This small group of paintings is part of a larger series of works entitled Building in Ruins—created after my house and studio fire in the late 1990’s. Following our rebuilding, in the early 2000’s, I made these paintings, attempting to get at the reality that our lives are fragile and yet shot through with the possibility of redemption and healing and release—we are “redeemed from fire by fire” as the poet said.
Additionally, I’ve attempted in these works to provide a means for my viewers to enter-into, and to contemplate their own “ruins”—to acknowledge their own brokenness and paradoxical hope for glory. I confess that I can barely grasp the meaning of that word glory apart from the wonder that we all encounter in beautiful things, in nature, in this little box canyon on the Frio River at Laity Lodge. And yet… we all sense that something is coming which far surpasses our wildest imaginings—when heaven comes to earth and all things are put to rights in God’s coming kingdom. In the meantime, we wait…we wait, bearing what the Apostle Paul called “our present light sufferings compared with the weight of glory” awaiting us.
These pieces are now part of the Laity Lodge permanent collection, thanks to a generous donation from Pat Jones and John McCray
1. Elegy for Perpetua & Felicitas
oil on wood with 23kt. gold leaf; 80″ x 48″
The life and witness of the high-born Roman citizen of Carthage, Vibia Perpetua (b.AD182; d. 203) and her maidservant Felicitas inspires me. Perpetua was a highly educated, married woman with a nursing infant and Felicitas was a slave woman who was pregnant at the time of their arrest. These two Christian women bravely and publicly professed faith in Christ despite the religion being illegal under Roman law. They were condemned and imprisoned, and after failed attempts by family to persuade them to recant their faith, they were publicly executed as part of the military games in Carthage in AD203 as part of the birthday celebration of the Emperor Septimus Severus. We know of the bravery and deep faith of these women from contemporary accounts—including a memoir by Perpetua’s own handwritten during her imprisonment—a document believed by scholars to be authentically Perpetua’s writing. The fellowship of these two women in death, despite class difference, became a marvelous example of how Christianity levels class distinctions. I’ve tried to evoke the gravity and grace that suffused their martyrdoms—and their story can serve, like other sources of the Building in Ruins series, as a reminder that though our lives are outwardly being destroyed, we are being built up, into Christ, as a temple made with living stones.
oil on canvas with attached wood panel and 23kt. gold leaf; 54″ x 36″
In this painting I’ve attempted to get at a paradoxical aspect of the spiritual life: it is both a path of contemplative peace and a deep inner and outer struggle. It is in this seeming contradiction that our faith is revealed. We meditate day and night on God’s grace and free-gift of love, even while we struggle to follow, to surrender, and to be true students of Christ and his Way.
3. Climbing San Miniato
oil on canvas with attached wood panel and 23kt. gold leaf; 44″ x 36″
San Miniato al Monte is a beautiful basilica on a hill above Florence, Italy that was constructed in the 11th century on top of the ruins of an old oratory. The church is dedicated to St. Minias who was martyred in AD250 under Emperor Decius. St. Minias was the first evangelizer and Christian martyr in Florence—and nearly three hundred years later the beautiful church facade was constructed in white Carrara and green marble––and received praise by famous architect Alberti and Michelangelo had the belltower wrapped in mattresses to protect it during the GuelfGhibelline war. For me it has somehow come to be associated with the hope of rebuilding and renewal—and the continuity of the gospel across time and ruination.