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The Holy Spirit speaks many languages; among them the languages of art in all its forms. Frank Tracy Griswold

Andrew Finnie: Body of Christ, Tree of Life

ArtWay Visual Meditation 2 June 2019

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Andrew Finnie: The Body of Christ, The Tree of Life

The Cross and the Tree of Life

by Rod Pattenden

One of the pressing questions for the Church is how we see Christology being renewed in the face of climate change and the potential for the quality of life on this planet to decline. Who is Jesus for us in the midst of the profound changes that are occurring to the earth, water and air of our world? It is clearly not just a question about theological language as it is more material and global in scope, calling us to transcend our liturgical customs, our cultural allegiances and our national identities. Is Jesus part of our future as we dare to imagine what that future will be?

Andrew Finnie’s image The Body of Christ, The Tree of Life is an attempt to re-imagine the figure of Christ in conversation with the earth and the networks that sustain human life in all its thriving beauty. Here the traditional figure of the cross has become entwined in the roots of the tree, a tree of life that is giving form to the variety and beauty of the natural world.

Andrew Finnie, an artist from Newcastle, Australia, is well known for his paintings of rich colour that express the sensual delight of the local beach-side landscape. Alongside this practice Finnie is also a skilled digital artist, who is able to transform images into new forms with unexpected relationships. Here in this complex large-scale digital image we have a multitude of visual fragments that work to express the complex significance of the cross for this time in history.

Finnie has placed the cross not in the position favoured in former centuries, high in the sky in glory, but deep into the shadows and roots of a large green tree. He explains: “This is the Tree of Life – this apparently jumbled mass of branches we see behind Christ. Inscribed in the bark of the tree are prayers and biblical texts. These prayers gather at the trunk of the tree, make their way through the branches and transpire through the leaves, heading off towards heaven. So the Tree of Life's story in this image is that it is a channel for our prayers.”

What strikes me most profoundly about this image is its insistence that my eye keeps returning to the earth, the ground. It reminds me that life is here and now and that God is incarnational, taking on human flesh. It is also echoes the idea that the grace of God flows in and through creation – it is therefore an eco-theological insight for our times. We are invited to love the earth as God’s beautiful creation. In this regard one is reminded of the medieval theologian, scientist, musician and visionary Hildegard of Bingen who talked about ‘viriditas’, the greening force which is God’s gift and energy in creation. As Hildegard writes: “Christ brings lush greenness to shrivelled and wilted people.” The vibrant green of this work is the thing that pulses throughout all its branches and the tiny unfolding details that draw you down into its tendrils and roots.

One of the devices used by the artist is the surface of repeated square divisions, which provides distinct pictures of engagement as worlds in themselves. The digital process has allowed Finnie to enhance the eye’s engagement through the fine details of cobwebs, insects, flowers as well as text that sounds out the words of Psalm 23, The Lord is my Shepherd. The fulness of engagement found in this work is at this level of detail, where one’s eyes are found wandering among the fragments, networks and connections. An apprehension of the whole is the awareness of an interconnected network of myriad details. An appreciation of the work builds through encountering these small meditations of looking into these tiny windows of intricate detail.

Arising out of these fragments and networks is the figure of the Christ crucified. The figure has been constructed from a found image used in a medical text and is without skin and flesh. This emphasises the muscular structure and allows the figure to take on a more androgynous likeness, in turn allowing for the possible representation of both the male and female form. If this view is correct then a maternal figure may draw us even closer to those earthly connections, where grace is found in human love and connection.

Does this figure represent a crucified and risen Christ who can embrace this world and respond to the travail of climate change and environmental stress? Who is God for us in this moment in our world history? How can we connect what we know about the cross, the redemption and resurrection and apply it to God’s purpose for all creation? Andrew Finnie offers us a refreshingly hopeful opportunity to think about Christ and God’s purpose for human existence, embedded as we are in God’s creation, sharing its travail and looking for its redemption.

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Andrew Finnie: The Body of Christ, The Tree of Life, 2014, Pigment print on Hahnemuhle Paper, 182cm x 78cm.

Andrew Finnie was born in 1957 in Sydney, Australia, and now lives in Newcastle where he studied Fine Art at the Newcastle Art School. A founding member of the Seven Painters group, he is a veteran of more than fifty successful exhibitions. His work has appeared on book covers and movie posters and can be found in both public and private collections. After working in traditional painting mediums for many years, he now specialises in digital media. In 2018 he exhibited a large body of his digital work to critical acclaim at Australia’s Maitland Regional Art Gallery. As an illustrator and writer he is represented by Olswanger Literary, New York, NY, USA. More of his work can be seen at http://andrewfinnie.blogspot.com/

Rev Dr Rod Pattenden is an art historian and theologian interested in the power of images and has written and lectured widely on spirituality and contemporary art in Australia. He is minister of the Adamstown Uniting Church, in Newcastle Australia, where he leads Adamstown Arts, the dynamic visual and performing arts program. www.rodpattenden.id.au

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ON THE WEBSITE   NEW ON THE WEBSITE   NEWS

1. IMAGE JOURNAL #100 IS NOW ONLINE – Image was founded in 1989 to demonstrate the continued vitality and diversity of contemporary art and literature that engage with the religious traditions of western culture. Now one of the leading literary journals published in English, it is read all over the world—and forms the nexus of a warm and active community. Image issue #100 is a milestone thirtieth-anniversary issue on the theme of friendship, rivalry, and collaboration. Inside: Shane McCrae on Louise Glück and lonelinessPadraig O Tuama on longing for home; Molly McCully Brown and Susannah Nevison on the poems that grew out of their friendship. IMAGE also asked seventeen artists how they changed after turning thirty—including Lia Chavez, Erica Grimm, Bruce Cockburn, Claire Holley, Sedrick and Letitia Huckaby, and more. Plus: interview with A.E. Stallings and Adrianne Kalfopoulou on friendship, activism, and poetry; poems on friendship by Luci Shaw, Rodger Kamenetz, and Erika Meitner; fiction by Gina OchsnerMelissa Range and Christopher Beha on their top ten books of the past thirty years. https://imagejournal.org

2. APP ART – Financial Times, “Ways of seeing and rethinking art” (Tuesday 28 May, 2019). Artists all over the world are using apps to extend the boundaries of their practice. Is this, Seth O’Farrell asks, a genuinely new departure? Read more

3. GLENSTAL ABBEY IRELAND - 8 June, 9 – 17 h, Glenstal Abbey Library, Garranbane, Murroe, Co. Limerick: Exploring selected scriptural passages, as they have been interpreted through icons, art, drama, liturgy, music and cinema. From the Burning Bush to Tongues of Fire (Acts 2:1-11), Luke Macnamara OSB. Early Representations of Pentecost in Medieval Art, David McBurnie. The Fire of Pentecost: Veni Creator Spiritus Improvised, Cyprian Love OSB. Sonus Spiritus: the chants of Pentecost, Senan Furlong OSB. Icons and the Holy Spirit, Mark Patrick Hederman OSB. events@glenstal.com, http://www.glenstal.org        

4. NEW BOOK – Kenneth Steinbach: Creative Practices For Visual Artists, Routledge, 2018. Based on interviews with a culturally, geographically, and aesthetically diverse group of 75 mid-career artists, this is a reassessment of the methods and approaches used by highly successful artists in their practices. Promoting a holistic approach to artistic practice, the book explores the benefits of re-framing one's approach to studio time, open-ended experimentation, and the generative gifts of anxiety and failure.

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