Blessings and Grace
Advent to Christmas Art Exhibition 2018
by members of Visionaries
Vera Wade Gallery
St. Andrew’s Uniting Church
Cnr Ann and Creek Streets, Brisbane City
Artists: Jennii Gould, Marcelien Hunt, Joanne Lane, Marion McConaghy, Sue Mansill, Graham Moss, Susan Pietsch, Sharon Roberts,
Wendi Sargeant, Cees Sliedrecht, Geraldine Wheeler.
Open weekdays, 11 am to 2 pm, except public holidays
November 26th to January 4th
Blessings and Grace
The works of visual art in this exhibition reflect human experience of the gifts of God, “blessings” and “grace” , some reflecting more generally on the experience, others making particular reference to this time of year, Advent to Christmas, and the biblical story which is central to these celebrations. In some works the artist aims to express theological concepts visually.
Children’s book author and illustrator, Jennii Gould, offers a series to picture the steps of experiencing God’s gifts, through forgiveness, to healing, redemption and being crowned, drawing upon the verses of Psalm 103:3-4. The tiny child suggests the human self in these experiences. In three of Marion McConaghy’s works we also find the child, “…for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven”, drawing upon the words of Jesus to the disapproving disciples as he blessed the children (Matthew 19:13-15). The child sees the beauty in nature as the gift of God and the pictures capture the child’s sense of wonder in both what is seen in nature and the working of modern technology. It is fitting to see in these works an emphasis upon the child when the broad community at this time also involves children widely in Christmas celebrations, the celebration of the Christ Child.
A corner of the Vera Wade Gallery has been set up as a children’s corner with a decorated Christmas tree and toys. Sue Mansill’s The Gospel Tree makes reference to Christmas trees, those set up in public places such as the Brisbane city square and those in private homes. She includes an anonymous poem she found on the internet, “The Gospel Tree” which suggests meanings for the tree.
The beauty of the natural world evokes many different responses and meanings. The photographs of Joanne Lane, a professional photographer who regularly works with overseas aid organisations and travels widely, are of flowers which contain several references and meanings for her, sometimes accompanied by the words of poets. Poppies and sunflowers can be seen as gifts, colours, of blessing and seeds of hope.
The role of Mary, mother of Jesus, is brought to our eyes in a range of different ways. Marcelien Hunt’s A World in Waiting pictures the waiting of the pregnant mother, uncertain but trusting in God’s purpose. Wendi Sargeant’s Theotokos is a visual meditation upon the role of Mary, the bearer of God (the Greek word is often translated as Mother of God), using curving, circular lines to enfold mother and child, and in A Visitation Fragment, Geraldine Wheeler depicts a woman reflecting on a fragment of relief sculpture of Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1:39 ff) often referred to as “the visitation”. Geraldine had been studying the many ways this story has been visualised in art in Europe when she visited the Santa Chiara Church in Naples which had been badly damaged by bombing in World War II. The museum of the restored church and monastery contains fragments rescued from the rubble, including a visitation relief sculpture, a surprising gift to those who so treasured this ancient church and its cloisters. We also see Mary, the mother, as a central figure in Marion McConaghy’s His Story as she makes reference to the birth of Jesus and his death on the cross.
The Adoration by Cees Sliedrecht offers an expression of the culmination of the Advent to Christmas story as the gathering of those at the manger to offer worship and adoration for the gift, or the blessing, for the world of the Christ Child. Graham Moss’s Reflections draws upon layers of meaning as he depicts the modern mother with her child looking into the church filled with light, towards a statue of Madonna and Child. There are reflections in the window and, no doubt, in the mother’s mind and feelings. These paintings together with Wendi Sargeant’s Three Birds and Sue Mansill’s The Gospel Tree offer depictions of light, soft light and strong light, light which reveals so much more to the eyes and to the mind.
Works which already in my hearing have elicited theological discussion and debate are the other works of Marcelien Hunt, crowd scenes placed in front of Trinity Cathedral, Dublin, and the triptych of Susan Pietsch seeking to express visually concepts of grace. Marcelien’s works seek to illustrate human response (or the lack of it) and experience in receiving gifts of blessing and grace. Susan Pietsch explores ways of visualising the theological concepts of John Wesley as he spoke and wrote about three different dimensions in the understanding and experience of God’s grace.
In puzzling and searching for the meaning of Susan Pietsch’s triptych about grace as found in the thinking and writing of John Wesley, one of the questions viewers may ask is “Whose are the hands?” Marcelien Hunt’s depictions of the women and the use of light colour on their faces in her parallel works to express a sense of being blessed and graced, may come from her American culture and perhaps are not so easily understood in Australia. While some of the works in this exhibition are easily “read” and the meaning immediately understood, others will provoke much theological discussion.
A very different work is Sharon Robert’s Blessings. It may remind us of the saying and song “Count your blessings, one by one.” This style of repetition in art is often performed by the artist as a form of repeated prayer or meditation, as monks in the Eastern Church tradition would repeat the Jesus prayer many times. In front of such a work the viewer could take time, section by section, to recall blessings and give thanks and then move to new recollections and thanksgiving suggested by different colours. The size of the work perhaps suggests the countless blessings of God given to humanity.
Finally, the Community Lunch at St. Andrew’s by Geraldine Wheeler is included to suggest that this ministry of the congregation has its two-way blessing, both for those who receive the meal and for those who prepare and serve it: Christ present to all who gather on these community occasions.
The artists from Visionaries exhibiting here thank St. Andrew’s Church and the Vera Wade Gallery for the opportunity to contribute to the celebration of Advent and Christmas this year, praying that different works will offer a range of opportunities for the Holy Spirit to speak to and commune with those who view them and spend time for prayer in the gallery space.
Geraldine Wheeler. 2018