I visited St. Mark Episcopal Church’s “Icons in Transformation” exhibit about a month ago and have been thinking about it since. Ludmila Pawlowska’s exhibition of 150 works, many of them quite large, has traveled to churches and museums in Europe and the United States and when St. Mark’s got the call to see if it would host the show, the answer was yes, despite the congregation just having suffered through a relocation thanks to termite damage in the sanctuary. As it turns out, church members are thrilled to have found the energy to host the show after their termite travails. (All is well now.)
I’ve been thinking about the works because they are religious and I am not. That doesn’t make a difference in a museum, but for some reason, it seems like heresy to bring arts criticism to the altar. However, should you visit the church, and you should, you will find the Russian artist’s work worth a nice long look. The paintings are deeply textured encaustic and deeply symbolic, and the interpretation by the artist that accompanies the pieces is great reading. I was most moved by the abstract expressionist works that hint at the story of Christ, though see above, a piece that Pawlowska has carved into.
The artist’s religious iconography, rendered in thick impasto, is a leap from traditional Russian iconography in form but not palette, one of blood reds, of course, deep oranges, purple and gold. In addition to expressing her spirtuality, much of the work is anti-war; bullets have been incorporated into some of the work. From an interview on Pawlowska’s website:
I am a member of an orthodox church where the icon has a central place in liturgy. Faith is an integral part of my being. For me it means a link with my culture, my heritage and a guide to a new direction in my creative process. My work starts with a process by painting layer upon layer on a wooden panel. This is a technique which is similar to a thousand years of traditional icon painting. In my art I also use the icon symbolism of colours – especially:
Blue, as the colour of the sky – the mystery of divine life.
Red is firstly the symbol of life – the life that Christ gave humanity through the shedding of his blood. Sometimes red can also have the opposite meaning and symbolize evil.
Gold, the divine light – not regarded as a color but as a form of light.
Today we dare to approach holiness in a completely different way; religion is more open to personal interpretation. Even though the motive, form and composition in my work departs from (or violates) tradition, it is the point from which I beginning to push the boundaries. The icon has a spiritual power which comes from the icon itself, a kind of light. To create and capture a light has always been the most difficult and greatest challenge to artists through the centuries.
The exhibit is open 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Tue.-Thu., 6-8 p.m. Wed and 1-3 p.m. Sun. through Aug. 17 at St. Mark’s, 1000 N. Mississippi. It will not be open July 13. 19.The art is for sale; part of the proceeds will go to the Artists-in-Residence Program at Arkansas Children’s Hospital.