Steve Taylor Arts
In October of 2008, The Foundation for Sacred Arts, a Catholic organization founded to stimulate renewal in the sponsoring and production of Christian sacred arts (art, architecture, and music); “to advance the pursuit of excellence in conformity with truth, goodness, and beauty in the arts; for the glory of God, the life of His Church, and the transformation of culture,” sent out a call to Christian artists across the nation to conceive, design and execute a work of sacred art illuminating one aspect of the Nicene and Apostle’s Creeds. Described herein is the work to answer this call through two joined paintings.
Worship and witness of Christian faith through the arts – architectural, iconographic and musical – have been labors on-going from the beginning of the Church, and most recently over the past twenty years. Inspired by the letters of two popes, catholic artists are awakening to the missionary grace work of proclaiming the eternal kingdom of God through beauty, the image of the Divine.
* * *
On this page:
Painting in acrylic since 1980, Steve has discovered the capability of this medium called glazing. Acrylic glazing is similar in effect to watercolor, except that pigment can be significantly diluted and applied with a clear acrylic matte medium instead of water. Medium bonds pigment to a surface. Clear acrylic medium, permanent after drying, allows successive color layers to be laid over earlier ones, and yet still fully transmit the most basic layers. To limit physical accumulation of paint, glazes are applied evenly in the thinnest coats possible.
Like watercolor, the acrylic-glazed painting is distinctively flat and utilizes a white foundation. Here, 20+ layers of white gesso (over wood, finely sanded), function as the primary source of light for the picture. The final effect differs from watercolor because transparent layers of acrylic color glaze can be mounted numerously, one after another, to build values of great depth and yet retained luminosity. The technique’s goal is to always permit the white base to shine through the superposed transparent and translucent color.
Portions of this picture include over 30 layers of paint glaze. Palest areas have a minimum of four glaze layers. What is pure white in a picture always remains untouched gesso. Acrylic painting, painstaking to produce in this way, yields a character unlike watercolor or oil. The quality it presents could be described as radiant, burnished clarity. Years later came the joyful observation that this arrangement of white light underneath many layers of color glaze is a metaphor for God’s presence shining from inside and through all things.
The composition derived directly from pinnacle moments of Scripture, when Christ’s divine glory was revealed on earth. Each moment is revelation issuing from the power and love of the Father. We know Jesus is the Son by what the Father has said and done. This trinity of revelation, telling how and why it is that “Credo in unum Dominum Iesum Christum, Filium Dei Unigenitum” (“I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God”), includes:
The central message of the painting is evangelical witness to the primacy and saving, transfiguring power of the Eucharist. Jesus points to His sacred heart, which reveals the Blessed Sacrament. Yet all His person here is bread-colored, symbolizing His meekness and innocence. In the sacrament, Christ through the ages gives all of Himself, freely to those who are His and to all who hunger for God. After His ascension, He is recognized by the faithful, in the humble bread of offering, broken. Pope Benedict XVI: “Heaven is a Person.” Jesus stands amidst the mystical bright cloud, which itself expresses trinity and unity. White pervades the painting everywhere and symbolizes in totality: light, holy silence and purity. These altogether proclaim the Christian hope of eternal life.
In the 8th month of prayer, on the Solemnity of the Transfiguration, the choice of a single creed element and the majority of its visual conception appeared during silence in church after daily Mass. The picture was drawn and refined as a composition over the next four months, with continuing prayer. Guided by prayer, painting and later framing proceeded during the 2009 season of Advent, through the Octave of Christmas and into and through Lent 2010. Final refinements were completed during the summer of 2012.
The board on which the painting was made received gesso in excess of 20 coats and finely sanded. The foundation for the painting was made as white and smooth as possible.
Painting was done using a glaze of one color – pale reddish brown – in three shades. There are only five other colors applied in the painting: deep and ultra light sapphire, flame yellow, bright orange, wine red, and glass green. The latter five could be grouped as ‘gem’ colors.
As the painting developed, it was revealed that Christ, being the second person of God, is the center of the Trinity in the Creed. The painting began to take on Trinitarian lights. Determined after the painting’s completion was the fact that Christ had been positioned such that the center of His heart is situated at the point of an equilateral triangle whose base side spans the width of the top of the painting. This top side, spanning the painting width, is a symbol of the fullness, the ‘allness’, the Everything of the Father. The ‘base’ tapers by its two sides to a point which is the sacred heart of Jesus = Jesus is the material, visible, local manifestation of the Father’s All.
Jesus is placed in an expansive, indeterminate space, a ‘bright cloud’ divided into three circular zones. Each zone symbolizes each part of the Trinity. The only full circle, before which Jesus stands and in which He is insinuated, is the symbol of the Christ in the Trinity, Son of Man and Son of God. This first circle is fully visible within the painting field as Jesus (as God) was fully visible to humanity on earth. The second circular band surrounds the smaller central circle, embracing it, but implied to be larger than the limits of the painting. This zone connotes the Holy Spirit, whose presence is in the sight of perception and understanding, but whose majority is outside the painting surface and correspondingly outside the human capacity to perceive all His movement and presence. The third zone pertains to the Father, in which a very small portion is visible within the painting (at the very top), and whose vast majority is beyond it. His children know and feel their Father’s presence in Life and on earth, but His tremendum is infinitely greater than we are given to know.
The three nested circular areas are similarly colored, to express unity, but with the least value of coloration required to register distinct identity. The portion of the ‘Father circle’ is all pure white of gesso. The Spirit circle portion is done in a graded field that goes from ultra pale sapphire (5 glaze layers) at its top to pure white gesso at bottom. The Jesus circle adds twice the depth of ultra pale sapphire (10 glaze layers) at its top and grades to pure gesso white at the horizon line.
The horizon line within the ‘Jesus circle’ articulates calm water. It is a metaphor for bodies of water; the river Jordan of baptism, the glassy sea of ‘Revelation’, the sea of Divine Being.
The dove at the top is the visible metaphor of the Holy Spirit. It is said in Matthew that the Spirit descended upon Christ like a dove. The dove is depicted in outline with coloration only in beak and feet. A dove’s twelve tail feathers are here ready to symbolize the twelve tribes and apostles. The dove strides the two outer circle zones (‘Spirit’ and ‘Father’) just as Jesus strides the two inner circle zones (‘Christ’ and ‘Spirit’). These aspects reflect the fluidity of the Trinity’s nature and movement; one being in three simultaneous persons.
The image of eternally Living Jesus was originally conceived in monotone red brown, to communicate the color of bread; because He is the Bread of Life, “the Living Bread of Heaven”. Unplanned gem colors were added later.
The two-fold coloration of Christ speaks two ways, ascending and descending: His divine nature and His human nature. Each of the coloration schemes can be identified with either. The monotone brown is first an earthtone, the aspect of earthly humanity, while the pointed jewel tones accord with Christ’s heavenly aspect. The one brown can also be viewed oppositely as unity, of Heaven’s perfect simplicity, (modern astronomy has discerned that the ambient color of the universe summed as an average is buff/blush/beige, the color of bread), while gem colors add fleshly human vivacity, a ‘material’ compliment to ineffable ‘mystical’ oneness. These complimented aspects together express the completely intertwined, indissoluble blending of humanity and divinity, in the person of Christ.
Jesus points to His sacred heart enclosed by the bread of sacrament. His sacred heart is aflame with fire; this is the fire of His heart’s ardor; He burns for our faith in His heart, even as it also proclaims: no suffering will ever be like My suffering, no sacrificial burning of love deeper or greater. He alone is the sufficient – perfect divine – offering for all.
This is what I believe: “Christ is the Son of God, who died for all and who gives himself continually, through the daily Mass. He has fed and continues to feed an ever expanding multitude of souls, billions ... He comes to those who believe, not in the messiness of bloody sacrifice (accomplished already once and for all), but in the humble meekness and calmness of transubstantiated bread; a transubstantiation that depends entirely upon faith, but also remembers the shattering horror of His passion. Christ is innocence itself.”
The light of this bread is circumradiant and illuminates him, and notably his beard. This lighted beard reflects the Father in Him; for He said: “the Father is in Me, and I am in the Father.”
Jesus’ eyes are darkened, and lined with winces at sides and circles below, which express the grievous costliness of His sacrifice for our redemption. His left arm bears a series of distressed sleeve folds (14) which are a symbol of His passion; the Stations of the Cross. He gestures to himself with this left arm and hand, expressing that the bearing of the cost of our redemption is Himself.
The right arm is contrasted, the garment folds are smoothly arcing, spilling over, even leaping – grace, outwardly like a fountain or waterfall. His right hand extends forward, open and giving, signifying freely offered benefit – SALVATION – by His death and resurrection.
“And He said to me: It is done; I am the Alpha and the Omega; the beginning and the end. To him that thirsteth, I will give of the fountain of the water of life, freely.”
— Revelation 21:6
The two smallest fingers of the right hand are curled back, and these motion back to his heart as they motion us to Him: “come to me and I will give you rest.”
The left arm all but blocks the vision of the tranquil water, as was true in the dark night of his torture and crucifixion on Good Friday. But the right arm extending forward reveals and opens to us the vision beyond of redemptive peace. His hands are both shown with nail scars filled with light and straddle this water horizon line of infinite stillness.
Jesus’ ears are evident. As our mediator before the Creator, they signify his attentive listening to our prayers and pleas and affections through Adoration, Thanksgiving, Reparation, and Petition.
Jesus’ face is one of total serenity. A high, unlined forehead lives the grandeur of this peace, the icon symbol of His vast, compassionate, all-knowing wisdom: the mind of Christ. He has overcome death.
His hair shares the color of His mother’s: he is the copper brunette fairness of rare Hebrew. It is straight and behind the ears as of the wetness of the baptizing Jordan.
As a man, He is the image of a luminous beauty unequalled by any human, save His mother. We know that His physical comeliness was made manifoldly more so by His wisdom bearing, His oneness with the Father. How could children otherwise say: “You are so handsome as no other man can be.”
- “Hic est Filius meus dilectus • in quo mihi bene complacui • ipsum audite”
- (“This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.”)
The scriptural panel was designed in conformity to Gregorian calligraphy long associated with the books of chant. It expresses dignity, eloquence, simplicity. The letters were done in two colors, each shaded into the other in eight passes of glaze. These colors are orange – signifying that Christ will baptize us with the Fire of the Holy Spirit; what cleans more thoroughly than fire? This is answered by the second color, wine blood red, the blood of Christ, which truly washes us clean to heavenly purification. The two pure colors are the central linkage between the two panels: blood and fire. They are graded into each other revealing the unity of the cleansing, purifying fire of the Holy Spirit and the precious blood of Christ.
The artwork consists of two panels: a 36″ × 48″ image panel and a smaller scriptural panel, 36″ × 3″. The image panel is intended to hang so the top of Christ’s head is 72 inches from the floor. The scriptural panel is intended to be mounted 12 inches above the top of the image panel. This distance can be varied, but the essential idea is to convey that the words come from above and to let the larger pictorial part inhabit a space of wordless contemplation, at the same time. Different content is received from this icon at different distances, but at closest range the deepest, clearest and most intense experience is gained, as it is when Jesus is the center of life, when He is known intimately.
The painting is a convergence of the Baptism, the Transfiguration and the Resurrection. These three moments, alone, convince us: He the Christ, Jesus, is the Son of God. These three moments are all eternal and fuse mysteriously into oneness.
He is the Holy One of radiant garment and countenance, as was Moses on Mt. Sinai. Jesus likewise arrives at a mountain top to proclaim that by His coming death and resurrection our deliverance is imminent. His mission, and our salvation, is at hand. In the presence of Moses and Elijah, Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament law and the prophets.
In both moments, the voice of the Father intones the same message, from valley deep to mountain high, at the beginning of His earthly life and at its glorified end. In full, here is the Messiah, showing us the ascension of Life on earth, that precedes the greater life to come.
We gaze at this Christ to adore Him, and to hunger for Him in Holy Communion. And being filled with Him who is peace through the sacraments, we leave the mountain of Transfiguration every day to be mercy, to be His light and beauty for others.
Sacred art cannot be apprehended in one sitting, just as the multi-dimensional riches of the Bible cannot be fully grasped when read just once. Sacred art hopefully opens out into a contemplation that cannot end. We must bear this in mind, though it be tempting and commonplace in the 21st century to be impatient and believe one grasps instantly all that is presented to the mind by an artwork.
An icon is not a portrait either, but tells a story. This icon tells the story of Christ’s divinity and how it is that we know Him to be the only begotten Son of God, as stated in the first line of the second section of the Nicene Creed.
It aspires in parallel to the work of Gregorian Chant, which is not separate from silence, but is co-opted by silence.
“It is a painting that gives glory to God in silence.”
— L. Keller
* * *
St. Thomas Aquinas placed beauty in both the supernatural and natural orders, and distilled beauty essence to a trinity of attributes: proportion, clarity, and integrity. Proportion entails orderliness or comeliness of form, its sensible conception: balance, symmetry, harmony of parts. Clarity adheres to technical execution and encompasses the notions of fineness, precision, the craft of line using pencil and brush, but also radiance, purity and luminosity of color. Integrity is faithful concordance with scripture, with Truth, and also, with poetic completeness and wholeness.
This picture strives to be faithful to the belief in objective beauty. In our time, culture everywhere outside the Church has all but legislated that beauty is always and only in the mind (the ‘eye’) of the beholder, so that there is only relative and subjective beauty. The Church holds instead that universal, true beauty exists, which is of God and proclaims God, and is therefore objective: that is, all people can perceive it, and no man is excluded from perceiving it. One of God’s many main attributes is beauty. In addition to light, truth, life, power, mercy, excellence, and love, God is also beauty.
The manifestation of true, divine beauty is prophetic. Beauty displays itself in a variety of objectively perceivable qualities. Sacred Art manifests these sensible qualities at the same time, and because, it resonates with the Word of Truth, God’s Word.