throughout all!  Here’s a photo of Carol MacNaughtons’ Saint Michael in the process of being olifa-ed.

FullSizeRender

Also, now some works in progress photos for the Saint Kateri and Saint Isaac Jogues I am working on for the RCDA new Mausoleum.  I love working large!

The Monday Night Advanced Icon writing class will be accepting new students after Labor Day: September 12.  Please email if you would like to begin at that time. christine@newchristianicons.com

Also, Starting a 10 week Icon Writing Class in the Hudson, NY area, Thursday evenings, 6-9PM, September 15- December 1.  email if you’re interested in attending: christine@newchristianicons.com

THE VALUE OF ICONS IN THE POST MODERN WORLD

Icons are conveyors of holiness, sacredness, beauty and God’s love for mankind. Because Icons are vessels containing these attributes, they are essential in the continuing formation of our society and culture.  In a world seemingly gone mad, they are light filled and providers of God’s peace and love.

Icons that are created in an atmosphere of prayer to God, and with training in art principles and spiritual discipline cannot help but provide a spiritual compass to those viewing them.  This kind Icon becomes a visible testimony of God’s grace as it blesses the creator and the viewer.

” There is a deeper realization of God’s Presence available to us.  Through the coming of Christ and the Holy Spirit, God wishes to dwell within us in a new way: not in a mode of which we are largely unconscious, or as a kind spiritual atmosphere in which we simply live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28), but as a lover and a friend. (Song of Solomon 5:10). God wants His Presence to be consciously experienced by us.”

Above quote from the The Glenstal Book of Icons, Praying with the Glenstal Icons, Gregory Collins OSB.

To be consciously experienced, it is helpful to have holy images that serve as reminders and point the Way, even when our minds are engaged in worldly activities. It only takes a few seconds to shift our perspective to God’s perspective – truly the secret to a joy filled life!

Face of Christ Icon written by C.Hales
Face of Christ Icon written by C.Hales

One last thing worth mentioning:  I attended the Kremer Pigments workshop on “Grounds” a through workshop on materials, conditions, and possible variations, and I would recommend it highly the next time they teach it. Kremer Pigments regularly gives classes and workshops on making paints and provides a wonderful resource of technical, hands-on information.

That’s all for this month.  Enjoy the beautiful summer and please keep me in your prayers, as you are in mine.

Blessings,

Christine

www.newchristianicons.com        www.christinehales.com     www.kingdomartsministry.com

www.halesart.com

Formation and Training of Future Iconographers

altaarwestminsterwebDear Fellow Iconographers:

Following up on the blog from last month where I included the links to Iconographer Aidan Hart’s articles about Icon writing: “Introduction to Principles of Icon Training, and Principles of Icon Training Part 2 , another link has been recently published on a Russian website called mmekourdukova, which I also include here: “The Icon: Truth and Fables” by Irina Gorbunova.

Aidan Hart’s excellent articles attempt to define important principles in the training of future Iconographers, and I suggest reading each of these in order to form your own opinions, and discuss in class the important aspects of each article to your own Icon writing.  I think it’s important to keep an open mind and respect the calling of each person who has interest in Icons or creating Icons.  In the Russian( or Ukranian) article there is an element of mocking and sarcasm that I find detrimental to the humble and prayerful attitude necessary for Icon writing.  But please read, and add your own thoughts and comments._MG_8520

These two recent articles are only relevant because there are more people today interested and wanting to write Icons than in the previous century.  There can be many causes for that, but I like to think that as we explore our spirituality and gain a closer relationship to God, we need and want visual images that bring us fresh revelation of His love for mankind, his promises, His wisdom and faithfulness.  As we regularly bring these qualities of holiness to mind in our daily lives, we can then integrate them and share them with others around us.

It is often said that Icons are “windows” into the heavenly world.  When we look through those “windows” we see heaven, and are more able, as St. Paul advised ” to focus on whatever is good”.  Truly a challenge in todays world.

_MG_8554The other attractive aspect of Icon writing to me is that of “passing on” to the next generation all that I can offer in terms of living the Gospel message through Icon writing. Investing in the younger generation is a goal worthy of Icon writing in my opinion.  But how? How and what kind of  an Icon be created that will draw them in?  Good questions to ponder as we work on our Icons.

The recent Icon exhibition and pipe organ concert that I organized for the Albany, New York area at Westminster Presbyterian Church, was an experiment to see if contemporary New Yorkers would respond to Icons as art and vessels of God’s presence within the Byzantine context of worship with the five senses.  A lot of this was new information to some of the people, but familiar to others.  People came who simply wanted to see the Icons, and people came to hear composer and organist Al Fedak offer a phenomenal program of music played with a world class pipe organ.crucifixionwestminsterweb

I gave the introductory talk, introducing the concept of Byzantine worship, and Al Fedak explained the contemplative and meditative nature of the pieces he chose, and he also invited people to walk around, view and interact with the Icons.  My students and I who created the Icons were available during intermission and at the reception following to answer questions and help people understand more about what they were viewing.

It was truly  a memorable evening as we were lifted up and carried individually and collectively in worship on a Friday night in Albany amongst the community of saints! Icons on a mission!

Hope you all enjoy this beautiful summer, Happy Fourth of July!!

No Monday night Icon class on July 4!!

Please visit my website for information on upcoming Icon classes and retreats.

Have a blessed month,   _MG_8524

Christine Hales

Here’s a link to my Art/Icon Facebook page

and websites:  www.newchristianicons.com          www.christinehales.com     www.halesart.com

www.kingdomartsministry.com