Art and Sacred Space
About our Sacred Space:
Even when not spoken aloud, words from Psalm 96 echoed throughout the Renewal project that created Grace Church's new worship space: Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. Beauty was always a requirement for the burnished concrete floor, for the light-filled proportions of the space itself, and for all the liturgical objects within it. Nothing was bought ready made out of a catalog. Everything was produced by local artists and craftsmen.
The recent installation of two paintings has continued the pattern. One is an old friend. Swooping down now over the doors to the nave is The Dove Descending, oil on canvas, by Patric Shannon. It hung for many years on the back wall of the former nave, which is now the parish hall, first as a long-term loan and then as a gift of the artist. He was a member of the congregation from 1974 until his death in 1998, serving as Bishops Warden, licensed lay reader, notable lector and trainer of other lectors. A graduate of Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley, he had a long career in the arts as a museum director and a college teacher of both theater and visual arts. His paintings were widely exhibited at museums and galleries. The title of the painting comes from Little Gidding, the last of T.S. Eliots Four Quartets:
The dove descending breaks the air with flame of incandescent terror Of which the tongues declare The one discharge from sin and error. The lines are part of a complex reference to the operation of the Holy Spirit, even amid the London fires started by German dive bombers during the Second World War. However, the painting is not a representation of the dove as a symbol of the Spirit. Patric said that he did not compete with the camera to produce pictures. Instead, as an old-fashioned abstract expressionist, he manipulated the plastic means of space, light, color, line, and texture to express the inner world of mind, imagination, and feeling - the world of spiritual life. Titles, including this one, came afterward to suggest experiences the works might evoke.
The second painting, hung over the columbarium, is new to Grace. The Spirit Rising, also oil on canvas, is by Lee Mullican, who died in 1998. An important twentieth-century American painter, he was Professor of Art at the University of California, Los Angles. He exhibited nationally in museums and galleries, including two one-man exhibitions presented by Patric Shannon. His work is included in the collections of major museums.
The first reaction of many viewers is, It can't possibly be a painting! It looks like a tapestry! The effect comes from a technique Mullican developed during his later career, laying on paint in small strokes with a palette knife. In some works he outlined figures or created designs within a large brushed-in field. In The Spirit Rising, painted in 1971, the entire composition is done with the knife. The result is a brilliant piece of virtuoso painting. However, the merit of the work does not come simply from technique. It shows the influence of Mullicans immersion in Eastern philosophy and Eastern and native South American spirituality. It both expresses and evokes spiritual experience.
It hung for many years in the Shannon's home, where Mother Susan saw it and immediately loved it. She agreed that it was a religious painting and she and Ann Marie Shannon decided that it would someday go to Grace Church. Ann Marie made the gift in June, 2007, so that the painting could be part of the beautiful new sacred space created by Renewal.