I have been in the art world all my life, it seems. I have a Bachelor’s degree in applied art (mostly painting), and a Master’s in art history and spent 25 years studying and working in three dimensions as a potter and sculptor. Recently I have found that through iconography I can combine my love of painting with my lifelong devotion to the Christian faith, and with my love of meditation. Icons can be in paint, mosaic, stone, etc. They can be small or huge, like the frescoes or mosaics on church walls. Mine are done in either acrylic or egg tempera paint on gessoed wooden panels, and tend to be small ( 2×3 feet would be large for me). Visit My Icon Gallery to see my work. Most of them are available for sale. I have reproduced some as greeting cards.
I like the classic icons of the Orthodox Christian churches, which are often used as a part of the their liturgies. They are used as instruments for the transmission of the Christian faith. Some people consider iconography to be the 5th gospel, a translation of scripture rather than “art,” although the translation is in imagery rather than the written word. It must be true to the scripture. Its purpose is to bring the viewer nearer to God, just as the Bible does. To this end, the viewer is the true subject of the work because it is his/her reaction to it that is important. In “art”, as we usually think of it, the artist’s vision and interpretation is paramount. The new and different is prized. In iconography, however, the artist is really irrelevant except as a transmitter of the holy as the Orthodox church sees it. (This irrelevance is appealing to me because it fits so well with meditation’s goal of stepping away from the ego).
The Rt. Rev. Rowan Williams said, “What we call holy in the world is so because it is a transitional place, a borderland where completely foreign is brought together with the familiar. Here is somewhere that looks as if it belongs within the world where we are at home , but in fact leads directly into strangeness, so depicted as to open the world to the “energy” of God at work in what is being shown.” In order to achieve this end, there are rules which were established in the 9th century to prevent there being any accusation that the icons are breaking the Second Commandment which says there should be no graven images of anything on the earth or in heaven or under the earth. Following these rules, the icons can look primitive, amateurish or even bizarre to Western eyes, but actually they use images in symbolic ways, offering a “window into heaven,” (what they have often been called), not “factual”depictions, but “true.” If an image has been accepted as being true, it may be incorporated again and again in new icons. As the iconographer, I am expected to “pray with each brushstroke.” Thus, I am meditating on the meaning of the imagery and infusing it with sacred energy. The icons are painted from dark to light, symbolizing that Jesus, Mary, the saints or the scenes depicted are spreading THEIR light out into the world, being the source of light for us. This dark-to-light technique requires many coats, and is labor intensive. It often happens that the faces of the subjects undergo many transformations before the last layer is applied, introducing different aspects of their personalities. Unfortunately for the viewer, only one view is shown in the finished piece, but as the painter, I have had a wonderful journey creating the work. One should note that the symbolism of dark to light is enhanced by the medium itself. Light penetrates the paint, hits the white gessoed board and is refracted back. Then the paint’s colors are intensified and sometimes seem to glow. Gilding the haloes or the backgrounds increases the glowing effect. The technique is perfectly suited for the message. Perhaps that’s why it has persisted for the last 1100 years. I have a selection of icons and cards for purchase and would be willing to consider commissions. Please contact me at Mmmenergy@yahoo.com for details.
Melissa M Moss.