How did you become a full-time artist? How does Wheaton fit into your artistic journey?
I became a full-time artist just recently at the end of November 2019. The transition was a process—the result of a lot of prayer, late nights, and God opening the necessary doors along the way. Seeds were certainly planted during my time at Wheaton and it laid the foundation for me to be able to take this step. I didn’t have a traditional college experience in the best of ways: I transferred to Wheaton at the start of my junior year and entered into the Interdisciplinary Studies major. The nature of IDS functions differently than most majors—it is intimate and creative, and it teaches you to think across boundaries. This program was where my love for art was taken to a new level and I was pushed intellectually in a way that I never had been before.
How did being an Interdisciplinary Studies major at Wheaton affect your work and your journey?
IDS was a turning point for both my artistic practice and my faith. The program taught me the interconnectedness of all things—that all problems need a multi-disciplinary approach to find the solution. My studies explored the lack of relationship (at the time) between the church, theology, art, and my personal faith. Dr. Jeffry Davis ’83 was especially critical to my journey because he was really the first professor who pushed me beyond my comfort zone. He was blunt with me and provided the constructive criticism that I needed. It was uncomfortable at times, but it was in this process that I began to learn how to merge art and ideas with worship. In a very real way, these same concepts are still what push me to create today. The visual language of my paintings or sculptures is a manifestation of practice, contemplation, and prayers.
When did you start creating abstract art and what drew you to it?
My background in art began when I was a child. I grew up taking art lessons from my grandma and took classes all throughout high school. I was always drawn to abstract art and how it removes any recognizable subject from a painting. Oftentimes in a representational work, we empathize with the subject matter by projecting ourselves into the story or identifying with the subject. But with abstract art, it is non-representational and thus the engagement is purely an emotional response. We face it directly and interact with the work in its fullness of emotion and ideologies. I often find abstract works articulate the unintelligible aspects of life—they do not depict an experience but rather, they are an experience.
How do you connect abstract art to your faith?
For me, abstract art is very spiritual in nature and is inseparable from my faith. My paintings are the language for me to visually articulate truths and questions about life, faith, God as the Creator of the universe, and my human experience in the world. I think of my paintings as prayer or poetry—each brushstroke, drip, mark, or scribble feels like crying out to God. Abstract art connects with my soul in a way that is hard to articulate in words. It is worship in the most intimate way.
How do you personally define a holy space? Do you have any "holy spaces" from your time on campus at Wheaton?
My definition of a holy space is centered around a Celtic tradition/teaching called the "thin place." This teaching explores the idea that there are places on earth where the atmosphere collapses and heaven falls to earth. Thin places are charged with sacredness where you tangibly feel God’s nearness. Whether it is a mountaintop or seaside cliff, a sunrise or sunset, a piece of music or fine art, thin places are wherever you have a sense of the divine; a sense of beyond. It is a space where the veil that separates heaven and earth is lifted and one is able to receive a glimpse of the glory of God. During my time at Wheaton, my holy space or "thin place" was Adams Hall. I had many late nights working in the printmaking studio alone with God thinking about these things while making art. Looking back, it is a memory I hold closely as it was an essential part of the foundation for my art career.
What inspired “Yellow Prairie” #1 and #3?
Yellow Prairie #1 and #3 were inspired by the physical world around me. Every day when I drive to my studio, I pass a beautiful prairie and nature preserve. I am drawn to the contrast between the open space, the tall golden grass blowing in the wind, and the trees towering overhead. These paintings capture this contrast in the juxtaposition of expressive blocks of color with raw canvas “space” collaged over a portion of the painting. I consider these paintings to be abstract landscapes where the sacredness of the prairie is felt and experienced. By painting the world around me, I am able to let nature’s expression inform life’s big questions and paradoxes—specifically the relationship between the spiritual and physical; certainty and uncertainty; seen and unseen; perfection and imperfection.
Tell us a little bit about your creative process for these works.
The creative process for these works was very spontaneous and action-based, as is much of my practice. In these paintings, I mixed materials that traditionally might not be used together such as oil paint, pencil, and collaged canvas scraps. I started by making marks or blocks of color and then responded to it with another mark or a scrap of canvas glued over a portion of the surface. My process with these paintings was very rhythmic and meditative.
What has been most challenging to you as a Christian artist?
One challenge that I continually face is fighting distractions from living in the thin place. The distractions—fear, comparison, hurry, technology—can easily take my mind away from choosing to live a life of abiding in Jesus. When I say no to these distractions, I am able to create honest work from a place of freedom.