By Jenny Neyman
God is in the swirling oranges and streaks of blue. God is in the glowing menorah and the assembled angels. God is in the eagle’s wings, the budding tree leaves and the lion’s mane. God is in what’s seen on the canvass, what’s experienced when it is painted, and what’s felt when it’s viewed.
For the artists contributing to the “Emmanuel, Light of the World” exhibition at the Kenai Fine Arts Center this month, what better way than art to demonstrate their tenant that God is in all creation — and, thus, their creativity?
“One of the most natural parts of being created in the image of God is the ability to dream and create. We humans were born to create, build and advance. When we purpose to create from being in God’s presence, we can mirror the reality of heaven here on earth,” writes Rebecca Hinsberger in the artists’ statement for the group show.
“Emmanuel” is an example of prophetic art — works that are not only about God, but created through God’s influence, as though the artist is the paintbrush yielding to the strokes of divine inspiration.
Hinsberger, of Kasilof, has been exploring prophetic art since her conversion to Christianity in 1975, becoming involved with a larger community of like-spirited artists in the area in the late 1990s and teaching workshops in the practice. Like praise music or liturgical dance, she explains that it’s an expression of worship.
“And also a means of hearing from God and transmitting a message from God to whoever is viewing the painting. The message would be transmitted through the medium of the painting, whether it’s symbolism or the emotion or capturing the moment or conveying something biblical or historical that we feel is important,” she said. “… You might call it intuitive, but we call it painting by the Holy Spirit in an inspired way.”
Sometimes the artwork is personal, done in a studio or other private setting as the artists manifest their reflections on prayer and worship onto a canvass.
“Most of us have experienced hearing from the Lord in a personal way about what he wants us to create and why and what for and how,” Hinsberger said. “Our work is not fully our own. It can be something we intellectually decided or manipulated or made a decision about, but we waited on God through prayer or worship.”
Other times, prophetic art is created in a public setting as part of a worship service. Three quarters of the paintings in the “Emmanuel” show were created during church, Hinsberger estimates, some solo works, some done collaboratively, but all incorporating spontaneity.
“Many of them were visions that the person got during worship. They began to paint it. While they were painting it the rest of the congregation confirmed that’s what it’s about,” Hinsberger said.
Her “Tree of Life” is one such piece, a pastel she created during a service at her church, Kalifonsky Christian Center. As the congregation was singing she felt inspired to paint a tree. Up came a spiraling trunk, bursting into budding leaves as though on fire, with vibrant streaks of oranges, yellows and reds encircling it. While she was painting a speaker began discussing the rebirth of Israel.
“The tree is Israel and the fire is the presence of God fanning the flame of the nation and bringing its destiny into being. Prophetic destiny and national destiny and destiny as described in the Bible, so that’s all represented by that picture. But I didn’t even know the speaker was going to speak about that when I started to paint,” she said.
“A Lion has Roared,” an acrylic by Hinsberger’s daughter, Leah Simpson, was a similar experience. Simpson felt moved to represent God breathing spirit on mankind. Her canvas took shape into a majestic lion, with the swirling teal, yellow and purple emanating as its roar representing the Spirit, echoed in the lively, reddish curls of the mane.
“That was her vision, and it just so happened the message went right along,” Hinsberger said.
Though Hinsberger and others in the show are experienced artists — herself having painted and studied art since she was a child — she said that her favorite experiences painting are ones in which raw inspiration supplants her formal training. Her skill and experience as an artist is simply another tool, like the paint or the brush. Those pieces are more direct representations of connection to the divine.
“I like to be surprised because most of the time I have no idea what I’m going to end up with. I start out and I just kind of go intuitively and I stop and pray and ask the Lord,” she said. “Sometimes I’ve had a vision that I paint, and sometimes I will paint things I’m not even aware I’m painting.”
“Forever God is Faithful,” is an example of both. She intended to depict an eagle with fire coming off its wings to represent a believer, since Isaiah in the Bible talks about believers “soaring like eagles” and having the strength and wisdom to be above the weight of heavy circumstances, she said.
And that’s exactly what she did paint, or so she thought, until a viewer complimented her on the lion nestled above the eagle.
“And I said, ‘What? I never painted any lion.’ And sure enough it looks exactly like the profile of a lion, with the lion’s mane flowing back and the wing of the eagle with the flames coming off looks like the mane,” she said. “I didn’t even realize it. But the Bible talks about us being little lions for the Lord.”
Most of the pieces in “Emmanuel” are even more open to interpretation, as they are representations of a feeling. What shape is joy, after all?
“There are some that are abstract that are purely expressions of God’s glory,” Hinsberger said. “A lot of things about God are not representational, as we would expect they wouldn’t be representational because he’s a big god, and so that’s why a lot of things are rather expressionist and kind of an emotional response.”
Swoops, slashes and wide swaths of color, energetic dots and blots, cool, bare washes overlaid with vibrant splashes, such as in “Insight” by Lisa Smart, Kathleen Overpeck, Lori Bartlett, Rebecca Middleton (Hinsberger — Middleton is the name she uses to sign her artwork) and Mary Hunt, and “Renewal” and “Glory” by Gervais.
Just because they don’t picture something immediately recognizable to the eyes doesn’t mean they don’t represent something recognizable to the heart of the painters or other viewers.
For “The Glory,” Hinsberger stood behind the pastor with her back to the congregation so they could see the canvas develop.
“I just painted intuitively and it represents the glory of God coming down on people,” she said.
Abstract works can be a great entrée for inexperienced or self-taught painters to start out with prophetic art, or for artists to collaborate on a canvass. Hinsberger and Rene’ Gervais, art teacher at Skyview High School, worked together on “Dancing,” jointly finding design and meaning in the imagery.
“She did one half, I did the other half, we brought it together in the middle and we found figures dancing in the abstract shapes that we had made. We began to outline the shapes, and she found shapes that I had made and I found shapes that she had made and we merged them, so there’s figures dancing in kind of a wild array of abstract colors and shapes,” Hinsberger said.
Stephanie Alward, a worship leader at Haven Church in Homer, has several watercolors in the show, including “Floodgates of Heaven,” “Poured Out” and “Holy Wind.” Alward likes to show elements in her paintings — air, water and fire — to represent God being in more familiar-looking geographical places, Hinsberger said.
“Almost all the paintings have some sort of symbolism, something more than just what you’re seeing,” she said.
And there’s more than the paintings to see. “Emmanuel” is a mixed-media exhibition, with ceramic works by Gervais, a mirror studded with shells, also by Gervais, and a collection of handmade instruments by Tim Gale.
“Emmanuel” will be on display through Dec. 24, and Hinsberger hopes visitors find it inspiring as well as intriguing.
“I thought this would be a good, fresh type of show — there probably has never been anything quite like it in Kenai. And kind of come out of the churches and into a secular place and show people what we do,” she said. “It’s colorful and there’s all this variety. It surprises people. It’s kind of inspiring for people. They didn’t know what to expect and they don’t have any idea what they’re going to find.”
Kids Art Show
Also on display through Dec. 24 is the annual youth art show, representing what kids do best — enthusiasm, energy, color and imagination. It’s an open show with any area youth invited to submit artwork, and the results are fittingly eclectic. There is literal imagery, perhaps done as examination of actual scenes — “Snowy Birch Woods” by Eilana Gale, “Beautiful Flower” by Jordan Ruffner, “Skate Park” by Tone Klobucar or “Lunch” by Matthew Schwartz. Others are more whimsical, like, “The Lone Pumpkin” by Gracie Rankin,” “Humorous Hurricane” by
Annika Nilsson, or “Fish” by Jay Brott. Kid art is where fantasy plays out in logistics of reality, as is the state of a child’s imagination, such as “Flying Peanuts” by Josiah Gale, depicting winged creatures wearing little bow ties and labeled “Peanut” with arrows, just so there’s no mistaking the Planters Mr. Peanut-looking figures. The youth show is on display in Gallery Too at the Kenai Fine Arts Center.