Thai Mandala with Four Living Creatures

•December 24, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Thai Mandala with Four Living Creatures, Watercolor and Pencil on Paper, 22X30. Collection of Mennonite Church USA. 2011

Thai Mandala with Four Living Creatures

I have wanted to make a Thai style Mandala for some time now, and this commission gave me the chance to work on the idea.  My goals were to stay true to the symbolic visual language of  “Lai Thai” (Thai Design), but to make a Thai style pattern that was Christ centered. The challenge is how to make something Christ centered but not tacky or using an imported Western or culturally Christian symbol that jars the other motifs.

I practiced my Lai Thai for a few weeks to warm up to this piece. I am not sure the pencil shows up the design very well but pen seemed to flatten the drawing too much so I left it in the soft undulating pencil.  The Mandala uses improvised Thai patterns, but I used traditional images for the four living creatures of Revelation (and Ezekiel). In illumined manuscripts and in many European Christian traditions these have been used to symbolize the four gospels (man-Mtt, ox- Lk, eagle- John, lion-Mark). The center circle is filled with scripture from Colossians 1 in both Thai and English. The very center of the circle depicts a subtle cross, both drawing the eye to the center and expanding out to the whole. The work hopes to bear witness to the supremacy of Christ who as the Lord of the Universe comes as the fulfillment of the desire of all nations and cultures and reconciles all to himself. It is also my attempt to express a Christian Thai visual iconography.

Practice and Productivity…

•May 24, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Let’s just say, it’s been quite a year. Here’s the work I did for my spring show at Eastern Mennonite Seminary in February. You can find my artists talk/chapel at http://emu.edu/now/podcast/2011/02/24/generative-love-as-the-character-of-god-making-art-and-the-theology-of-failure-bethany-tobin/ For those of you that know me, you know that I gave birth to my first child, my daughter Anjali Rose two days later. If anyone wants to go into labor get up and down on a step ladder for eight hours hanging an art show. Since then, Steve, Anjali and I have had three happy months of a different sort of growth and creativity.

Since doing commissions most of the last two years, this group of work was the first chance I’ve had to develop my own direction in quite sometime. I’m trying to rework some unfinished ideas, but as this shows, with much that I’d like to see happen yet. For one I am still looking for an economic, non-hazardous way of getting text onto a variety of supports. The process and support then dictate what kinds of media I can use. Mixed media is unwieldy because you can get a great variety of textures and integrate images and script, but you have to navigate what media goes together and in what order. You can never escape limitations. I think I will need to choose one primary method and stick to it if I want to really get the hang of any technique. I haven’t found my groove yet. It’s a work in progress.

Creation Mudra II. digital print, watercolor, acrylic and drawing media on paper, 2011.

Gratuity. digital print, watercolor and colored pencil on paper, 2011.

Sentient II. text book, glue, acrylic and oil on wood panel, 2011.

Untitled. colored pencil on paper, 2005.

Western Philosophy. digital print, acrylic, oil, charcoal and oil pastel on paper. 2011.

See, I am making all things new

•October 2, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Let All Creation Dance. Oil and Photocopy transfer on canvas. 35X40 Private Collection

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”

wind/spirit/breath

•February 10, 2010 • 3 Comments

Untitled, photocopy transfer and oil on canvas. 35"X40"

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

The Integrated Organism and Behavior

•January 22, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Here’s my latest. The title is weird but I haven’t been able to think of anything better. Any suggestions?

Back in the fall my friends Brandon and Rachel asked for something on baptism and communion. I toyed around with cliches: cups and pieces of bread floating around in a really “spiritual” abstract cloud, or a glowing still life, but started feeling like that hardly has anything to do with the actual experience of baptism and communion. A bit facetiously I imagined how funny it would be if instead of the glowing goblet, I painted the plastic shot glass, and instead of a luscious hunk of homemade bread, the minuscule powdery wafer. But I didn’t just want to focus on the elements. I didn’t want to forget that this is something people do together and in some ways to each other.

It’s not a bad thing for sacraments to be recognized as social phenomenon and experienced, not in the ideal, but in their idiosyncrasies. It’s not a bad thing for sacraments to be less-than-transporting or even downright awkward and mundane. In fact it’s good and honest and maybe less manipulative. Because no matter how we feel about our participation in these social enactments, if we are Christians, we know that something beyond our corporate or individual perception is factually occurring.  When we value these practices in their every-day actuality, I wonder if it makes it harder for us to compartmentalize them into the “spiritual” or “moral” realm. These experiences of water, food and drink are material just like our bodies and the rest of the world.

I used a biology textbook as the background type because I wanted to emphasize how we live in the factual physical world of our biological processes, of our cells and bodily functions and our mundane and complex social and behavioral environments. We wash, we drink, we eat. Then we do these things as Christians called the sacraments which are not some moral gloss on our real lives, but actually change the very cells of our bodies. That’s what we believe. We believe that in a mystical but completely factual and real way, when we are baptized we somehow are raised into a new kind of life (both biological and spiritual; bios and zoe), and when we take communion we actually ingest immortality and become part of a new social organism. In fact, we believe that some day we are going to get new physical bodies to live in a healed world. When we wash with this water, eat and drink, the cells of our bodies are different. Our behaviour is different…and we have a new kind of physical and social life together. This life is from God and to God but that doesn’t make it “out there” and unscientific. And it sure doesn’t make our day to day life ideal or grandiose. In fact it makes it more corporate and more engaged with the world around us because our materiality is grounded in it’s ultimate source and end. That’s what I think the sacraments are supposed to speak into being, that God became flesh and redeems our bodies to a new physical and social life. The the fact that it is from God is what makes it “spiritual,”  not its immateriality.

Partisan Politics

•January 8, 2010 • 2 Comments

It’s no secret that USA”s politics are characterized by the two party system’s inevitable power play. Unfortunately the Church gets so mixed up in these issues with each side caricaturing the other out of legitimacy. Here’s a plea for a shared vision for another kind of kingdom that also deals with our very real needs and concerns, but is oriented to a totally different kind of power…and a different kind of community life.

This isn’t a great piece of art. I’m putting it up on my website not because I think it is awesome, but because I have to remind myself that doing art isn’t about doing great art. It’s about practice, perseverence, habit, and problem-solving. A lot of mistakes and lameness is the only way to get to something good.  I’d like to try this idea again and make it more ambiguous, sketchy with more breathing room. I didn’t have time to work everything out on this one because I had to have something ready for an event and you simply can’t undo acrylic paint. Maybe doing art will teach me patience.

Uncertainty

•December 10, 2009 • Leave a Comment

These days, I’ve been thinking about both the certainty and uncertainty in the journey of faith. These are a bunch of prints I made in Jack McCaslin’s class a couple of years ago, inspired by Stephen Hawking’s Illustrated Brief History of Time,  a book on Islamic Patterns and Dave Pruet’s class on Quantum Physics and Native American spirituality.

 
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