As any artist will tell you, inspiration comes from the strangest places and in the most unanticipated ways. While the execution of any work — be it a painting, a drawing, or a sculpture — requires technical knowledge, skill, and practice, the spark that drives an artist to create is a hard-to-explain combination of serendipity and giving over control to one’s subconscious.\
For those of you who have visited my website, you’ll see I often refer to my work as “painted prayers.” Although prayer has been central to my life, I never set out to combine that with my work. It happened completely by chance one cold and dreary January morning a little over six years ago.
Imagine this. There’s a fresh sheet of newsprint on my drawing table. I picked up some charcoal and began a quick sketch, not thinking about what I was drawing or creating, just letting my hand move. Minutes later, I sat back. The lines and smudges brought forth a poem. I wrote the following on it:
“Thoughts of Maine on a summer day.
Cool waters and deep green pine.
That is the scene I crave in my soul.
The sound of sun shining.”
Three thoughts went through my head as I stood back: 1) I like this; 2) I will never draw on cheap
paper again: 3) This is a midwinter prayer.
With those thoughts in my head I realized that everything I painted was a prayer. I decided to explore that more. Where ordinarily I would have an image of what I was going to paint or sketch, I wondered what would happened if I began without a plan? To totally set my hand free to do what it wanted, with whatever color that drew me at that moment?
What happened over the next few weeks was fascinating. An image would emerge. Sometimes it happened quickly. Sometimes I would sit quietly for periods of time. When the image emerged, I would pick a pen, a paintbrush, or charcoal and follow the image. As I worked on the image, a prayer would emerge. Suddenly all the tools of my trade had their own voice. I was following them. I became the conduit for my tools.
Over the past six years, I have painted prayers for multiple occasions; weddings, funerals, anniversaries and individuals with specific concerns. I am currently working on one that is based on a group of prayer given to me by individuals.
He Took A Knee, is a painted prayer that flew out of me on June 8, 2020. The murder of George Floyd, the subsequent riots and protests, the knowledge that racism was deeply ingrained in our
society left me trying to make sense of everything that was happening.
I walked into the studio, pulled out a good piece of drawing paper and reached for my charcoal. I had been meditating about the state of our nation. I didn’t spend a long time looking at the paper. Picking up a pencil I put marks on the paper. The black charcoal followed. The image appeared quickly. After I added the sanguine pencil (the red-rust color), I stood back. There before me was my answer about how to respond to the events surrounding me. Take a knee and pray.
Prayer can also be a revolutionary act. When Colin Kaepernick took a knee, his action was like a prayer. It drew attention to injustice; the simple act of taking a knee. No need for guns. No need for violence. His action took a chunk out of the wall of oppression. The events following George Floyd’s murder did the same thing. Peaceful and not so peaceful protests took chunks out of the wall of oppression. People were clear. Injustice is no longer acceptable.
Colin Kaepernick had no idea when he took a knee that he was taking a stand that would change the course of the conversation. Like prayer the conversation is still unfolding. Chunks are being taken out of the walls of oppression that suppress life so that each of us are able to see a better world, to be a better person both as an individual and as part of a greater whole.
Ultimately, that is what prayer is all about. It is so much more than what we’ve been taught, that it is a conversation that can occur only in a sacred religious space with a designated deity. It is a conversation between yourself and the universe that can take place at any time in any location. Think of times you’ve prayed for a loved one, for yourself, for your community, even for people you don’t know personally but whose stories or situations have touched you in ways you’d previously never imagined.
“Spirit, show me the way from this place as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” Prayer is the revolutionary act of praying for life.
Art is now my church. I draw. I paint. I pray. In the studio, staring at the blank paper the image and the prayer emerge. I infuse very single work with prayer, until every single work becomes a prayer. I follow the prayer. I paint the prayer. My studio is my monk’s cell. I pray with pen or brush in hand. Each stroke is a prayer. I get out of my way. I am blessed. I am . . . because God is praying me.
Here is the painted prayer that started it all.