I have sorely neglected my blog over the last few weeks. My apologies! Here is an album of photos from my Israel trip. I hope you enjoy them!
Since it’s Sunday, I thought I’d share a few recent additions to our art collection–specifically Christ images. (By the way, I’m interested in gathering more Christ imagery for our collection. If you have something you think I might be interested in, let me know!)
The first is a hand-crafted pencil box, built by my friend Dallan Wright. He doesn’t usually include the image on the box–he did that especially for me. I love it.
The next is a painting by Greg Newbold. Greg is known for his stylized illustrations that have graced, among other things, the pages of many beautiful picture books. These days, he’s doing a lot of stunning landscape work as well. I persuaded him to something a little bit different for me. Thanks Greg!
This next one is also stepping out of character for the artist. Ben Hammond is known for his detailed bronze sculptures, but he took some time out to paint a sketch of Christ for me. Thank you, Ben!
Last, but not least, this Erasmo Fuentes Christus bronze was my birthday present this year. Beautiful work, Erasmo. Thank you!
If you are a Latter-Day Saint and you’re an artist, chances are you have read President Kimball’s address The Gospel Vision of the Arts. I was one year old when this speech was adapted and published in the July 1977 Ensign. Two decades later, it was a continuing source of discussion in my university art classes. I wager it still is a source of discussion and motivation for Mormon art students even today. The purpose of this blog post is to add my two cents, hopefully gently.
President Kimball begins by quoting a predecessor, John Taylor, thus: “You mark my words, and write them down and see if they do not come to pass. You will see the day that Zion will be far ahead of the outside world in everything pertaining to learning of every kind as we are today in regard to religious matters. God expects Zion to become the praise and glory of the whole earth, so that kings hearing of her fame will come and gaze upon her glory. …”
I confess I have mixed feelings about this sentiment. Part of me feels it’s too brazenly nationalistic and competitive for a spiritual people to embrace–outdated in today’s increasingly globalized discourse. And yet another part of me wants to say “Yeah, Mormons, go kick some artistic [rear end]!” Certainly Latter-Day Saints have made giant strides in many fields, not the least of which most recently has been politics. But are we even close to meeting John Taylor’s vision?
Part of me says no. Rarely if ever are Latter-Day Saint artists studied in art history classes and textbooks. The world doesn’t stream into Salt Lake City to see what today’s mormon artists are producing. Bidders aren’t scrambling at the auction houses to acquire LDS works of art for millions of dollars. And yet, there is a vibrant community of Latter-Day Saint artists, creating stunning works of art–traditional and contemporary, religious and secular. There is more opportunity than ever, in my opinion, for the ambitious young artist to make his or her mark in the world of spiritual artwork. We’ve come a long way since the days of Minerva Teichert, who had to convince BYU to accept her paintings in exchange for her children’s college tuition.
President Kimball continues: “Would someone say that they produce singers best in Italy, in Germany, in Poland, or Sweden? Remember we draw our members from all of these places. The gospel attracts many and stirs their blood with the messages of the ages…”
I love this idea. And every three years, when I see the entries stream into the International Church Art Competition, I am encouraged by the increasing breadth of artwork in so many international styles and disciplines.
I’ll warn you right now, I’m not obeying any of the rules of quotation. If you want to read this article unfiltered through my lens, click on the link at the top of this post. Anyway, here are a few favorite excerpts from the paragraphs that follow:
“Members of the Church should [at the very least be peers] to any others in natural ability, extended training, plus the Holy Spirit which should bring them light and truth. . .If we strive for perfection—the best and greatest—and are never satisfied with mediocrity, we can excel.”
“Michelangelo (Buonarroti—1475–1564) thought of himself only as a sculptor. He was called upon by Pope Julius II (in 1505) to build a great monument which the pope desired to have finished within his lifetime. This monument was never completed, and the controversies which arose embittered a large part of the great artist’s life. His 3,500-square-foot painting in the Sistine Chapel is said to be the most important piece of mural painting of the modern world. To be an artist means hard work and patience and long-suffering. This artist said, “I am a poor man and of little merit, who plods along in the art, which God gave me. … I am more exhausted than ever man was.” And when we see Michelangelo’s masterpieces of art, we feel as did Habakkuk: “Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvellously: for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you.” (Hab. 1:5.)” But then we ask, “Can there never be another Michelangelo?” Ah! Yes! His David in Florence and his Moses in Rome inspire to adulation. Did all such talent run out in that early century? Could not we find an embodied talent like this. . .”
Perhaps this would be a good time for me to outline some of the obstacles in our path. In my opinion, we could accomplish President Kimball’s vision much more effectively if:
1. We stop discouraging our young artists.
Ours is a practical society. How many brilliant young creatives have been encouraged by their parents to study dentistry because it’s an easier, more family-friendly life? Of course a career in the arts should only be committed to with a lot of thought and prayer. It’s amazing to me, though, how many parents give their kids music lessons or encourage them to paint or to write as children, but then eagerly steer them away from such pursuits later on.
2. Mormon art patrons step up to the plate.
President Kimball asks, can their be another Michelangelo? We might as well ask, can there be another Medici family to fund new masterworks as great as the Sistine Chapel? Where are our contemporary Mormon versions of Gertrude Stein, Henry Frick, Getty, or Guggenheim? We have business leaders throughout the world that have the potential of bringing LDS art to the great heights achieved by Modern artist and their Jewish patrons of the 20th century. But what about the church, you might ask. Wasn’t the Catholic church responsible for funding the Sistine Chapel? Yes. But the LDS church does not have the same history of funding art. The art it does fund is underpaid and squeezed by layers of committees. Theirs is the business of expounding doctrine–and church-funded art is a subset of that goal–doctrinal and precise, not poetic, romantic, or abstract. That’s the cold, hard, honest truth. And frankly, the church has better places to put its money–humanitarian work, for example. Shouldn’t we then do the same, you might ask. I’ll leave that for you to decide. I mostly want to plant a few seeds of ideas: perhaps we need not feel guilty about splurging on great craftsmanship. Perhaps we should value art as a society, and not hang cheap reproductions on our giant walls. Perhaps we should work to bring contemporary Mormon art into the forefront of current art discussion worldwide. Perhaps we could fund an art school or two, unfettered by current academic restrictions of accreditation and secularism. A lot can be done by a few powerfully connected or moneyed people. And I confess, such people have made a huge difference in my own life, as I’ve made my way through this career as an artist.
3. Create places where inspiring works can exist.
Thousands of people thronged to the Carl Bloch exhibit at BYU. Those amazing altarpieces brought many of us to the brink of tears. Now ask yourself, ‘If a young Mormon artist wanted to do works like that, where would he or she put them?’ The International Art Competition at the Church Museum has a size limit, and for good reason. But such a size limit would disqualify Bloch’s great works, were he to submit them. The Church has doctrinal restrictions that disqualify many of Bloch’s paintings, due to things like wings on angels. The other main patron of large scale artworks is the government, which has become strictly secular. And so, artists who want to explore scriptural themes in expressive ways are left with few choices as to where to show and place these works. If Michelangelo and Bloch were working today along the Wasatch front, they would have to work smaller, put more clothes in their paintings, and cut the wings out. Their works would not be so moving to me if they were to undergo those changes.
4. Be slightly less puritanical about what constitutes appropriate artwork.
A marble statue of a nursing mother in the Springville Museum of Art need not be dismissed as pornographic. Figurative artists must study the human figure. We don’t give gynecologists a hard time for studying the body–why should we give artists a hard time? Don’t hate the body. If it’s respectful, it’s not pornography. (I know this is a hot button issue, but I feel impelled to put forth my viewpoint on the matter.)
I hope you don’t read this and get the sense I have a chip on my shoulder. The truth is, I am extremely grateful for the myriad of opportunities our society affords. We are truly blessed to be able to paint overtly religious themes and have venues in which to display our works. Most of the art world is so strictly secular that those opportunities no longer exist elsewhere. Having read Kimball’s speech one more time, I realize how much it has motivated me over the years. Many of my contemporary LDS artists have the desire to achieve much of what Spencer Kimball outlined. Can we do it? Yes. Should we do it? I think so, but I’m biased, because I’m an artist. Do we have to make changes to do it? I believe so.
Let me leave you with the closing paragraphs from Kimball’s speech:
“We must recognize that excellence and quality are a reflection of how we feel about ourselves and about life and about God. If we don’t care much about these basic things, then such not caring carries over into the work we do, and our work becomes shabby and shoddy.”
“Real craftsmanship, regardless of the skill involved, reflects real caring, and real caring reflects our attitude about ourselves, about our fellowmen, and about life.”
We had a fun time last night here at the studio. If you didn’t get a chance to make it, there’s still tomorrow (Saturday) night, 6-9pm. A few generous attendees sent me some words describing their favorite pieces:
“It was a magnificent evening……such eye candy both nature’s best and the best of a talented artist. I loved it! It always is an amazement to me how versatile you are, Kirk…..I am carrying images in my mind of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, plein air in the Holy Land, nostalgic landscapes, and stunning sculpture. I love the winged figures in both oil and three dimensional…an evening that filled my soul!”
-Thank you! Linda
“I know I’m Kirk’s wife and I am biased, but my favorite pieces in this studio tour exhibit are the new abstract Christ narratives (especially the “Last Supper” and “Palm Sunday”). These pieces are beautiful from a distance, and become even more meaningful as I look closer and see the stories represented and interweaved with texture and shapes. Whereas I am an artist that can paint from/copy a photograph, I greatly respect artists like Kirk who have the capability to paint intense detail or can copy what they see before them, but choose not to. I am amazed how Kirk creates his own compositions and often pulls ideas out of his head instead of from a photo. He’s willing to try new things and take risks to stay true to his creative originality. I like how these narratives aren’t spelled out for the viewer. The viewer has to look closer to see what the artist is communicating, just as we often need to dig deeper in the stories of the scriptures to see what we need to learn from them.”
“I have always appreciated Kirk’s ability to portray light and emotion with a minimalistic splash of color or spatter of texture. The way he illustrates the human condition, both mortal and divine, often causes the best loved passages of the Holy Word to leap to mind.
“What continues to inspire me is though the technique changes, the results are the same. I see both the love of God and His creations, and Kirk’s love of art reflected back from his works.
“One of my favorites, Christ among the lepers, quietly evokes both the despair of the condemned and the hope that the Savior offers them and all of us if we but accept Him in our lives. A priceless gift, freely given.”
My studio tour this weekend is open to the public. I’d love to have you stop in. Unfortunately, I’m not going to get a chance to put everything online before then–not even close. But, you can see a few things online. Click here to see the Shroud series. All but one will be on display this weekend. Click here to see the paintings I did on site in Israel. These will all be on display this weekend.
These will also be on display:
And there will be many others, including a few gems in progress. Stop in Thursday or Saturday from 6 to 9 pm.
In a previous post, I included a picture of the tiny blank panels I took with me to Israel. The reason for the trip was not primarily to create these little paintings, but rather to gather information and inspiration for a host of new paintings throughout the years to come. However, these little paintings were indeed fun to make–little bite-sized memories of my trip. By the way, you’re invited to come see all of these originals in beautiful custom frames at my next studio tour, May 17th and May 19th here at the house. Email me if you want an invitation to the studio tour.
The first painting I did was this one of the Sea of Galilee. It was beautifully misty most of the time I was there–at times, the far side of the sea wasn’t visible through the mist.
This little piece was painted from the Mount of Beatitudes, facing away from the Sea of Galilee. I imagined Christ walking these paths.
A tiny painting of the Mount of Beatitudes and the church that sits among the trees.
I loved this view from the Mount of Beatitudes. It was easy for me to imagine a large crowd of people gathered to listen to Jesus at this spot.
Nazareth is populated and full of traffic. According to Wikipedia, the population is 81,400, and mostly Arab. I took advantage of the traffic by snapping photos of people on the street from behind my tinted windows. School was just getting out, and there were hundreds of school children in school uniforms out in the streets.
I think I saw this woman near what is affectionately referred to as “crash corner”–an intersection with no stops or lights, where people have to force their way into the fray and hope they get across safely to the other side.
This young man was the shop keeper next to where I ate my first shawarma.
As I was painting this at Skull Rock, a lovely Arab woman began a conversation with me. The little tombstone poking above the top wall, which I was then painting, was her own grandfather’s tombstone. She was visiting from Chicago and stopped in to see Skull Rock and the tombstone. It turns out she lives just blocks away in Chicago from where my own mother was born and lived as a young girl.
This place is amazing. Really, a gorgeous facility.
People come to the Jordan River in droves to be baptized. Both of these were painted at Yardenit, just south of the Sea of Galilee.
I loved painting at the garden tomb. Stepping into the empty tomb was definitely a highlight of the trip.
I painted this view of the old city from a balcony at the Jerusalem Center.
One of the school boys in the street.
I was alone in the Synagogue at Capernaum, and then there was a beautiful moment when an African man dressed in the whitest white came in and started praying.
This was the second painting I began during the trip, but it took multiple sessions before the painting began to make sense. I’m still frustrated that I couldn’t quite capture the atmosphere and greenery of these orchards in Tiberias.
This view of the old city was painted from the lookout on the Mount of Olives.
Painted not far from the Golden Gate of the old city.
Painted not far from the Golden Gate of the old city. This church had some particularly lovely paintings inside.
This view was painted from inside the Augusta Victoria compound, where I was staying.
One of the highlights of the trip was painting this ancient olive tree in the Garden of Gethsemane. They say these trees are over a thousand years old.
This scene happened at Peter in Gallicantu, where Peter is said to have denied Christ, and where Christ is said to have been held and scourged before being delivered into Pilate’s hands.