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A Pretty Darned Good Artist

PBS’ interesting (and it better be, to get me up to watch at 7:30 AM on a Sunday!) Religion and Ethics Newsweekly focused this week on the 9/11 anniversary. One of the folks they featured was sculptor John Collier, who is making a memorial for St. Peter’s Church in New York. The memorial features four saints, the patrons of those who died: St. Joseph for workers, St. Michael for the police, St. Florian for firefighters, and St. Mary Magdalene hurrying to tell everyone about the Resurrection, her spice jars unopened because she found no body in the Tomb. (I suspect she’s also there for those who found no body to bury, but Collier doesn’t say so.)

The Religion and Ethics Newsweekly page links to Collier’s homepage (or rather, his distributor’s). There’s also a link to a story on the parish’s project from St. Anthony’s Messenger, which is still the best Catholic magazine out there!

Raised in the Protestant tradition, Collier and his wife, Shirley, currently attend services at Dallas’s Episcopal Church of the Incarnation.

“I’m halfway to being a Catholic,” he says with a smile. “The greatest art in the history of the Western world,” he asserts, “has been commissioned by the Catholic Church.”

***

“As grand as any secular memorial might be,” he says, “it can only say ‘Remember.’ But Our Lord offers more. He offers resurrection, which is the hope of the dead. This commission has given me the freedom to say that!”

I really like his homepage’s section on his paintings. They may even be better than his sculpture, although his stuff definitely has something. They showed “The Woman Clothed with the Sun” on TV this morning, but I like that more as a picture of Mary than a picture of the vision from Revelation. (I wouldn’t have known that was the subject without the title! It’s a valid interpretation, but is just too restrained for my tastes.) However, his “Annunciation”, with Mary as a gawky American schoolgirl in a suburban neighborhood, is brilliant. His “Pieta” is even more heartbreaking after that. “St. Joseph and the Child Jesus” is nicely done, but I keep thinking St. Joseph should look more like Norm Abrams and talk in a New England accent. It’s the beard, probably. ;) Still, the galaxy on the back wall is a very nice touch. “Our Lady of Guadalupe” being adored by North American saints is very nice. There’s a lot more, too. The good thing is that all his people have a good rounded look to them; none of those flat folks from flat photograph-models. Even the portrait of the Guadelupana starts coming out of her frame at the bottom. (I do wonder why there’s a cat…but I guess a cat can look at a queen!) I also like the American landscapes he uses. We have as much right as the medieval Tuscans and French to show the stories of the Bible taking place in our cities and countryside. It gives those stories an immediacy that makes them harder to ignore or rationalize away. Like Kolbe in the “Crucifixion with Saints”, a familiar modern face stares out at you, reminding you that the Crucified is not far away, but here with us; and that sainthood is not just for other people in other, “simpler” times.

I had a certain amount of difficulty finding pages on this John Collier, as there was a Pre-Raphaelite by that name in Victorian times, a photographer interested in Catholic stuff (John Collier, Jr.), and other folks with similar interests. Also, the Jesuit Dallas Museum has recently been given his statue “Prodigal Son” (scroll on down). As an illustrator, he worked on books as diverse as Floating in My Mother’s Palm, the story of a teenager growing up in Germany in the 1950’s, when Hitler was never mentioned, At Break of Day, a retelling of the Creation, Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, and R.L. Stine’s Nightmare Hour: Time for Terror. Definitely not an artist who never tries anything new! There’s a bio on his homepage, but this is his biography at Gallery Shoal Creek; there’s a very different one at Illustration Academy. Here’s a page about a presentation he did on Art and Faith.

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