Our son Ron works in the film industry because he really, really loves film. Only occasionally do I venture into a movie theater. When I do get around to the “Mom, you should watch this” movies, he will ask me if I caught such and such. Usually I have not. Now understand, he has probably watched the film multiple times. I mean, seriously watched it. On the other hand, I sit in front of the TV with my fingers (and eyes!) entangled in the knitting project in my lap, glancing up only when it sounds like something important is happening.
I bring this situation to the table to say some things about “praying” with icons.
Nowadays, colorful images are everywhere and flip past us at a phenomenal rate such that they become mere background “noise.” One of the rare times we scrutenize an image is during the “instant replay” of a hotly contested moment in a sports event.
Old-school icons are considered “The Gospel in Line and Color.” Back in the day, people who could not read text could read the images, recall the stories, contemplate the various symbols, and consider how the message of the image mattered to them. They could burn the image into their brain and have it available for instant replay when needed.
The question: How often have you sat still and simply looked at one static image for an extended period of time? What about gazing long enough to notice little things and allow connections to form between what is in the image with what is out in the world or in your soul?
In my own practice, I might even begin an internal dialogue with the saint before me, letting her words, or silence, instruct me.
Each day when beginning to paint, I just sit with the image in its current state and let it speak to me.
Gold sandals were not in the original plan. John, the Panhandler saw them in an alley, liked them, and put them on. They likely had belonged to a hooker. He thought he would spend the day walking in her shoes. And praying for her.
Saint John, Lost Job Sign
For a year, Ron and I lived in a high rise at the intersection of 16th Street and Glenarm Place in the Heart of Denver. For entertainment, we needed to do no more than sit on our 22nd floor balcony or step out onto the street.
The Convention Center and entertainment district are only a few blocks away, Federal and State government buildings as well. Hotels and eateries too numerous to count are crammed into the city scape. It was not unusual to see comic book and movie characters wander up and down the street or stop for a bite in a sidewalk cafe, especially during Comicon season. Buskers playing musical instruments as varied as bag pipes, violins, pianos, and plastic buckets staked out their areas and competed for random dollars. The occasional choir gathered around one of the city’s pianos and serenaded us.
Many of the brick walls in the alleys that intersect 16th Street are covered in well painted graffiti-style art.
Often I noted folks — men, women, and children — wearing angel wings. Not uncommon at all.
Perhaps my favorite costume was a woman in a full mermaid outfit being pushed down the street in a wheelchair, her tail fins dragging the ground.
My favorite entertainer was a dude with a huge Afro in a padded red and silver robot outfit. He would accost folks with Don Rickles-style one-liners. He may have had a day job or maybe that was his day job.
And then there are the Street People. Each block has its regulars with their homemade signs begging for whatever change we can spare, asking us to smile, and then blessing us in some way. I liked the vet in a wheelchair with his dog in his lap. The dog always had on a hat appropriate to the season.
Every day I went into my studio and looked at drawings and worked on icons of Saint John with wings on his back, signifying that he is the messenger of the Lord.
Thus was born my current painting of Saint John, the Messenger. It’s not finished yet, but I will show you parts of it until it is.