While I’m here at the Grunewald Guild I’m painting two icons. As the weeks progress they have taken form, been refined and are moving toward completion. Each one is different, yet each shares both an aesthetic and a technical quality. Each is new, yet each is built on the ancient matrix of iconography.
I have been painting between six and nine hours every day. That’s a lot of painting, particularly given that the subjects I’ve chosen (or have they chosen me?) are images depicting whole scenes from the lives of saints. The figures are small. Their level of detail is both complex and tiny. When I paint icons I move through several stages of awareness.
First there is the feeling of exhilaration, the sense of beginning a new day filled with new possibilities and new challenges. I begin to paint. Challenges present themselves. My mind and my hand wander. I lose focus and then get it back. I discover myself painting in a way that I did not know I could do. I am taken by the icon and become its servant. I fail. I succeed. I move on. I become stuck. I make a sublime line above a brow. I ruin the figure of a hand.
Someone asked me if I pray while making every stroke. I do not. I do not silently speak a specific prayer every time the brush hits the board. Instead, I am in an atmosphere of prayer. I complain to myself about some part of my life that is not right, then I move from complaining to remembering God’s presence in the struggle. I fail to hold the brush with adequate grace and gentleness, then I am overcome by an ability to paint that is simply beyond me. I apply a color that I did not know existed before I touched the brush to the board. I discover that my life is held in God’s hand.
This is what my days are like. It is exhausting, exhilarating and freeing. Something is being made in my work. I think that it is me.
Image above: “The Martyrdom of St. Thecla” (work in progress) by Paul Fromberg.
Words above: “Sabbatical – Day 23 – Icons” by Paul Fromberg at “Eating With Jesus.”