I was thrilled to be asked by my high school, Freeman Academy to present a selection of my recent work at a special fundraising event this past spring. As the date approached and I began planning works of art to share, I faced the fact that I really hadn’t produced much of anything for a number of years. It made me really sad. It was more than high time I got my act together and got back to making. I also knew I needed to do this for my own mental and spiritual health in light of going through a rough patch.
My plan was simple. Every day I would get into the studio and paint.
Step 1 — explore color and texture by making small abstractions
Step 2 — explore various forms and imagery of personal interest and incorporate these into the abstractions
The plan worked. In the 30 days leading up to my talk in April, I had completed 6 new pieces that I felt really, really excited about. After seeing the results, it wasn’t hard to then roll my 30-day project into a 365-day challenge. It’s been going strong and with pretty great response from my social media audience too. I’d put off the daily practice of art making WAY TOO LONG. At this point, I’m already telling myself to shoot for 1000 days. I haven’t missed a single day yet and have no intention of letting myself give this up.
LET ME EXPLAIN — AN ARTIST STATEMENT
Most of the new pieces I’ve been producing are part of a series I call The Battle of Enchantment. The series is an ongoing exploration of some of my personal beliefs around the existence of a spiritual realm, the angels that occupy this space and the divine interaction between it and our world.
Recently I completed an entry for the 2019 South Dakota Governor’s Art Exhibit (something I’ve also been needing to do for a very long time). I submitted three pieces from the Battle of Enchantment series and spent some time working up the following artist statement and explanation of key subjects within the series:
Elijah’s Raven — There are many beautiful representations in Christian icon imagery depicting the story of the prophet Elijah having been fed by ravens while hiding in the desert. Elijah raises his hand in anticipation of receiving the bread (a disk reminiscent of a communion wafer) brought by the raven.
In a number of my works, Elijah’s hand is also directly in the path of the raven’s extended wing — the feathers have separated and bear resemblance to knife blades. This stands as a symbol of vulnerability and the potential to be wounded as we extend ourselves into the world and towards others.
Woundedness is naturally something we seek to avoid, and yet ironically it has the potential to serve as a catalyst for tremendous personal growth and maturity — a hidden gift we can receive from the Divine. Now, the disk of bread brought by the raven becomes the representation of that possible gift in the midst of all that we receive as struggle and suffering.
Archangels Michael and Gabriel* — I am ever intrigued by those who testify of angel visitation — they speak of such encounters as bringing them deep peace and encouragement at a time when they needed it most. Pieces featuring one or both of these two angels mentioned by name in Scripture are meant to be a symbol of hope in life’s darkest moments. In the wake of increasing suicide rates, mass-shootings, and social media induced loneliness, it stands as a reminder that no one is ever truly without God’s love or care.
*Michael the Warrior is depicted holding a sword and Gabriel the Messenger/Ambassador is pictured holding a staff and disc bearing an emblem of Christ. Both have a ribbon woven through their hair with ends floating out on either side of the head representative of their constant listening for divine direction.
Hand of the Divine — The hand gestures commonly found in Byzantine icon imagery carry special meanings of blessing and comfort. Just as individuals carry experiences of angel appearances, there are individuals who say they have seen a hand or hands appear at intense moments and extremely critical/scary situations in their lives. These hands provided deep reassurance or even miraculous intervention.
A HORSE AND A PLAN
If we all were asked right now to vote for our very, very favorite creature on this planet, I would without hesitation choose the magnificent animal known as the HORSE. I have been a horse-lover for as long as I’ve been an artist. In fact, for many years the line between the two interests was unidentifiable. I drew and dreamed one day of riding horses in races and steeple chases and wherever else my imagination took me.
Why am I telling you this? Earlier this year I had a plan, a really great plan in my opinion. I was dreaming of seeing one of the greatest horses of all time run his his big sweet heart out. His name is Justify, and this past June he did what few horses have ever done…win the Triple Crown of horse racing here in America. He was then scheduled to end his racing career in November running at the Breeder’s Cup at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.
A few months ago, I could hardly wait for the first weekend of November. It was going to be amazing, until…Justify's trainer and owners declared his career over when he injured his ankle during training this summer. And just like that, my super awesome plan came to a screeching halt. Bummer.
Can you relate? Ever set your hopes and dreams on something (maybe a bit bigger than wanting to see a champion horse run a race) only to have it not work out, circumstances not align as you wished they had, or even the whole thing fail miserably? It is only with time and distance (sometimes A LOT of time and distance) we can look back at what seemed like a door slammed in our face or whatever and realize that things ultimately worked for good in spite of the pain and struggle:
- We found a new way
- We dug deep for inner strength and courage
- We discovered our voice
- We said goodbye to one relationship in order to begin a new one
- We learned a hard lesson about ourselves
- We faced a personal weakness or fault
- We grew in our capacity to extend compassion, forgiveness or grace
- We learned to trust God for our well-being and future
- We learned to take others and ourselves a little less seriously
- We stood at the crossroads and chose a path forward
The past year has proven to be challenging on a personal level, I find myself down a road I hadn’t planned or hoped to be on. Much of that has involved an internal struggle - insomnia, nightmares, depressed feelings, lack of motivation, and lack of confidence in myself. It takes a toll on me. As a result, I’ve made some critical decisions. God continues to remind me that one day I will be able to look back down this road — the one I’d rather not be on right now — and see how it was part of the divine plan for my life.
Let’s go back to Justify, the 2018 Triple Crown Winner, for a sec. I totally nerded out reading articles and listened to podcasts about him this summer. The thing about this horse beyond his huge muscular stature are his big heart and laid-back personality. Everyone says how he’s is a rare gem. The crowds never fluster him, the other horses never set him off, rain or sloppy tracks won’t deter him — nope, Justify just walks out there calm, focused and ready to win. His jockey said he’s never had a horse stand so still in the starting gate.
All Justify wants to do is run. He loves it and he thrives even in high-pressure challenging conditions. He ran all three of the Triple Crown races in first place from start to finish. Not bad. Frankly, I want to be like Justify — run my race, do my thing, and not be bothered by the competition or the onlookers or the crappy conditions of the road I’m on.
The though has occurred to me: Justify’s demeanor and determination bear some similarities to a certain New Testament writer…the apostle Paul (not that you can really compare a horse to a man):
“I can be content in any and every situation through the Anointed One who is my power and strength.” — Philippians 4:13 Voice
“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” — Philippians 3:14 NIV
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award me on that day — and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” —2 Timothy 4:7-8
“Finally, brothers and sisters, fill you minds with beauty and truth. Meditate on whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is good, whatever is virtuous and praise worthy.” — Philippians 4:8 Voice
The one piece of advice resonating with Justify’s example, Paul’s writings and divinely reappearing in various ways during my recent struggles is this: KEEP GOING. Two simple words that have been popping up everywhere for me. Some days I find I have to repeat them to myself many times. But I have faith that Christ will see me through to the very end whenever and wherever that is.
Prior to the final race of the Triple Crown, I made a snarky little graphic for my phone lock screen (because I can be weird that way) — a reminder to keep on keepin’ on. It’s a picture of Justify with the caption: losers quit when they’re tired — winners quit when they’ve won.
I’m in this to win iT.
I’m gonna fight for that glorious crown.