A model lesson in commissioning work I have been busy painting over the last couple of months undertaking a couple of commissions for Fr Charles Byrd of Our Lady of the Mountains Catholic Church in Jasper, Georgia. The first completed is shown here, St Gregory the Great and I will show the other, St Ambrose. This was a great experience from start to finish. First of all, Fr Charles had a clear idea of what he wanted and this was very helpful to me. He had researched what St Gregory would have looked like and did not want a repeat of other icons he had seen because he felt that they would not have been historically accurate. We based this image on a description by a contemporary, John the Deacon and based the vestments upon contemporary icons of other popes. This is why he is not wearing an ornate papal tiara and has long grey hair. For all this, I did not feel at all stifled. He was happy to hear suggestions from me as to how we might fulfill the commission in accord with what he wanted and I feel that the end result is very much a joint effort. I wanted this to have a Western feel and so asked to be able to include the geometric patterning in the border and background. Also I made sure, as always, that we fulfilled the criteria of St Theodore the Studite so that it should be an image worthy of veneration: that it bears the name of the saint; and that it has the characteristics of the person, this refers both to physical traits (such as the grey hair) and those symbols that are associated with him - in this case the dove of the Holy Spirit. In his Letter to Artists, John Paul II asked for a renewed dialogue between the Church and artists in service of the common good, so that we might move towards reestablishing a culture of beauty. This dialogue can be of the form of grand events, in which the Pope, as Benedict did, gathers together prominent artists to make and address which is then published. This sort of event is the starting point for it puts the need in peoples minds. But a continuation of this, and perhaps the more important and productive part, is the dialogue that takes place at the grassroots. When enlightened patrons and artists who are Catholic and aware of our traditions work together to create art that fulfills its purpose. Whether this has produced a worth result here is for others to say, I hope so. I think the point is that if we are going to have art that serves the Church, it is unlikely that any one person will know all that is necessary and be able to produce the art in any particular case; we need cooperation between enlightened artists, religious who understand Church requirements and the liturgy, and patrons (the people supplying the money are very important and must contribute too).
They plan on installing this and St Ambrose into the Church in the new year and I hope to see photographs of the ceremony afterwards.