Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

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That Toward Which We Journey

April 14th, 2012, Promulgated by Bernie

I have written before of my preference for chancel images that communicate the eschatological nature of the Liturgy. In my opinion, such images should generally provide a hopeful vision of the final glory toward which we are drawn and for which we hunger and thirst.

O God, you are my God, for you I long;
for you my soul is thirsting.
My body pines for you
like a dry, weary land without water.
So I gaze on you in the sanctuary
to see your strength and your glory. Psalm 63: 2-4

Whatever the literal images chosen for a chancel ceiling or wall, I believe they should be rendered in a style that suggests a glorified or sanctified state of being. This, I believe, rules out a realistic interpretation. (I also rule out distorting abstraction and non-objective interpretations. Naturalism, however, is required.) Realism, in my opinion, is more appropriate to devotional works.

 (Click on the picture to see a larger, clearer image)

Saint Francis by Alfredo Arreguin

 

I have also written before that it is in the nature of stained glass and mosaic to express transfiguration. The luminosity of stained glass and pixilation of mosaic figures naturally seem to suggest an elevated state of being. By way of derivation, more traditional media, such as paints, can have the same visual impact if the medium is worked to imitate luminosity or pixilation. I do not mean a slavish imitation but rather a tendency toward luminosity or faceted color/shape. I also, of course, do not mean to imply that there are no other ways to suggest transcendence. I mention these two here because they seem to me descriptive of the work of artist Alfredo Arreguin. His painting Saint Francis is the painting featured in this post.1

In addition, as part of posts here at Cleansing Fire I have indicated my preference for liturgical imagery and decoration that is suggestive of a combination of royal court and garden. Such a decorative program predisposes the participants to receive the graces of the sacraments by experiencing the liturgy as a foretaste of the divine liturgy, in paradise -in the courts of heaven. The Old Testament is full of references to God as king and to the courts of the Lord and his holy Temple. So decorated, a church chancel becomes a vision of our ultimate goal, the saints and hosts of heaven surrounding the altar and throne of the Lamb. Garden imagery reminds us that we started (and fell from) a garden, and it is to a garden that we are being restored.

We naturally associate richness of color and pattern with royalty and gardens. Not long after the Second Vatican Council, in a fit of iconoclasm, confused clergy and liturgists began painting over not only images, but also beautiful wall patterns, anything suggestive of paradisaical richness. We now call that period of the Church’s liturgical art the ‘beige period.’ Decorative enrichment was out, and minimalism was in. It supposedly was a way to ‘humanize’ the liturgy, bringing it back down to earth. As a result of such a sophomoric approach, we lost sight of our ultimate destination and became stuck,  in our present state, wandering about aimlessly. Interestingly, the period – the mid-1970s- saw the emergence in the visual arts of a movement that was a reaction to a minimalist style in the arts. ‘Minimalism’ had come to represent stark impersonality and so painters and other artists of the new style produced works that consisted of complex and generally bright, colored patterns (abstract, figurative, or a mixture of both).2 Decorative art, to them, was a humanizing influence! It is also intriguing that most of the artists who initiated the Pattern and Decoration movement (P&D movement)3 were women influenced by the feminist concern with highly decorative crafts such as quilt-making that have traditionally been the preserve of women.”4 Ironically, many Catholic women liturgists (and women of power in the Church) have beige paint on their hands.

Arreguin’s St. Francis seems to communicate a physical world transformed and full of divine life. This painting lifts us out of this life and places us in front of St. Francis, in heaven. A desire to linger with Saint Francis fills us. It is the theological equivalent of the aesthetic experience of wishing to prolong the pleasure we experience in a beautiful image or natural scene.

The individuality of the saint is affirmed through the traditional iconography of a monk’s robes and tonsure as well as the stigmata and cross which are unique to St. Francis. The fingers of the saint’s right hand are positioned in a decidedly traditional pose. Francis’ physical being gradually fades into and out of a sea of color and pattern suggestive of a sanctified environment, an environment consisting of a multitude of birds, flowers and butterflies which are also iconic images for this saint.  Look close, especially in the background and you will see numerous little smiling faces. They suggest the harmony of a redeemed and transformed earth in which the various ‘things’ of nature are understood as close relatives of St. Francis.

I have no idea if my response to this painting fits with the artist’s conscious intention –it was not, to my knowledge, created to be a liturgical work. It seems to me, however, that the artist has a ‘Catholic’ disposition and view of things.5 I can only imagine what beautiful –Catholic– imagery he could create for some parish!

Alfredo M. Arreguin is affiliated with Linda Hodges Gallery. You can see a few of his other images on its website.

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1 Some of Arreguin’s Marian images were shown in a previous post, here. I suggest reading or rereading that post to understand more my thinking on this artist’s work.

2 IAN CHILVERS. “Pattern and Decoration movement.A Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Art. 1999. Encyclopedia.com. 11 Apr. 2012 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

3 also known as the ‘New Decorativeness’

4 IAN CHILVERS

5 Arreguin is originally from Moreila, Michoacan, Mexico (1935). He developed as an artist in Seattle where he has resided since 1958. I suppose his Mexican roots –steeped in Catholic spirituality and imagery- influenced him.

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Photo Credits:

Quilt Photo

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