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Aesthetic life is as integral to being human as building sandcastles on the beach and giving your children names. Calvin Seerveld

Rick Andrew: Church of Blue Heaven

ArtWay Visual Meditation July 4, 2021

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Rick Andrew: Church of Blue Heaven

Redemptive Sounds

by Gert Swart

Rick and I would like to dedicate this meditation to the memory of our dear friend and fellow pilgrim, the South African poet Chris Zithulele Mann (1948-2021), who died in March this year after an intense battle with cancer. The title of Rick’s painting, Church of the Blue Heaven, was coined by Chris in his poem “Trouble in the Streets” (See extract and explanations below).

Rick has organized his composition in such a way that the viewer remains at a respectful distance from what is happening, while automatically completing a large circle of trees. These trees seem to function as witness bearers. On the left the trees are in a huddle echoing the group of worshippers while the rest of the trees are loners, perhaps long since dead – a formidable, eerie presence. The trees plus the viewer appear to be equal to the number of worshippers.

A kneeling drummer sets the tempo, stirring the group into action, while a very enthusiastic, potential convert claps in time to the drumbeat. A brilliant white cloud frames her being as if endorsing her heart’s desire to one day wear the same robe of righteousness the others are wearing. The group’s ministry is about to focus on a dark, very apprehensive male figure, possibly sitting on a rock, in the middle of the group of worshippers.

As I was contemplating the significance of all the grass in the foreground, I heard a voice say: “Cry out.” And then a query: “What shall I cry?” The answer: “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall…" (Isaiah 40:6).

Rick’s painting and Chris’ poem were conceived during very turbulent times in South Africa’s history, during which the disenfranchised, indigenous majority of South Africans took to the streets with the stated intention of making South Africa, under its oppressive Apartheid Regime, ungovernable. All of this led to the release of Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) and other political prisoners (1990) followed by an intense time of negotiations, fraught with all kinds of serious problems, not least of which was the threat of civil war. However, after these protracted negotiations our miraculous “Rainbow Nation” came into its own with equality for all its citizens in 1994.   

While Rick’s painting in a sense depicts an unseen epic spiritual battle being fought between good and evil, Chris’ poem captures the aftermath of such spiritual warfare in the blood and guts reality of our streets in those awful times of political foment, but bathes it with the redemptive sound of singing and the promise of a homecoming!

Extract from TROUBLE IN THE STREETS by Chris Mann:

There comes the sound of singing, drumming,
a glimpse of white cassocks swaying in a truck,
The Church of Blue Heaven, yawning homewards,
past the trampled placards and burnt-out cars,
through the lingering reek of tear-gas,
and smouldering tyres.
Hamba kahle, Zithulele!
(Zulu, translation: Go well, Quiet One!)

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Rick Andrew: Church of Blue Heaven, 1986, acrylic paint on canvas, 140 x 86 cm. In the collection of Dagni Bredesen, Charleston, Illinois, USA.

Rick Andrew and his wife, Gill, live in Durban, South Africa. Rick is multitalented artist and finds creative expression as a visual artist, a writer and as a musician. Over the past 40 years he has had six solo exhibitions (and is currently working on his seventh) and has participated in 22 group shows. His works are to be found in public and private collections in South Africa, England, Canada, America, Switzerland and New Zealand. 
He has published three books with Buried in the Sky (2001) having been nominated for the prestigious Olive Schreiner Prose Prize by Penguin Books SA.

* Note from Rick: “In the mid-eighties I had become friends with Chris Zithulele Mann, who often showed me poems that he was working on, and in one of them he described a group of Zionists returning home on the back of a truck. He referred to them as ‘The Church of Blue Heaven.’ I loved the poetic resonance of it and, by permission, used it as the title for this painting.” The Zionist Church is the largest church in South Africa. They are a familiar sight to South Africans as they worship in their distinctive vestments under God’s glorious mantle  ̶  Africa’s blue skies! Please peruse Chris’ webpage to find out more about this remarkable man: http://www.chrismann.co.za/home

Gert Swart and his wife, Istine, live in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. Gert has been working as a sculptor for over 40 years. He has done several public commissions and his work is to be found in public and private collections. http://gertswartsculptor.homestead.com/

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IN VIEW

1.  ARTWAY – We posted as our new blog Jacques and Raïssa Maritain among the Artists by David Lyle Jeffrey. About the influence of Jacques and Raïssa Maritain on Rouault, Chagall and Arcabas. Read more

2. PRECIOUS POSSESSIONS – Susan Lenz is an artist who often works with discarded things. She recently gave a TEDx Talk, “Making plans for your precious possessions.” All the special things people save – like treasures holding memories or expensive price tags – eventually outlast their owners. What then? Lenz gives some great advice. First, use your precious things. If they break, so what; what are you waiting for? Second, tell your family why something is precious. Make sure they know the stories and associations the objects represent. Third, make art! For example, convert that t-shirt collection into a quilt, restring granny’s beads into something you will wear. Fourth, make a plan so your family will not have to deal with the overwhelming questions of what to keep. This can be as simple as labeling the back of photos, listing who gets what, or making a household inventory. If you have an art collection, start working now on how it will be sold or donated. Finally, if no one in the family wants your wonderful things, give them to people who see their value. Lenz calls this, “losing them in order to save them.” To listen to her entire talk, click here.

3. ALASTAIR GORDON LECTURE AT L’ABRI - 9 July, 20 h, L’Abri, Greatham, near Liss, England, online: Friday Night Lecture featuring Morphe Arts co-founder Alastair Gordon on his new book Why Art Matters - A Call For Christians to Create on Zoom. In a world of turmoil, art matters more than ever. Art reminds us of the things that are really matter; it lifts our eyes to eternity and shows us the importance of the here and now. Ally will look at the importance of art for all, not just the professionals and how creativity helps humans to flourish and reflect the character of a creative God. Note Ally’s new book, Why Art Matters (IVP publishing), is available for pre order. For more information and to book please visit: https://ivpbooks.com/why-art-matters

4. Q&A WITH TERRY GLASPEY – 11 July, 12:30 UNK - 14:00 UNK, online: inTACT Monthly Meet UP is looking forward to having award-winning author Terry Glaspey join them for a special online Q&A! Josh Tiessen will be leading the discussion with Terry and then opening it up for questions. Feel free to invite friends and family for what will be a spiritually and artistically enriching event. Terry Glaspey is a writer, editor, professor, and creative mentor based in Eugene, Oregon. He has a Master’s Degree in History from the University of Oregon, in addition to undergraduate degrees with majors in Counselling and Pastoral Studies. He has written over a dozen books, including 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know, Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis, The Prayers of Jane Austen, and Discovering God Through the Arts, released in 2021. He has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the ECPA Gold Medallion, 2017 Christianity Today Book Award, and the Advanced Speakers and Writers Editor of the Year award. He has taught and lectured at schools, seminaries, and conferences throughout the United States, as well as in the UK, Canada, and Taiwan. He is currently Visiting the Faculty for Spiritual Formation and Romantic Theology at Northwind Seminary, Winter Garden, FL, USA. Here is the link for the meeting: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88672989366?pwd=Z1d0VVE3VWFscWV0VUpzK3dPc2Y2dz09
P.S. With UTC (coordinated universal time), our starting time EST 3:30 pm, adjusts to sync with YOUR time zone. https://www.facebook.com/events/s/intact-monthly-meet-up-terry-g/492204901996994/

5. COURSE BY DAVID TAYLOR – 19 July – 23 July, 8.30 – 11.30 h, Regent College, Vancouver, online: Why Beauty Matters: Aesthetics and the Church. By David Taylor. Learn how different eras of Western history and specific cultural contexts have generated theological ideas about beauty, briefly reviewing patristic, medieval, modern, and contemporary conceptions, with the goal of more clearly understanding the role of beauty in the worship and mission of the church. https://www.regent-college.edu/summer/courses/course-details?course_id=INDS.572

6. COURSE BY TREVOR HART - 19 July – 23 July, Nashotha House Theological Seminary, Nashotah, WI: Taking Flesh: Incarnation, Embodiment, course by REV. DR. TREVOR HART.  Trevor Hart is Honorary Professor of Divinity, the University of St. Andrews, Scotland and Rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church. God as creator taking on the flesh of creation in order to redeem, transform, and exalt that creation is at the heart of the Christian gospel and also central to our existence as embodied beings in God’s creation of both “things visible and invisible.” In an analogous manner, for the human creature to be fully human involves us in repeated acts of flesh-taking and meaning- making. The practices and products of human artistic making, albeit only one sphere in which this occurs, provide a particularly appropriate paradigm as they straddle the boundary between material and non-material reality, thereby drawing us more fully into each. Considering different ways in which flesh is “taken” and “transformed” in the arts may thus aid us both in situating them theologically and in reckoning with some of the peculiar tensions and resolutions involved in our creaturely being-in-the-world. Tuition: $1500 (Credit) / $500 (Audit). This course is being offered in-person only. Any questions can be directed to Jim Watkins (jwatkins@nashotah.edu). See you tube videoRead more

For more exhibitions, lectures, conferences etc. inside and outside your country, click here

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