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Andrew, Rick - VM - Gert Swart

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!)

*******

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/

ArtWay Visual Meditation July 4, 2021