MARY, MARY: Artists' Statements
Carolyn M. Abrams
I created “Liminality” during the time of a spiritual journey, where I questioned what I believed because I believed it, not because someone in my youth told me to. The Blessed Mother Mary was an ever-present being at this threshold. She was and is the stable voice and guidance in my life and, in contemporary terms, “my go-to girl”! I see Mary in every aspect of my life but most especially in the beauty of nature and the natural environment. I am ever grateful for her presence in my life.
“Liminality" is a 24” x 30” work in acrylic on canvas. It encompasses many intuitive layers of adding and subtracting paint and mark-making to achieve the ethereal quality that places Mary behind a very thin veil yet close enough to feel her presence.
“Tender & Mild”
I find figures to be continually interesting and beautiful. Color is delicious, and textures and patterns are fascinating! These are a few of the reasons I continue to be an artist, continue to push to the edge. This is where figures and other objects, indeed, even landscapes, can become just left or right of center, not quite dead-on, a little quirky and evocative. Bold color thrills me — subtle color and nuance draw me in to see what is there. I enjoy the give and take that watermedia provide: watercolor, gouache, watercolor crayons and pencils; sometimes, I tell them what to do but sometimes, they tell me.
“Mariam una Santa Palestina”
My work fuses beauty with longing to explain Palestinians’ lifelong yearning. I base my paintings and multi-media work on the principle “First you must look before you can see.” I invite my audience to look deeply into the beauty of my work to understand the truths I hide there.
With Covid dominating nearly every conversation and so many aspects of our lives over the past 20+ months, it has inevitably inspired much of the art I’ve created during this period. I’ve always looked back at classical art images and re-imagined them into contemporary contexts. The title “Covid Mary” is a nod to Typhoid Mary, who was a famous carrier of typhoid and source of multiple typhoid outbreaks in the early 1900s.
I am inspired by iconic images of women throughout art history, and I pay homage to them in my own artwork. Images of Mary, particularly those by the Italian Renaissance artists Raphael and Botticelli, are inspirational to me. I find strength in the “Magnificat”, in the “Hail, Mary” prayer, and in the lyrics of “Let It Be”. It is fascinating to me that a quarterback’s last-ditch pass attempt to the end zone, with time running out, is called a “Hail Mary”.
My art is made up of a variety of found objects — what most people would consider trash. I find it fulfilling to turn objects that are useless or meant to be thrown away into artwork that can be surprisingly thought-provoking and beautiful.
“The Mother Load of All Sorrows”
“The Mother Load of All Sorrows” expresses the torment that Mary must have felt seeing her son suffer on the road to Calvary. Mary must have felt agony, although she looks serene and calm. This is what mothers do: they hide their own pain for the sake of their children.
Cheryl Ryan Harshman
“Annunciation: Joseph comes to Mary after work”
I come from a long line of people who make things — brick masons, painters, needle workers, potters, gardeners — and, like them, I must make things. Whether it is a pie from scratch, a new shirt, or a pair of socks, I love making something from nothing, making it all on my own.
For me, making things is problem-solving, putting puzzle pieces together, exploring the “what ifs” of creating that are so thrilling. Whether I work in fiber or clay or paint, or all at the same time, I need to see what will happen next. Each stitch, each mark, each brush stroke changes the work, moves it in another direction, maybe even away from where I thought I was taking the work. And those changes in direction, those whole new worlds of possibility, are infinitely exhilarating to me. I am driven to discover where the work itself will lead.
The style of my clay prints, flat and graphic, is informed by my years as a needle worker, as a seamstress, and as a quilter. I lay out designs as I lay out dress pieces; often, I see the clay prints as fabric to be run through the sewing machine; in fact, I use stitching and appliqué often in my prints.
I honor the feminine spirit through diverse sacred and secular paintings. I celebrate each one of us — the iconic individual — living out the abstractness of our lifetimes within the sanctuary of the human body.
I give a visual voice to those striving together, or alone, often against great odds, women in transition searching and fighting for racial, religious, and gender acceptance and equality. I honor those on the exquisitely beautiful, hard journey of motherhood.
I believe by continually [creating] strong, empowering, and inclusive paintings created from the heart — art reflecting inherent human similarities rather than differences — I am contributing to a better, more equitable world.
“Holy Mother of Comfort and Solace”
Over the recent past, Covid-19 stole away our beloveds. Every part of our collective soul hurts, and it is impossible to absorb the concept of how many have died and been taken from us so quickly across the country and the world.
This profoundly sad time of dying reminds us evermore and once again how much we need unconditional love and hope. Beloved Mother Mary, who has embodied the feminine spirit across time, remains a steadfast and comforting presence to this young woman who rests her head on Mary’s shoulder. We all are this young woman, each of us needing familiar maternal reassurance and a place to rest our own weary heads.
“I think we all need comfort and solace at this time. I can feel myself sinking into her shoulder. I can feel her put her arms around me. I can feel myself releasing breaths I have held for too long.”
~ Reverend Katherine Burgess, Spiritual Director and Presbyterian Minister, The Presbyterian Church of Canada, in Response to “Holy Mother of Comfort and Solace”, March 29, 2020
“Pieta — the Suffering”
Within “Pieta — the Suffering”, the Mother of Christ is aligned horizontally with her child, her body almost one with his, heart to heart, her hand tucked under his head much as she cradled him as a baby, for this never changes. Her face bears witness to what her heart feels. He died on Calvary after fulfilling his work on earth, yet he remains her child — nothing changes that. Had he been a little boy whose young life was cut short by a careless driver or, as it is here, the Son of God murdered on a cross, it is his mother who holds him for the last time, as my own grandmother held her son. The blackness of the background engulfs them, pressing in as the blackness of sorrow does.
Margaret Adams Parker
“Burning Bush” and “Burning Bush (Detail)”
The “Burning Bush” is one in a set of two paintings titled “American Diptych – The Burning Bush & The Robe of Mercy”. Depicting Mary and her Son as African Americans in contemporary dress, the paintings were created for an exhibition at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Cathedral in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Artists were invited to submit diverse images of Jesus for a show titled “De-Colonizing the Christ”.
My own entries, with an African American Christ and Mary, feature a hardscrabble rural landscape and a derelict urban setting. These background details recall the Great Northern Migration in the years between 1916 and 1970, when six million African Americans fled oppressive conditions in the rural South in search of a new start (which, sadly, did not always lead to a better life) in the great urban centers to the North and West.
In each painting, I evoke the icon tradition with a sky painted gold and with written texts. And I include symbols — traditional as well as modern – that provide a second level of meaning, as they do in so many medieval paintings.
“The Burning Bush” was inspired by an ancient icon depicting Mary as the Burning Bush. In that icon (the most famous is at St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai) Moses removes his shoes in the presence of the Christ child, who is shown in Mary’s womb, surrounded by flames. The text in my painting is an excerpt from a joyous hymn to Mary as the Burning Bush, widely used during Advent by Orthodox Coptic communities: “The fiery bush that Moses saw was not consumed; so Mary carried the fire of Divinity in her womb.” In homage to both the icon and the hymn, I posed Mary against a “burning” tree, a scarlet dogwood, and inscribed Mary’s halo with flames. The spring trout lilies and iris remind us of the traditional symbols for Mary’s purity and her suffering. And a purple cloth, tied around the “burning” tree, echoes the purple cloak in “The Robe of Mercy”.
“The Robe of Mercy” [not shown in the exhibition] originated in my response to haunting phrases from F. Pratt Green’s Holy Week hymn text “To mock your reign” (Hymn 170): “They did not know, as we know now, that though we suffer blame, you will your robe of mercy cast around our naked shame.” This Christ, in a fusion of Passion and Resurrection imagery, is majestic in bearing but wears the shredded garments of Passiontide suffering and manifests the wounds of his Crucifixion. In the gesture of healing described in the hymn, he casts the purple cloak “over” the viewer — the token of his own humiliation transformed into a sign of love and mercy. The color of Christ’s cloak is picked up in the purple bougainvillea, a vine sometimes called the Judas tree. And the bread and wine of the Eucharist have become, on this desolate street, a roll and a cup of coffee discarded on the pavement.
These paintings emerge out of my long-time interest in including images of African Americans in my work. This practice dates back to 1993, when I created three small sculptures in response to an early sermon by the Rev. Michael Curry, now Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. I have recently come to understand that this is my form of reparation for the actions of my slave-holding forbears. I now hold the verses from Revelation 7:9 in mind as I work: from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages. And my goal is to enlarge the canon of religious imagery by depicting holy figures as persons from diverse periods, cultures, and peoples.
Based on United Nations reports of Internally Displaced Persons in Angola, this image reminds us that Mary and the Christ Child were likewise displaced, and allows us to see these holy figures as among the “least of these” our brothers and sisters.
“Jesus meets his grieving Mother” (Station IV) and “Pieta” (Station 13)
The woodcuts for the “Stations of the Cross” set are published in “Praying the Stations of the Cross – Finding Hope in a Weary Land, Katherine Sonderegger & Margaret Adams Parker (Eerdmans, 2019).
Note: “The Burning Bush” can be viewed online only. The other works by Margaret Adams Parker, all woodcuts, are in St. Michael’s gallery space.
“Madonna & Child”
My work “Madonna & Child” is near and dear to my heart. I made it three years before the birth of my son. At the time, I wasn’t aware of how’s or why’s [of art-making]; I literally had a vision, and so sat at my computer and gave that vision life. I had intended to give my design away to be produced as street-wear fashion but that never worked out. In hindsight, I now know that the Universe was telling me that this artwork is mine. I made it for me. It was my own prophecy.
“Madonna & Child” is derived from the historical imagery that traditionally omits people of color. Showing what a revered Black woman might look like, it challenges the historical ideology that fails to acknowledge Black women and the children we birth as anything less than entities of great power, light, and force. It depicts our imagined future selves while also honoring who we show up as in our present. It is a commentary on hip-hop culture, Black womanhood, and the spiritual exchanges between God, mother, and child.
“All Adore Mother Mary”
Mary is known as the patron of angels, saints, mothers, and, indeed, all humanity. Her influence is so profound and long-lasting that scores of individuals and groups — including religious orders, occupations, family members, hobbyists, cities, states, and even countries — have appointed her as their patron saint.
Mary feels unconditional love toward all individuals and groups. Her roles include being protector, teacher, intercessor, and eternal Mother. She is honored and embraced as the bearer of Jesus, Son of God and Savior of humankind. She brings Light and Love into the world.
My painting, “All Adore Mother Mary”, shows a group of abstracted forms — human and saintly — who honor and love Mother Mary, and are full of adoration and prayer for her. The predominant color is blue, which is most commonly associated with Mary. Blue symbolizes trust, loyalty, wisdom, confidence, faith, and heaven. It also is the color of compassion.
“All Adore Mother Mary” was created using collage and acrylic paint. I painted, stained, and stenciled numerous sheets of rice paper and from these cut out forms and pasted them on one piece of watercolor paper. I arranged all the forms to create a pleasing composition and meaning. Finally, I painted with dark acrylics to outline, unite, and boldly emphasize the images.
“Mary, Queen of Heaven” and “Preparing the Cradle”
The two pieces that I submitted for the “Mary, Mary” exhibit at St Michael’s Episcopal Church, Arlington, Virginia, are two very different paintings. “Mary, Queen of Heaven” was inspired by a photograph of a fresco in an Orthodox church in Ethiopia. It is in the style of icons of the Middle Ages. Mary, wearing a crown, is seen as a queen, dressed in her traditional blue robe, holding the baby Jesus. In Mary’s other hand is a rosary, symbolizing her piety. Surrounding Mary and the Christ Child are a host of angels. The colors are vivid and the clothes regal. All the attributes of both figures are visible in the painting. This style was used to inspire the faithful, most of whom could not read. Sometimes, such pictures were high on the wall, so bright colors were used so that they could be seen easily.
The idea for “Preparing the Cradle” came to me while I was thinking of what to paint for a Christmas show. I thought about how, just before a baby is born, expectant mothers often have a strong urge to have everything ready for the newborn. I am sure that Mary must have had the same feelings. Never mind that she was far from home and there was nothing but a feeding stand, or manger, in which to lay the baby. She did what she could to make a place ready. She put clean straw in the manger and probably a cloth of some kind on top to make it softer and warmer. Behind her are angels from heaven waiting to proclaim the birth of the Christ Child. Mary is wearing her traditional blue robe but the style is softer and more impressionistic. Mary is shown as a poor woman, not a queen. The circumstances are humble but the multitude of angels is still hovering over Mary and the child to come.
Both the image of “Mary, Queen of Heaven” and the image of ”Preparing the Cradle” give us a sense of who Mary and her son were. Mary was made a queen by God to bear the Christ Child but she also was a humble peasant woman. She was what Jesus was. Jesus was a humble, itinerant preacher from Nazareth and also the Messiah, the Son of God, and a King. In both of my paintings, I try to convey the message that God loves us no matter our status in the world. Whether humble or exalted, we are treated the same by God, who sent His son to us all.
In a distant century, a man named Job asked, “What is man...that You should set Your heart on him?” Today, my paintings repeat that very same question. My figurative and landscape paintings explore the tension between the corporeal and spiritual, the place where God reaches his hand to Adam.
“Dust Bowl,” a painting of the Madonna and Child, is set during the era of expansive droughts and dust storms that plagued the southwestern Great Plains during the 1930’s — a time of comparable poverty, trials, and difficulty to 1st Century Nazareth. I hope to deepen the viewer’s understanding of what Christ gave up and what Mary endured by placing them within the context of the more contemporary dust bowl crisis. In the midst of her trials, Mary could still trustingly respond, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) The beauty of her courage, founded on her faith in the Lord, despite the bleakness of her circumstance, is visually portrayed through the stormy landscape yet countered by a light resting on the figures. This painting is an exploration of the gospel message that Christ so lovingly entered into the pain and sorrow that embodies our human condition:
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8)
Randall David Tipton
“The Assumption of the Virgin”
Completed, my painting reminded me of the many historical depictions of Mary, body and soul, ascending into heaven on a cloud.
“Steel Mill Madonnas”
I love to show the strength and optimistic attributes of women. I always try to show a glimmer of hope and wisdom — that they will solve the riddle of life and make it through, stronger and with dignity — even when they are in a quandary or in danger. Being bald and shorn of any particular identity, they become all women.
My artwork draws upon themes developed in my poetry, in which I explore feminine archetypes from myths, folk and fairy tales, and my own experiences. It also reflects strongly the natural world; trees, flowers, birds, and snow serve as my symbols for emotional states and story elements.
“Cuban Mary” and “Madonna & Child”
The historic Mary was, most likely, a Palestinian Jewish woman who probably had dark skin and hair. And, in the minds of some, the elevation of Mary to a status somewhere above that of the other saints in the early Christian Church leads to the thought that this occurred because of the need to persuade Goddess Worshippers to convert to Christianity. Here was the Christian version of The Goddess. This thought entered my head many times when I was travelling in Europe years ago and began to notice the many small roadside shrines to the Virgin Mary. Since many of the early churches were built upon the remnants of pagan temples, this seemed to make sense to me.
This is why I used photographs of Cuban women that I shot in 2013 and 2014 as the basis for creating art for this show. The photos are combined with fractal imagery that had a sense of the ocean to me, as well as ancient engravings of sea shells and iconography associated with Mary. Personally, I think that for many Christians, Mary is an allegorical construct to “safely” worship the Divine Feminine.
Hans Versteeg a.k.a. Hansa
“Madonna del Mare Nostrum”
Oil painting is, for me, like a revelation, a means to create an intimate and perfect balance between the emotional and the rational, to think through emotion.
I first realized the possibilities and power of the medium when, at the invitation of curator Guus van den Hout, I created for the biennial religious exhibition “Art in the Holy Triangle” (2017) what eventually became the iconic painting “Madonna del Mare Nostrum (or, “Cloak of Love”)”. Much to my surprise, even shock, this painting, which later was displayed in Bethel Church in The Hague during the “Children’s Pardon” campaign, received publicity well beyond my country’s borders, marking for me a turning point as an artist.
From the beginning, the “Madonna” not only made a profound emotional impression, deeply moving its viewers; it also, I came to realize, had a social impact, leading those who saw it to rethink their views, to adopt a more nuanced perspective on or change their opinions about such current issues as immigrants and refugees. I realized then that paintings can change minds. As a result, I now consciously and deliberately seek to raise awareness by representing in my paintings an idea, a point of view, an emotion, or a social problem in which my own or society’s collective past is symbolized in myth.
I no longer consider myself to be a super-realist painter whose aim is to be a technical perfectionist or a stylistic virtuoso. Instead, I prefer now to portray myself as a “compassionist”, one who artistically can express in all his work the vulnerability of humanity and the destiny of the world.
“I Am Blessed”
My mixed-media sculpture comprises an acrylic painting on Royal Palm seed pod encased in a cement base. I chose the pod because of its connection to nature. Its functional symbolism is its resiliency and enduring quality to withstand the elements. Surrounding Mary and Child with the white palm pod represents God’s protection of both mother and baby. The iconic color blue can be interpreted to represent Mary’s purity, grace, and divine station in life. It is also the color of the sky, and thus can be seen as a heavenly color.
“Cause of Our Joy”, “Greenest Branch”, and “Queen of Peace”
Both a painter and a self-taught printmaker, I develop my work from an idea-based or narrative concept.
In recent years, I’ve discovered a freedom to move away from confining structures, such as correct perspective and size proportion, in favor of surreal elements typically found in Magic Realism and expressed earlier through symbolism in medieval art. My ideas and images are typically conceived and fully worked out in my mind before making their way to the woodblock. There’s a slow, meditative process to printmaking that appeals to my temperament and allows the act itself to be prayer. The word of the mystic, poet, and saint allows me an opportunity to explore various aspects of spirituality through image and typography.
My process is simply to sketch out my ideas, transfer them backwards to a block of wood or other material, carve away the negative space, ink the surface, and then, after choosing a paper, hand-pull both through my antique proof press. The various colors are applied through multiple carved blocks, via a “reduction block” method where the same block is carved and printed multiple times, or through “hand tinting” with transparent watercolor pigments over oil-based inks.