You’ve talked about that kind of developing the ecosystem. What are some of the needs? Would you be able to name any other particular things?
I think a necessary part of this ecosystem is developing these kinds of spaces. One of my dreams is that one day we’ll have an Art and Faith Research Centre, where artists and writers can be solely focussed on developing and building that body of knowledge, and getting that out further, and empowering those who are coming up underneath it. I’ve also got a dream that there would be specific education in this space, whether it’s a one, two, three-year programme, who knows. It’s not just about doing it ‘for the church’, but it’s actually embedding all of the concerns that we’ve been talking about: your own personal journey, formation and discipleship, but also a very savvy awareness of what it looks like for artists to be professional and working in the industry. So, all of those kinds of crossovers.
So, I think there’s a lot to build at the moment. And then it’s a question of timing, of how all of that might happen, or come together. But there’s some different needs. The biggest desperate need is that artists of faith find a place to connect. Some of them won’t be able to find it in their churches, others will. But the most kind of pressing need is a space where they go, “Oh, okay, these are people that I get and who get me.” If we can fulfil that part of this process at the moment, and nurture that, and give some resourcing, and ideas, and connection, and prayer, and all of those things—you know: feed the soil, the plants grow. That’s the kind of idea there.
A number of times you have, implicitly at least, referenced the arts as almost a way of seeing the world. Speak to that for just a minute.
I’ve just come around to that language. I think part of the journey of an artist is that you’re trying to position yourself, you’re trying to understand who you are, and understand your practice. It’s all so connected, because God is the Creator—the first thing that he did was want to share and create and bring something into existence. So I think we, as humanity, have that innate desire within us, whether it’s creating a conversation, artwork, a song, a great idea for a new invention—the creativity is so entwined and embedded within all of us. But we’ve positioned it and siloed it into such specific things. In some ways, we’re all artists, and the more we are able to connect and align with our own kind of focus, and work with it, the better.
I’ve seen some of your own work and it’s pretty compelling. It’s got a lot to do with the human form.
Before 2018, I’d never drawn the human form as a finished artwork. I had done some figure drawing classes, but it was more for the discipline of drawing and so on. But with the meltdown that we had, there was something about the humanity of the stories that we encountered. So that became the key focus that was informing me: working with the figure. For the majority of the time, the figure is in a vulnerable position. There’s transparency. Often the figures are nude, and there’s an openness and vulnerability that the figures have.
I’m a bit out of fashion, because there’s not many contemporary artists who are working in a figurative drawing approach. I’m trying to follow the hints that the Holy Spirit is talking to me about with this direction.
But I also think that the use of the figure is probably one of the most powerful ways of talking about the human condition. You can talk about the human condition through abstraction and different modalities; but obviously with the figure (and often life size), it connects on a very emotive level. We’ve had people come in and look at a work, and they begin to weep, because they feel the particular emotion or thought that’s with the work. That’s really powerful to me, because that’s where I find Jesus, in that type of humanity, rather than the more glossy version. There’s definitely a very emotive, sensitive connection to the resilience and the fragility of humanity. And that’s exactly what Jesus came down into.
What’s come to mind is these words: “prophet of hope and prophet of tears.” There seems to be a sense in which the prophets engaged as agents of hope. But they’re also agents of grief and tears. And in what you were talking about, there seems to be both of those things in play: solidarity with the pain of the world, yet shot through with hope.
Yeah, exactly. That’s what I strive for. And I think it’s a really fine line to try and find that, because sometimes I do work and it feels “Aghh … that’s gone too sentimental.” Or it’s more: “This is too much about me.” And then there are others that sit more in that universal space of connecting those things.
Is there a particular tradition, or artist, that your work references?
Yep, definitely. I often reference classical figure drawing and painting seen throughout art history. Michelangelo’s sculptures, particularly his unfinished works resonate deeply. Some of the Early-Renaissance painters, in terms of the storytelling and work with the figure. ,. Then, a number of contemporary drawers as well.
Lastly, what sustains you as an artist? What keeps you?
For me, it’s definitely the authentic relationships in community, and being around others who are connected and in the same space. You can just talk with some people for hours because the ideas and the threads are kind of overlapping and building, and then you’ve got something beautiful happening.
Understanding my own rhythms and practices—that’s been a big thing to sustain me. Sometimes I could find myself working against what should just be allowed to be let go of, and so that’s a continual journey to understand that. Because sometimes I’m in a real flow of making, and then other times, I might not make much for a month, or a couple of months. It’s just being okay with those flows—I find the acceptance of that sustaining. As I said before, I think one of the other key things is looking for those spaces of the deep, the wonder; and I really need it—because if I find I’m just doing admin all the time, or assessing, and there’s nothing that lifts me up a little bit …. Yeah, so: I’m definitely sustained, and I thrive, from those moments.
ATELIER Studio|Gallery: www.atelier.org.nz
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MAJESTY annual gathering: www.atelier.org.nz/majesty
(Images supplied by David James)