Painting: “Wings,” Oil on linen, 30 x 40 inches
The first reaction is usually a chuckle. Yeah, it’s a little bizarre. I think that’s what Robert Williams was thinking when I told him my idea for the painting. But at least now I know that you can purchase arm floaties for adults! No joke. (By the way, if anyone is interested, here is the link to where I bought them on Amazon.)
After the first laugh subsides it gets a little awkward because other than the floaties, the rest of the painting is… well, serious. His pose is serious, his expression is serious. And there is a serious message to consider. So that leads some to start rubbing the bottom of their chin (the way my four year old does when she’s “thinking”) in order to try to ponder the meaning. Hopefully, you can take away your own meaning from this work. But since we live in a society that doesn’t typically spend a lot of time pondering artwork, I’ll share some of the things that were on my heart this past February when I worked on this project.
As many know, spirituality and faith are major themes in my work. The more I explore the depths of these topics, the more I appreciate the complexities of religious faith and recognize the challenges that exist. We are living in a society where having and maintaining convictions can be challenging—especially when you become the brunt of the joke and are quickly dismissed as being ignorant or childish. Contemporary Christianity faces this challenge and unfortunately, many critique it with a large and dismissive broad brush (and the hypocrisy seen in this political season isn’t helping).
In many ways, this work speaks of that struggle. The struggle to stand unashamed—despite the laughter. The struggle to stand with loving conviction in an age when passive indifference seems to be the route our consumeristic society funnels us towards. As Peter Kreeft points out, “The opposite of faith is not doubt but indifference.”
In this painting, he stands with his hands on his hips and in doing so, his body evokes readiness, strength, and power. At the same time, the floaties remind us that he is completely vulnerable and dependent on something. And that’s what faith is. It’s the complete trust and confidence in something beyond oneself. When you consider his expression, you can see that it is not an expression of indignant self-righteousness nor does emit an air of timid embarrassment—it’s one of love, compassion, and fortitude. He has strength in his eyes, yet there are also small traces of pain and loneliness. In a world of storms and trials, he does not retreat. Ignoring the umbrellas that surround him, he does not try to avoid the elements or refrain from his immersion. Rather, he maintains a realistic expectation for the flood waters that are approaching and recognizes where his devotion, trust, and hope lie.
As Skye Jethani points out in his book With, water is often seen as a force of chaos throughout the Biblical text. We can see this in the stories of Noah, Moses, and Jesus (among others). In these stories, there is an emphasis on strength and stability in the midst of this chaos. Additionally, there is a call for a trust and reliance in something that will supersede the wild forces that rise up in opposition (ex: ark, basket, etc…). In a way, this contemporary image speaks to those ideas and themes and invites us to reexamine our own convictions.
Despite the looming chaos, this painting reminds us to ignore the laughs, embrace the challenges, and trust the wings. 🙂
Isaiah 40:31; 43:2