As a Catholic in Recovery, religion is on my mind today: yesterday was Good Friday, tomorrow, Easter Sunday. Bear with me Readers. I know many of you are former Catholics; turned away by the ongoing sexual abuse scandal and the Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality and abortion (and french kissing!). Some of you are agnostic now while others have joined the Episcopal Church (“Catholic Light”), and others have switched teams to join their husbands on Team Judaism (you know who you are Jen Berger!). I am about to blog about an upcoming show entitled, Rooted. I am going to be writing alot about Jesus, which IS kind of funny as this upcoming exhibit is at Congregation Kol Ami – a Jewish synagogue.
I grew up Catholic, attending church on Sundays, singing in my grade school choir. We sang in the back of the church, on the second level, above the congregation, eye level with the elaborate stained glass windows that flanked the walls of St. Francis of Assisi Church. When I wasn’t getting into trouble (my friends and I used to bring nails, bolts, screws – anything small and hard – to throw down at the unsuspecting churchgoers, sitting obediently in their pews), I was looking at those windows, at the light filtering through the colored panes, colors separated by dark lines, daydreaming. I can see the influence of those windows in my own work now.
Like a baby who’s attracted to bold white and black patterns on their mobiles and play mats, I am attracted to the dark pattern of branches as they crisscross against the light sky, colors streaming through the leaves, similar to a stained glass window.
When it came time to plan my upcoming show at Congregation Kol Ami (April 27 – June 15), I realized that I did not want to exhibit alone; that this show would benefit from the work of an artist that counterbalanced my own. I thought of Karen McLaughlin immediately. Her latest work focuses on the lower parts of trees; not the branches and sky, but the place where roots meet the horizon and underneath, where they spread out, searching for nourishment.
In “Life Triptych”, Karen divides her painting into three horizontal panels of canvas stacked vertically. In “Fire”, her painting, though not physically divided, is pictorially divided into a triptych as well. It brings to my mind the Holy Trinity and visits to the Cathedrals in Italy where triptych paintings of Mary, Jesus and Joseph abound.
These paintings also remind me of illustrations from my elementary school science book: of a tree and its roots spanning across the shiny text book pages, divided in half by the book’s center spine. Typewritten labels point to critical parts of the illustration: “topsoil”, “roots’, “subsoil”, etc. The simultaneous existence of religion and science in Karen’s work makes sense. As Karen writes:
The influence of her Catholic upbringing is clearly evident in her line drawing “Antithetical Mutation”. A more apropo title would be “Crown of Thorns.” A delicate, graphite-gray drawing of a thorny branch circles in upon itself, pierced by blood-red berries.
Like Karen, I no longer consider myself a Catholic. Both Karen and I have believed in God so long and so deeply, it’s hard to give Him up. Karen can’t bring herself to say, “I don’t believe in God” and neither can I.
And that brings me back to the catechism that my childhood and Karen’s childhood were steeped in.
I still love the biblical stories depicted in the stained glass windows that dominated the church of my youth – the story of the stations of the cross, the saint’s lives, the repentant sinners now forgiven, the crucifixion of Christ, the crown of thorns, the Holy Trinity – the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
I no longer see God in these stories but I do still see Him in the nature that surrounds me: in the sun filtering through the branches and leaves, in the roots that anchor trees to this beautiful, transient earth. I see the hand of God when I look at an artist’s work – in the religious inferences in Karen’s work and in the fact that an artist, like God when he created Eve from Adam’s rib, creates something great from something insignificant.
“Continuity gives us roots; change gives us branches, letting us stretch and grow and reach new heights.” Pauline R. Kezer
This is the quote that inspired the title for our exhibition, Rooted. It can also be applied to the Catholic church. Belonging to a religion gives us continuity and with that, a raisonne d’etre and hope. “Change gives us branches, letting us stretch and grow and reach new heights.” Without change, the Catholic church is not going to thrive or even survive.
To view and/or purchase Karen’s latest work (and to see more!), please come to the opening for our upcoming show, “Rooted” at Congregation Kol Ami, 8201 High School Road in Elkins Park. The opening reception is Sunday, May 1st, from 2 – 4pm. All are invited to attend!