Archive for August, 2013

Directions and Paths

This summer, between graduating from AmeriCorps*NCCC – FEMA Corps, Class XIX in Vicksburg, spending a week in Scotland with family, looking after my twin niece and nephew (the beebops), helping my parents around the house, and heading to Edisto Island, SC before making my way out to St. Louis to start AmeriCorps St. Louis Emergency Response Team (ERT), I made an attempt at building up my portfolio for the possibility of applying to graduate school.  I created almost 20 stretcher bars and found myself staying up late at night to find time to get ideas onto canvas.

For several years now, I have focused my artwork on my journey of faith, diving into the small details and struggles of living out a faith that calls me not to be comfortable.  My work has never been about pleasing anyone but myself and sharing what God has put on my heart, but I always seem to struggle with trying to seek approval from others, when I know the paintings are not for them, but for the relationship between God and myself.

While I painted, I jammed out to theBlast.fm and the Bastille station on Pandora, sat back and sketched while family watched the news and Ink Master (and Tattoo Nightmares), and read Art & Fear, by David Bayles and Ted Orland, when inspiration was lacking.

While a couple paintings are not completely finished at this time (and definitely when the following images were taken), I am satisfied with the progress that I made this summer.

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Above is one of the first paintings that I completed, titled “Behind the Mask.”  The idea behind it is that we rarely are the person whom everyone interacts with.  For myself, I have a ‘darker’ side that many people no longer recognize because the stoic mask that I put on.  I believe that all of us, to some extent, are someone else when nobody is around.  And while it is easy to slip behind the mask, it is much harder to reveal who we truly are by pealing away the layers that others see.

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The story of St. Scholastica and St. Benedict is one that made me think of my niece and nephew.  As St. Benedict began to head out to establish the monasteries that bear his name, his sister urged him to stay and talk with her.  When he went to leave, St. Scholastica prayed to God and a massive storm prevented St. Benedict from leaving.  He turned to his sister and asked why, her response was that God listened to her prayers, even though her own brother wouldn’t and that God wanted them to talk.  That background frames this portrait of my God-daughter and nephew.

NOTE: This is one of the few paintings left that I am still currently working on.

IMG_0548The drawings and sketches in my sketchbook have always been darker in nature to the paintings that have come to fill my studio space and bedroom.  This started out as something different (along the lines of a Day of the Dead painting) and it kind of morphed into its present state of being.  For me, this was one of the funnest paintings of the summer, mostly because it reveals a darker side of who I am and the demons that we face within ourselves.

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This image comes from a sketch that I drew several months ago that I kept on going back to.  The three images within the painting are thumbnails of the pieces I created the last semester of college that made up my senior show.  The idea behind this is the fact that so many times I base my works off of those three images and that has come to consume who I am as both an artist and follower of Christ.  This was a painting that allowed me to release myself from those ties and move on with my works of art.  And while many of my current works share the same theme, I do not want my work to be held back in any way, shape or fashion.

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The five paintings above make up the first half of my work this summer.  They are a range of ideas and methods, but they all reflect some aspect of who I am.  One of my most successful pieces (IMHO) is the image of the figure ripping open his chest and revealing the darkness within.  That image can be found throughout several sketchbooks and was one of the pieces that I  wanted to paint while in school, but never had the time to complete it for my Senior Showcase.

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Upon my return from Scotland, I started the largest piece of the summer.  I’ve come to refer this painting as my ‘Stained Glass’ piece, but the title I’ve come to settle on is “Through the Broken Windows.”  I have enjoyed painting this, mostly because it is so different from all the other works that I have created over the years.

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After I decided that I was just going to focus on completing the pieces I had already started, I got a moment of inspirations and started a spur-of-the-moment piece that carries the most meaning and symbolism this summer.  Almost two months ago, 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hot Shot Crew, including an individual that I had worked in Crown King during my time with AmeriCorps*NCCC and had come to respect, were killed by the flames of the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona.  This painting has become a dedication to those young men who passed away, and those that have survived them and continue to fight.  “Walking on Hollowed Ground” is for all the Wildland Firefighters and their friends and families.

My paintings have evolved into a life of their own, and while this summer is coming to an end, I still have several blank canvases that I will be taking with me to St. Louis, along with my sketchbook and camera.

I hope you all have enjoyed a look behind the curtain of my art.

God Bless and PEACE

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We Are All Human (a lesson in patience)

Today, I spent an hour waiting in the reception room of the Ear, Nose and Throat doctor.  A couple months ago, I got a massive internal ear infection which caused me to temporarily lose part of my hearing; today was a follow-up appointment to ensure that the infection was no longer present.

After checking me in, the nurse at reception went out to lunch and returned an hour later to find me still there, waiting to see someone.  I guess nobody in the back checked to see if I was there and forgot about my appointment.  When they finally realized, they brought me back, only to discover, to their horror, that the doctor had just stepped out to take his own lunch as well.

I didn’t really mind waiting, it never really bothered me, and I smiled each time someone came in and apologized for making me wait.

I laughed with the head nurse as I reminded her that none of us are perfect, we are all human and prone to make mistakes.

Years ago I asked God to teach me patience, and I think it may have been the worst ideas that I’ve ever had.  When you ask God to teach you something, especially patience, he will put you in situations where you have the opportunity to learn.  He doesn’t just suddenly teach you and you now have some sort of all knowing powerful knowledge.  It’s just not something that you wake up and know.

I was never a patient person.  And then I went to Africa.  TIA: This Is Africa or, better yet, Time Is Absent.  If you’ve ever been to Africa, you know that nothing goes according to plan, especially if it has to do with arriving at a specific location at any given time.

In Uganda, we were invited to a soccer game that was supposed to start at 1000, but our ride didn’t arrive until after lunch, closer to 1330.  We arrived before the away team even made it onto the field.

When I headed over to Togo too join up with the Africa Mercy and Mercy Ships, my flight was delayed over an hour and my layover was cut down to nothing, I literally had to run through the terminal (and across the tarmac) to make it to my flight (which happened to be delayed as well).  Even after I arrived in Togo, I found that the driver to take me to the ship wasn’t there to pick me and the girl that I traveled with up.  Almost four hours later, the Mercy Ships land cruiser showed up outside the terminal to pick us up.

In AmeriCorps, things change on a constant basis.  I changed teams.  Got pulled off of projects to race off on Disaster Response.  Hurry up and wait became the day to day occurrence, especially responding alongside FEMA with FEMA Corps.  As Team Leader, my Corps Members pulled every string and pushed every button, but I couldn’t walk out on them.

Patience is part of the journey that I have learned.

Yes, I get frustrated.  I get angry.  I still find myself boiling on the inside, but I have learned to roll with the punches and go with the flow and whatever is thrown at me each day.

We each make mistakes, as my team will attest to, but I’ve been fortunate to have people supporting me, allowing me to have a second (and third, fourth, fifth, etc.) chance at getting things right.  I’ve learned that making mistakes is what makes us human, it’s not wrong, it’s part of learning.  Part of living.

I believe everyone should pray for patience, when the time is right for them to learn.  Learn to smile and be polite when things don’t always go as planned.  Laugh when it seems like the world is plotting against you (because it probably is).

Just some thoughts…

A Lesson In Forgiveness

Just over a month ago I received a message from a guy that I kind-of knew in High School.  I graduated with him over 7 years ago, but it took me a couple of moments (and a look through my old Senior Yearbook) to remember who he was.  What shocked me the most was his honesty, humility and humbleness to say the words that he said.

I’m not going to post the entire message due to confidentiality and usage of language, but it went as follows:

Hey, I don’t know if you remember me or not, but I was a mega prick to you back in high school.  I just wanted to message you and say that I am really sorry for how I treated you.  I was a major [edited].  I stumbled across you page … and remember how [edited] I was and feel terrible about it.  I’m glad to see that it looks like you’ve moved on to bigger and better things.  Again, I’m sorry.

I read it, and read it again.  And again.  And it took me some time to find the words to respond.

One of the hardest things in life is to admit when you were or are wrong and to acknowledge that you have hurt people through your words, actions, and/or lack there of.  It’s even harder to confront those same individuals and let them know how much it gnaws at your very soul.

To be completely honest, I no longer remember how this guy treated me all those years ago, but I could tell that something was eating away at him, compelling him to share his thoughts and let me know that he was truly sorry for how he treated me (if he wasn’t, I feel that he would have never sent me that message).

Jesus makes it seem so easy through the Gospels every time he lets people know that they are forgiven.  It’s a concept that our society has forgotten, but we seek with all our heart.

When I told him that I had accepted his apology and that I forgave him, I let him know that I was truly thankful for his honesty and humility to come forth.  But at the same time, I urged him to forgive himself, to let go of everything that he was sorry for, because that was so much more important in the long run.

When someone forgives us, they release us from the chains of our sins, wrong-doings, guilt, etc. but the hardest part is letting go ourselves.

Many years ago I hurt someone very close to me through both my words and my inability to act in a way that would help heal the wounds that I helped to create.  As time passed by, we once again found ourselves together as friends.  While this individual let me know that they had forgiven me for the words that were exchanged and the actions that followed, I have never been able to truly forgive myself for the things that I did (and didn’t do).

It’s been years since this incident and we are still good friends to this day, but the simple fact that I have not been able to truly let go has continued to haunt me even to this day.  It’s like I’m still holding onto the chains, even though the shackles are no longer around my wrists.

We cannot go through life holding onto all the things that we have regretted.  If we do, we will find ourselves unable to keep ourselves afloat as the weight of our guilt drags us down.  By admitting we are wrong and letting go of the things that we have done in the past, we free ourselves to learn from our mistakes and to begin the process of healing within ourselves.

This doesn’t mean that we forget, or that we will no longer bear the scars, but it is an acceptance of understanding that all those things we have forgiven within ourselves (be it words, silence, actions, or the inability to act when we knew we should have) have helped to shape us into who we have become.

In time, the scars and memories will fade, but they will always remain a part of who we are as an individual.

God Bless and PEACE

Love-Hate Relationship

For the past several hours I’ve been sitting in the basement where I have set up my studio space staring blankly at several canvases.  One, I forcefully removed from its stretcher bars and threw it unceremoniously on the floor (drawing blood in the process).  Another lies there half-finished, the faces staring back at me, empty.  Incomplete.  Four more canvases have the marks of new thoughts, fresh inspiration, and new-found dedication.

I sat there and as I thought about working on them, I felt sick.  Physically ill in some way.

One of the canvases that stands by, ready to have paint applied and smeared across the surface, is a painting of how I feel about art at this moment.  Consumed.  Drained.  Like in some sick way, I am loosing part of my soul with each stroke of the paintbrush, each line of charcoal, each image drawn in the sketchbook.

I love art.  I always have.  It’s a part of who I am as both an individual and as a definition of my faith.  I’ve always drawn and painted what’s been on my heart, but recently I feel like I’m painting because I feel compelled to paint.  And I hate that feeling.

I feel sick because my mind is not focused on painting like I feel it should be.  I’m not painting because I want to, but I feel like I’m painting and drawing because that’s what people expect me to do.

I’ve always told myself that I don’t want my passion to become my job, and every day this summer that I’ve gone down and attempted to paint I feel like I have lost that passion.  Ever since I announced that I wanted to build up my portfolio for Grad School art has no longer held the same release that it once did.

It hurts to write these words, but I feel like I must get them out before they consume me from the inside out.

It just feels like there is so much pressure behind me to create.  Between my own desire to have each painting, drawing to be perfect in its own right and the constant bombardment from family and friends to start and complete pieces, each day  I feel like I’m one step closer to slashing every canvas in frustration or taking them outside to put them to the flames.

I still love art.  I still enjoy working on pieces and bringing life into them through each line and shadow, each stroke of the brush, and every mark on the page, but I feel like I need to slow down, to actually take time on each piece and see them through.

I don’t know if this is “just a phase” that I need to work through or a stepping stone in my artistic journey to find who I am.

I don’t mind the fact that a lot of my paintings are darker in nature, nor do I really care what people think of them.  Like I told my professor during the final critique of Painting I, “I didn’t paint this for you, I painted it for me.”

God Bless and PEACE

Lessons To Live By

On his 12 hour return flight from Brazil to Rome, Pope Francis answered several questions in an impromptu news conference.  When asked about reports of homosexuals within the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church, his response sent ripples throughout the world.

If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?

In a recent article, John Shore shared responses that he received when he asked the question: “How you feel about being on the receiving end of the efforts of Christian evangelicals to convert you?”  The responses he received are harsh, but true.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, my faith calls me to love unconditionally.  But it seems like the main problem with Christianity is the Christians themselves.  As a society, as humans, we judge one another through our words, actions, and thoughts.

As a Catholic, I went to a Southern Baptist University and felt the immediate pressure of individuals trying to convert me, trying to lead me on the right path, trying to save me from hell.  I’ve always considered myself a Christian, but sometimes I find myself shying away from that label due to how many people I have encountered over the years who have acted out of ignorance.

Who am I to judge?

The root of the issue is not some convoluted disagreement on doctrine.  After we break it down to the simplest form, it comes down to the fact that many of us believe that we are in some way better than everyone else around us.  My beliefs are right, yours are wrong.

Once we start to believe that we are better than everyone else, that our beliefs are superior to others, we lose the ability to truly love one another.  When we start judging one another, we lose our compassion.  When we forget how to love, we forget what it means to follow our faith.  To follow Christ.

Jesus called his followers to love everyone, not just one another.  He called them to forgive, to listen, and to share their own testimonies and stories.  He surrounded himself with sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes and individuals who were quick to act out in violence, but they all learned to love.

And yet, so many times I feel that if he returned in this day and age, he would be appalled at how his followers act in his name.

Our faith never called us to scare others into conversion.  It never called us to act out in violence.  To persecute others for their beliefs or the way they live.  To hate.

Unfortunately, it is a mindset that we have been raised with.  Society has ingrained it in all of us to some degree.  But that doesn’t mean that we have to let it define who we are.

We must learn how to love.  Just as we must learn how to forgive ourselves before we can forgive others, we must learn how to accept people for who they are, not for who we expect them to be.

Before we can truly love others, we have to teach ourselves to recognize our own thoughts, words, and actions that pass judgment on those around us.  We have to acknowledge the fact that we may be our biggest obstacle to love and learn how to accept others for who they are.  To live without judging others.

Pope Francis has given us words to live by.  He has challenged not only those of the Roman Catholic Church, but he has challenged the entire Christian Faith to live like they are followers of Jesus Christ.

We don’t have to agree with everyone.  We don’t have to sacrifice our personal values.  We don’t even have to stand on street corners and shout out the good news.  He challenged us to accept others for who they are and love them unconditionally as brothers and sisters in Christ.

I wonder what would happen if all of us who called ourselves Christians started acting like followers of Jesus Christ?  I wonder how many people would stop and notice the difference.

God Bless and PEACE