Thursday, 10 March 2011

Notes from Amman

Well Lent began with a bang...literally as I lost my fuse. It is now nearly two weeks out here, and on Tuesday I began, finally, to work on the ceiling. In Arab countries things don't work quite the same as in Europe or the US...things either happen IMMEDIATELY or in the forever tomorrow. Unfortunately this project hit the 'tomorrow'.

As an artist I am dependent on others to provide certain of the tools I need. In my own studio things are more under my control though I still rely on a friendly carpenter to supply me with wood and to make up boards, as well as suppliers of gold leaf, brushes etc. However, for a large 'in situ' project you really need a whole range of assistance, not least scaffolding to get up to the 'canvas', and enough of it to be able to move around freely and safely (and I am not good with heights so that is quite important if I am to be able to relax enough to focus on the task in hand and not wrestling with vertigo!)

Eventually, on Monday, the scaffolding arrived, but it came late and there wasn't enough of it. Eventually Monday evening a very helpful engineer arrived and between us and the priest and Sami (who is sort of the caretaker) we managed to get something half decent concocted, including an all important light rigged up. Tuesday I spent a bit of time getting it just right so I could work as freely as possible, though the extra planking promised never did arrive. Tuesday then went very well, with the basic outline inscribed on the surface and painting begun. So, Wednesday, being the beginning of Lent, I was full of enthusiasm, and ready to get going.

However, when I got into the church I found that substantial parts of the scaffolding were missing! The builders needed to reach the roof and had helped themselves to various planks, scaffolding bits, a step ladder and dismantled the light! At such times my complete lack of the local language reduces me to a gibbering wreck as it proves so difficult to get anything straightened out. It took over an hour to get the scaffold back to a semblance of what it was before, including the utilisation of an old table top! It took me a lot longer to calm down, and of course trying to be creative when you are all stewed up doesn't work.

Anyway, today is back on track, and I am wrestling with the basic colours for the mandorla and background. I hope to have to photos to post later.

And one thing to add to your considerations is a gift, something that demands of us more than we expect, at least that is true of the icon where we sit as the focus point. An icon is not a possession to meet our needs, as I think we have discovered on this blog. Rather it is a journey into the Truth, a living encounter with Christ. As an iconographer I have to try and respond to inspiration in the deepest and widest sense; the general requirements of the commissioner are important factors, sort of like pillars it must rest on, but in the end it cannot be restricted by those, but must have a life of its own. Think of a play by Shakespeare; he might have had a composition with a certain theme, like politics, the quality of mercy, a comedy about marriage, but the creativity makes it much more than these. In the end a work of spiritual art comes back to the commissioner as a gift, a treasure, something beyond his imagining or perceived needs. Thus a certain provisionality, something of that evolutionary trial and error, is essential.

The icon I finally write for you will, I sincerely hope, last long after you are gone, and your children and many generations to follow. It will live in many lives, in many contexts, speaking the Truth in a living way. Just like those ancient icons in St Catherine's monastery in Sinai, some over 1,500 yrs old, your icon is part of the patrimony of the Church, and as such a gift to you for your blessing, but its destiny lies far beyond the confines of your life, and current needs. In this sense we can truly call it a treasure, priceless, bringing a fragment of eternity into the now.

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