(for more reflections visit www.phyllisthomasart.blogspot.com)
Reflections on Work:
Songs over Tuscany
The brochure read; Medieval castles, sunny rolling hills, isolated hilltop towns, charming farmhouses and isolated rural homes, avenues of cypresses, rows of vineyards, olive groves, and golden wheat fields are just some of the elements of the fantastic and harmonious landscapes of Valdorcia! Crossed by the Orcia River, from which the valley derives its name, this wonderful region in southern Tuscany stretches along the Province of Grosseto.
Who wouldn't want to visit this place?! My husband and I had the privilege of participating in Cru Transform's first Artist Residency in this Agritourist area of Italy. Seventeen artists of various expressions and a prayer intercessor gathered for three weeks in community to build relationships, share technique, grow spiritually, pray specifically and practice our art-making. I list art-making last, because it was so much more! It was also about the people and their stories.
Besides visiting small and large towns, viewing the varying landscape and eating delicious Italian food, we made art. My on-site sketches were in response to the rolling fields of gold wheat surrounding our farmhouse. Every day I observed the changing colors according to the time of day and the harvest process, from combining grain and collecting bales of straw, to tilling the soil. I'm sure my response goes back to my growing up on a farm in Indiana where we did the same work, in much smaller scale.
The colors of harvest are also some of my favorites so I chose my palette of ochre, raw sienna, sap green, raw umber, burnt sienna and cerulean. My sketches were quick as I simplified the landscape into color and line, trying to emphasize the gentle rolling hills.
After returning, I wanted to reproduce the sketches into a few larger works. But I got got stuck. They didn't translate the same way in a larger format and there was so much I wanted to say I just didn't know how to reduce it into a painting, so they sat in my studio for months until I called a colleague to help me see why I couldn't finish them. In a few minutes our dialogue of questions and responses helped me to change my perspective from a normal horizon-line landscape to a topographical landscape. That was the key to get me going again.
I finalized these pieces as topographical maps of the lay of the land, its hills and valleys. It was a perfect solution because as I was painting I remembered the songs we sang over the harvest fields surrounding the farmhouse. Two artists were musicians; a violinist and guitarist. We sat outside, listened to them and sang songs while viewing the landscape. For me, these lines also represent the sounds of the violin and songs we sang.
I began looking up musical terms and found most are Italian derivatives so all the more appropriate to use music as a theme. It brought to mind how many times the Psalmists used descriptive language to declare that all creation sings a song of the goodness of God. Especially Psalm 65.11-13: You crown the year with a bountiful harvest; even the hard pathways overflow with abundance. The grasslands of the wilderness become a lush pasture, and the hillsides blossom with joy. The meadows are clothed with flocks of sheep, and the valleys are carpeted with grain. They all shout and sing for joy.
Furthermore, Zephaniah 3.17 says: The LORD your God is in your midst--a warrior bringing victory. He will create calm with his love; He will rejoice over you with singing. So we joined the LORD in singing Songs over Tuscany and its people. We prayer-walked the towns we visited, tried to communicate with locals who understood English and left this beautiful place filled up with more joy and blessing than when we arrived.
copyright, phyllis thomas, 2016
Celebrate Life Series
Three pieces make up a series which are responses to recent personal experiences. Within two months, I had two medical tests which could have been life-changing. I waited one month for the results on one and over a week for the other. During that time, I had many opportunities to learn how to live moment by moment. I found a new thankfulness for every breath I took when I woke up and got out of bed to pursue whatever the day held.
One of the first things I did was study the names of God and their meanings and scripture that described who God is. Old Testament names of Jehovah-Rapha, Elohim, El-Roi and others point to God’s sovereignty. His names gave insight to His divine character and brought intimate fellowship with Him. I found myself relating to Him with deeper understanding about His involvement in my life and that brought me to an attitude of praise.
My temperament shoves me toward being a worrier and thinking what ifs and imagining the worst. There was some of this attitude, but on the whole, I felt an underlying thread of peace and calmness, realizing whatever happens cannot be changed by me or orchestrated by my working it out. I knew I was totally dependent on my LORD.
Jehovah-Rapha; I am the LORD who heals. Psalm 30.2
El-Roi; I am the LORD your Shepherd. Matthew 11.28, Psalm 32.8
Elohim; the strong, faithful and only true God; Deuteronomy 10.17, 20, 21
©copyright, phyllis thomas 2015
When Adam was formed by God from the dust of the ground, he was not alive until God breathed into him. When a baby is born and enters the outside world, we wait for the cry that indicates his lungs have filled with air and he is breathing outside the womb. This piece references breath, breathing and life and comes in response to a recent personal experience. Within two months I had two medical tests which could have been life-changing. I waited one month for the results on one and over a week for the other. During that time, I had many opportunities to learn how to live moment by moment. I found a new thankfulness for every breath I take and every morning I wake up and get out of bed to pursue whatever the day holds.
One of the first things I did was study the names of God and their meanings with scripture that described who God is. Old Testament names of Jehovah-Rapha, Elohim, El-Roi and others point to God’s sovereignty. His names gave insight to His divine character and brought intimate fellowship with Him. I found myself relating to Him with deeper understanding about His involvement in my life and that brought me to an attitude of praise.
My temperament shoves me toward being a worrier and thinking what ifs and imagining the worst. There were some of these attitudes, but on the whole, I felt an underlying thread of peace and calmness, realizing whatever happens cannot be changed by me or orchestrated by my working it out. I knew I was totally dependent on my LORD.
This piece has the color of soil and the transparency of breath. I thought of the many times I walked outside in the cold when I was a kid and purposely blew my breath in order to see the white transparent cloud in front of me. The three lines reference the trinity because God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit I found Proverbs 18.10 comforting; The name of the LORD is a strong fortress; the godly run to Him and are safe. I knew He was in the midst of the waiting as I ran to Him. After the waiting I shouted out praises when I found the results of the tests were benign and He would continue to give me breath.
Deuteronomy 10.17, 20, 21--Elohim
1 Chronicles 28.9—El-Roi
©copyright, phyllis thomas 2015
The Hebrew word, Hallelu Yah translates into English as Praise the LORD. It comes from Psalm 146.1-2; Praise the LORD, Praise the LORD, my soul. I will praise the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
After hearing the results my medical tests were normal, I praised the LORD right in the doctor’s office! A great relief came over me and I was set free from worry of the unknown. I felt like God had given my life back. . . . and indeed He had.
I was inspired to use an angel icon for this piece because of the many references to angels as protectors and worship leaders. The Old Testament references the angel as a manifestation of God. I felt like God had visited me during this whole process of waiting and I wanted to visualize His presence as an angel. I tried to make this piece look aged as an ancient fresco might look.
Praising God often includes singing and musical instruments. As I have done before, I used gold thread coupled with gold beads to allow the feel of a stringed instrument. Everytime I pass this piece, I want to take my hand across these threads and sing a song? I want to sing praises to my God as long as I live and acknowledge Him as my protector.
You are my hiding place; You protect me from trouble; You surround me with songs of victory.
©copyright phyllis thomas 2015
The third and final piece in the Celebrate Life Series uses a tree to symbolize life. This symbol is widely appropriated throughout the world in language and art. In Jewish artwork and scripture, references abound beginning in Genesis and continuing through Revelation symbolizing eternal life, healing, wisdom, longing, immortality. The menorah was even thought to be an abstract representation of the tree of life.
I live in the middle of an edible forest garden. We have multiple species of trees and plants that produce leaves for nutrition. For me, trees do give life. We eat from them every day. During my waiting time in this life experience, I read all these references to the tree of life and finished in Revelation 22.2 before I began my image.
I wanted my image to look alive. I wanted the tree to be abundant with leaves and surrounded by water as springs of life. I wanted it to evoke a yearning for life and healing because that’s what I called out to God for.
After the waiting, God did bring life and not death. He made full provision in His way to fulfill my longing for life and I can only praise Him.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.*
©phyllis thomas 2015
. . .and the wind ran out of breath
The Sea of Galilee is the largest freshwater lake in Israel. It is 700 feet below sea level and can suddenly become transformed by violent winds blowing through the hill country, stirring up the waters causing deadly waves for fishermen. It was a treacherous thing to the disciples because they were not practiced sea-faring people. They only went out to sea for the necessity of catching fish for food.
Mark 4.36-41 The Message
. . .and it happened this way
The Bible is an agrarian world from the Old Testament to the New. There are two dozen references of sowing, reaping, seed-time and harvest which often mark the natural rhythm of the times. Growing up on a farm, I know the plenty of harvest and the leanness of drought. That experience gives me some insight to the short story of Ruth that embodies a harvest theme. It is a love story and redemptive narrative with a turning point in chapter 2 when Ruth returns with an ephah* of grain to give to her mother-in-law, Naomi. It includes other contrasting themes; distress versus hope, emptiness versus fullness and poverty versus prosperity.
Because there are so many contrasts, I settled on a simplified image of color and contrast enhanced by gold threads which become a musical instrument for accompaniment to a song of praise I believe Naomi and Ruth whould have sung at this crucial point in the story. God's extravagant provision through Boaz's kindness reveals compassion for the poor and hope for redemption to this mother-in-law and loyal daughter-in-law and that is a psalm of joy to me.
*Psalter, Gr. psalterion, a harp
*Hebrew unit of dry measure; about 5 gallons
The Artist’s Rule; nurturing your creative soul with monastic wisdom, Christine Valters Paintner, 2011
Haiku~the sacred art, Margaret D. McGee, 2009
Gold, Blue, Purple and Scarlet; a sanctuary
This series of abstracted images features close-ups and the bare elements of the symbols and riturals used for worship in the earthly tabernacle according to Exodus 31-35. It references the call to artisans and the community to make all the artistic designs for the sanctuary using what they had to offer: gold, silver, gems, yarn, fine linen, animal skins, acacia wood, spices and oil.
I used fluid acrylic paints on paper and dramatized the color for each part of worship. Keeping with the integrity of the tabernacle's use of linen for curtains and priestly garments, I mounted the finished pieces on raw Belgian linen.
My process included thougthful research and gave me deeper understanding about this temporary dwelling. It foreshadows the Messiah who took the place of the altar, laver, lampstand, showbread and incense, and opened the curtain for our access into His presence and now dwells in the hearts of individuals. Even if you are not a student of religious studies, I hope you will investigate the myriad of images described in scripture for further insight and understanding about the Christian faith.
But when the Messiah arrived, high priest of the superior things of this new convenant, he bypassed the old tent and its trappings in this created world and went straight into heaven's tent--the true Holy Place--once and for all. He also bypassed the sacrifices consisting of goat and calf blood, instead using his own blood as the price to set us free once and for all. If that animal blood and the other rituals of purification were effective in cleaning up certain matters of our religion and behavior, think how much more the blood of Christ cleans up our whole lives, inside and out. Through the Spirit, Christ offered himself as an unblemished sacrifice, freeing us from all those dead-end efforts to make ourselves respectable, so that we can live all out for God.
Hebrews 9:11-15 The Message
Exodus 31-36; Hebrews 8-9; Matthew 12:3-4
Illustrated Bible Dictionary, pp. 1506, 1510
The Tabernacle: shadows of the Messiah
copyright, phyllis thomas, 2012
Threads of Redemption
a pound of nard
I’m grateful for a good imagination. Often, as I read scripture, I let myself enter into the culture, place and time where the stories were recorded. Images move like a video in my head and research from commentaries and dictionaries fill out those images. So in this work, I imagined a room lit only by candlelight in the darkness of night and all the actors gathered around a table in Simon the leper’s house anticipating the evening meal. In this scene, everyone took their usual roles: Jesus as guest, Lazarus as the brother-host, Martha as sister-hostess, Mary as sister-servant, Judas as betrayer and the disciples as on-lookers. Quietly, Mary knelt down with a jar of expensive aromatic ointment, broke it and anointed Jesus. The fragrance filled the house.
Though a fragrance is not seen visibly, I let myself imagine how it might look with the aroma filling the dark room. I was curious about this intense ointment and found in my research it is only obtained from the Spikenard plant. The plants, consisting of stalks and ribs of leaves were dried and bundled together and sold in the markets. When the rhizome was crushed and distilled, the thick, amber-colored essential oil had a sweet, woody, spicy and musky aroma, sometimes overpowering to the senses. It was and still is known as healing oil in some countries, reserved for deep-seated grief or pain and used in palliative care to help ease the transition from life to death, though effects no cure.
After reading these properties of the ointment, this work became much more than the obvious; it deepened to an eternal perspective. Unlike the betrayer who wanted only money from the expensive ointment, Mary was prophesying Jesus’ death and preparing Him for burial. She saw beyond the obvious “market-value” of the perfume and didn’t store it away in a safe-place to keep and sell later for her retirement. She had understanding her peers lacked. Remember what Jesus said about her when He came to dinner in their home earlier and Mary sat at His feet? Only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her. She had prepared for this moment much earlier and unselfishly gave up her personal possession to anoint Jesus out of her deep devotion and love.
I was reminded again how important it is to take in more of God and less of the world. When I am crushed with trials, trauma, tragedy, disappointment, the aroma that fills the room is either sweet or sour. What I take in is what is poured out from the preparations I have made in becoming more like Christ.
When I thought this piece was finished and was evaluating it, I felt it needed one more action: tear the paper into two broken pieces and stitch the parts back together. In a sense, that is what the resurrection did for me. Christ was crushed, broken and suffered abandonment before the Father made Him whole again. He offered healing and forgiveness for all my sin through His death. Though this seems simplistic to say, it is deeply felt within my soul as the most selfless gift of love ever known.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (online); Wikipedia (online)
The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery
©copyright, phyllis thomas, 2012
Signatures on the Sand
My brain reaches a point of saturation overload and I have to stop to debrief and take a breath. Flagler Beach is where my “soul catches up with my body”1; the place I can walk the bare open sands and allow the “tides to erase all of yesterday’s scribblings” as Anne Morrow Lindbergh so clearly writes in The Gift of the Sea. 2
My gifts were signatures of the sea on a neutral palette of sienna, black and grey sand which appeared briefly then washed away leaving me with a sense of awe. I was so excited at what I’d found! I was witnessing a one of a kind brushstroke that was impermanent; created by the rhythms of the seashore and never to be repeated. My curiosity was aroused and I wondered what this language might say, where all these tiny bits of shells may have originated and what stories they would tell.
As I transferred the land art signatures onto my canvases in my studio, I realized how powerfully simplistic they are. The marks are grand yet fragile and say just enough to speak with authority. I embraced their beauty and imagined them saying to me: listen, simplify and appreciate the uniqueness of every moment in time.
1. Warren Wiersbe, God Isn’t in a Hurry, p. 48;
2. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, The Gift of the Sea, p. 16;
3. a Grain of Sand; nature’s secret wonder, Dr. Gary Greenberg, photographer
©copyright, phyllis thomas, 2011
QumranEleven: unearthed evidence
Archaeologists have been digging in the soil for centuries to discover evidence of old places, people and objects from the past as proof those cultures and objects once existed. Though not an archaeologist I have been gathering and filing away articles and reading books that have been written about the unearthing of the ancient Scriptures I cherish so highly. This series of paintings references these hand-written pieces of parchment and papyrus scrolls that were discovered in eleven of the Qumran Caves from 1947-1956.
I admire and stand amazed at those who meticulously brushed and sifted away soil to discover even the tiniest fragments of parchment and/or pottery which protected the Dead Sea scrolls dating back to the 3rd Century B.C. to 1st Century AD. 1 The first discovery in 1947 was not intentional. In fact no archeologists were present or were even looking for the scrolls here. A young Bedouin shepherd boy who was going about his ordinary work possibly in pursuit of a lost sheep found the first seven cylindrical clay jars. These jars filled with debris had no value to this young boy who was disappointed there was neither gold nor silver hidden in the bottom. Perhaps disillusioned, he handed these discoveries to someone who realized their worth and for nearly a decade archaeological teams searched the caves. They recovered 600+ scrolls and thousands of fragments in eleven of the caves marking the most important archaeological discovery of the 20th century. Thirty-eight of the 39 books of the Old Testament were represented excluding the book of Esther. Today they are preserved in the Shrine of the Book Museum in Jerusalem. 2
I am captivated by the fact these writings from so long ago were hand-penned using carbon-based ink by scribes from the little-known monastic Jewish sect called the Essenes. My reading revealed they were a people who intentionally left the cities to seek solitude in the desert with the purpose of devoting themselves wholeheartedly to the study of the Hebrew Scriptures. It seems reasonable they would have the forethought to hide these treasured writings inside clay pots and securely place them in the caves away from the Romans when Qumran was destroyed in C.E.68. 3
These biblical discoveries are only a partialregistry of the work archaeologists have accomplished. While I was researching the Dead Sea Scrolls, I also found references to other extra-biblical discoveries like the 17,000 tablets in Ebla in northern Syria, 22,000 tablets of prophecies in Mari and Nuzi near the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, the code writing of Hammurabi, Hittite monuments in Carchemish and the Moabite stone. Do you remember reading about these places in the Old Testament and do you know the NIV Study Bible lists these along with 33 other Ancient Texts and the years they were written? 1
When I read about these findings they shed light on and confirmed the trustworthiness of God’s Word. To me they proved the long-ago existence of real people in real places who lived real circumstances. They made Psalm 85:11 read more than stanzas in a prayer: Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven. 4 Further verification comes from Mr. Dan Nichols who agrees we live in a generation when the Bible is often disputed and skeptics set out to discredit its accuracy. He mentions that Bible text is unparalleled in ancient writings as to its accuracy and reliability to the original text because what we have today matches well with what was originally written—especially the Dead Sea Scrolls. 5 And, Mr. Nelson Glueck, a respected Jewish archaeologist was quoted in saying that categorically no archaeological discovery has ever disputed a biblical reference. 6 I wonder along with these men, what remarkable things are yet to be discovered?
When I research the background of a piece or series, I’m connecting it with history, spirituality and geography. It feels like I’m digging down deep into the source and soul of my work. What I’m making becomes more than a piece of paper covered with paint. It becomes a dialogue with a messenger and viewer and in this case proclaims the endurance and timelessness of the Scriptures.
My intention was to image a sense of digging deep into the soil, finding fragments and treasures like the archaeologists must have hoped for in their digs. I also wanted line and mark to represent but not translate words. I cannot read Hebrew or Aramaic so the language is just beautiful marks to me. My automatic drawings of line and mark bring that dimension to the work. The stitched pieces reference the Isaiah Scroll of parchment pieces sewn together. 7
My process of art-making for this series was also a discovery for me. Unlike most of my previous works, I did not “pre-plan” these fragments as thumbnails. After reading and researching in books and articles about the Qumran Caves and the terrain and environment as well as viewing photographs of the land and fragments of the preserved scrolls, I startedby tacking 3-4 pieces of paper on the wall in my studio. The first brush strokes were automatic drawings of line and mark, to which I quickly added color in order to break up the space and obliterate any marks I didn’t want. I continued refining and adding as I saw sky, land, crevice and rock emerge. Some pages have many layers of acrylic; others were quickly finished and left. The pairs were unplanned until I began to see one page flowing into the other.
That said there were intentional parts to this work: the decision to use paper which referenced papyrus and parchment on which the scrolls were written; and the number eleven relating to the number of caves. As so often happens, when I reached number eleven, my inspiration waned. It was confirmation the series was complete. Another intentional part to this series involved the presentation. My desire to retain the integrity of papyrus, page and fragment meant that I needed to show the torn, uneven edges and still provide a way for them to be hung securely on a wall. I finished the series by mounting the papers with a spacer on wood panels leaving a slight edge as if the piece could be picked up as a page. My final work was to make a clay vessel after the design of the clay jars that stored the scrolls in order to display a three-part piece rolled inside. That is another whole story!
As I lived with Qumran Eleven: unearthed evidence I-XI for several weeks, I realized my interest in the old and aged carries over into my personal life. Perhaps it’s my desire for antiquity and nostalgia that keeps me cherishing old things kept from my grandparents, parents, school days, early marriage and travels or even children’s books and toys from our children’s childhood and a “little something” from every place I have travelled and lived. Or perhaps it is because they are evidence of my life lived. These old objects have endured. They have roots. They have outlived the trends and fads and they bring stability.
Likewise, unearthing the Hebrew and Aramaic texts is evidence of a people who tirelessly copied the ancient yet relevant words on parchment and papyrus in order to pass on the proof and integrity of the Scripture that is eternal. 8
Heaven and earth will pass away,
but my words will never pass away
1. New International Version Study Bible, p. 5, Intro to Genesis
2. The Letter and the Scroll ; what archaeology tells us about the Bible, Currie and Hyslop, p. 244
3. The Biblical World ; an illustrated atlas, p. 255
4. Digging Deeper: the Bible and Archaeology, Rick Ezell, pp. 6-7, the Lookout Magazine, 9/19/2004
5. Truth from the Earth: Archaeology and the Christian, Dan Nichols, pp. 8-9, the Lookout Magazine,
6. Light from the Blade of a Spade, Dr. Ward Patterson, pp. 4-5, the Lookout Magazine, 919/2004
7. The Letter and the Scroll, p. 297
©phyllis thomas 2010
Mixed Media Summaries
There are heroes of faith who have gone before and left examples of how to endure life. David is one of those people for me. He is known to us from narratives and as a writer of Psalms and poems which he left as records to tests and deeds of faith throughout his life. He consistently writes of his dependence on the LORD His God and his inquiries of the same when he faced difficult times as a shepherd, fugitive, rebel, desperado and King. Those life experiences gave him many opportunities to pour out his inner self in these songs.
David was known as a brave man and warrior as well as a harpist. He was called upon to calm and soothe King Saul’s tormented spirit and thus began his service in the palace which was preparation for his becoming King. How often are we invited to serve with our artistic gifting and fail to acknowledge it or subjugate it to a lesser importance? David’s model speaks to me of answering the call to be everything God created me to be.
1 Samuel 16.14-23; Biblical Dictionary of Imagery, p. 194
©copyright, phyllis thomas 2009
When my heart is surrendered to the Spirit, I willingly sacrifice an offering; not ritualistically as the Old Testament sacrifices of the Lamb, but voluntarily, as a result of my heart restoration.
My non-blood sacrifice to the LORD is my time—the hours in my day, represented by the embossed numbers which almost disappear in the gray bottom third of the painting. I have the same number of hours as anyone else, but the choices I make in how I spend those hours are crucial to my inward life and worship. Do I spend less time sleeping? Less time being entertained? Less time procrastinating? Less time complaining and being critical?
The sacrifices in the Old Testament were made with fire….they were burned up on the altar leaving ashes and the smoke, going upward as a sweet aroma to God. Every day I make choices that affect my life. The hours can never be lived over or changed. I have found those hours to be very precious and I’m more mindful of how I burn them.
God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.
©copyright, phyllis thomas 2004
Refined as Silver
Raw silver extracted from the ground doesn’t look like the silver we think of when we buy or wear jewelry made from the precious metal. The process of refining or eliminating the impurities or dross from the pure ore was particularly time-consuming. A crucible or furnace and a bellows or blow-pipe was needed before the fluid metal was changed into a usable form.
Likewise, I believe God’s Word contains nothing worthless or useless. The promises offered me have been thoroughly tested in the process of living. By standing firm on the flawless Word of God, I am being refined daily like precious silver to be made into something beautiful.
Psalm 119:140 ; Psalm 18:30
©copyright phyllis thomas 2010
to any length
This is a transforming piece. Inspired in part by my pastor’s teaching from Romans 15:1-13, The Divide Has Been Crossed, I had many images that came forth in my mind and heart during and after that message. When I began creating this work I was focused on the differences in our culture: opinions, behavior, and ethnic backgrounds which often bring disunity.
I tried to show the diversity in unrelated colors as in a landscape of life, going from the very lightest light to the darkest dark. If you look closely, you may notice how each color was painted as a wash, one over the other, until the combination of those colors created the darkness.
The transformation in this work started with the next step when I began visualizing how the disunity and messiness of my life can be overcome with the hope of God’s love. As I often do, I used gold as the symbol for divinity and began the laborious task of implanting and tying the imported gold threads on top of the colors.
These threads dramatically cover over all the nuances of darkness and imperfections and go deep, piercing the paper, and yet leave room to return back up to the light. In short, I visualized how God will go to any length to initiate His love toward me, with an appeal for me to respond with the same love back to him and out to others.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:1-13; Zechariah 12:10-11
©copyright phyllis thomas 2008
My inspiration for this piece was based on the Greek word aletheia, which means truth. I intentionally expressed my understanding of how God’s truth is a stabilizing anchor in my life and worship My thoughts were about the ocean where I am always impressed with the changing, powerful force of that magnificent body of water. . .something unstable.
My first attempt at creating this piece was a smoothly blended blue wash with waves at the top and the silver strip acting as the anchor. As part of my technique, I added thin Japanese paper on top of the blue section. What appeared were these unexpected uneven strokes showing through this paper. That was not what I intended and I almost threw this away. But as I started over to make a second smooth wash, I kept looking at this irregular piece and it became clear to me this was the expression I was looking for; uncontrollable forces of the undertow, riptides and cross currents which are evident in the ocean that the anchor holds against.
Circumstances, emotions and the world standards that I face daily can be unreliable, but my faith and worship depend on the reliability of truth: and the words of the LORD are flawless; like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times.
John 4:24, NIV; Psalm 12:6, NIV
©copyright, phyllis thomas, 2004
There are many Biblical references to fire and most of them represent God’s presence. Among them are the burning bush, sacrifices, ceremonial purification, the pillar of fire that led the Israelites in the wilderness, Mt. Sinai and Pentecost. Theologically, the presence of fire is called a Theophany: God’s revelation of Himself.* There is both a sense of awe and fear in these appearances.
Imagine Moses taking the initiative to investigate the burning bush. He stood near enough to experience an intimate appearance of God and heard God speak to him mouth to mouth. Though Moses was unsure, meek, disobedient and cowardly, God saw who Moses could be despite himself.
For me, this represents an invitation to keep drawing near to God with the hope of His transforming power in my life. Could He kindle a blazing bonfire of intimacy within my heart that would send sparks of His love falling on those around me?
When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.”
* Dictionary of Biblical Images, p. 130
Exodus 3:14; Exodus 19-20; Exodus 12:21; Numbers. 13:13; Numbers 9:15-16; Deuteronomy 33:16; Mark 12:26; Luke 20:37; Acts 7:30-34
©copyright, phyllis thomas, 2008
Flowing from Within
Imagine the last time you were really thirsty and a drink of water gave you life. Imagine the last time you came in from working in the garden or returning from a strenuous walk or run on a hot, humid day and a tepid shower made you refreshed and clean. Nothing is more extravagant than water which is, of course, one of the elements essential to life.
Biblically, water has reference to many things: a cleansing agent, quenching thirst, renewal, baptism, purification, life and forgiveness. When this piece was painted, I was just moving out of a stagnant, sterile, blocked place. I hadn’t been producing any work because of limited movement due to foot surgery which kept me immobile and unable to drive for weeks. I was homebound and in an uncomfortable and unfamiliar place. My days became reflective and literary as I read pages and pages of written work. My expectations of healing were not realized. I became critical, frustrated and sluggish because the surgeon’s projected healing time wasn’t what was happening in real time.
When I did get back to my studio, this is the first piece I painted. Though this work had been “painted” on thumbnails and in my head for several months, it was a very liberating act to see it appear. I started by washing lots of plain water over the paper, soaking it. After waiting until some water had been absorbed, I applied pigment with a brush, letting the manganese, ultramarine and pthalo blues bleed and blend into one another. Then I added violet for contrast. After waiting a little longer, I picked up the frame and tilted it side to side, and up and down to let the colors run down, even spraying the very top with a fine mist of water. This made the water literally run down the paper and washed the top portion back to the white of the paper. After watching the colors run down the paper for awhile, I laid the frame down to settle. Then I picked up other brushes full of the same blues and violet and splattered these pigments on top of the wash. It was my expression of a cleansing, a washing and living, moving water. Though there was some direction because of tilting the frame, essentially this was a very uncontrolled work allowing the pigment to go where it wanted to go. I let out a sigh when it was completed.
This was a renewal painting for me. As I re-read the scripture references I previously had in mind for this piece, it truly became an expression of releasing the stagnancy of my own heart. The image of water became living water to me, like the Holy Spirit moving and washing away those pent up, sterile feelings of limitations and house-recovery days. It was almost like a cleansing and a re-birth from death to life as in baptism or a surge of new strength, an impulse of joy, God’s presence. It was indeed an essential element to my life as an artist.
If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.
John 7:37-38; John 1:26; John 4:13-14; John 13:4-8
Psalm 51:1-2; Isaiah 12:2-3; Isaiah 41:18, 20; Isaiah 58:11
©copyright phyllis thomas, 2008
Biblical references to pillars are numerous and often sited as symbolic rather than architectural; extraordinary rather than routine; used for the sacred and as memorials. This painting specifically references the event of the Exodus out of Egypt after the Israelites crossed the Red Sea and spent 40 years walking the long way around toward the Promised Land.
In this account, the pillar of fire was the visible symbol of God’s presence among his people that stayed with them every night. It is not rooted in the ground, but freestanding, going ahead of them to lead and light the way in the wilderness. The phenomenon is considered a theophany (appearance of God) and is a forecast to the grand theophany, the incarnation of Jesus.* The addition of gold leaf in the center symbolizes divinity, strengthening the sense of God’s presence.
I imagine how comforting it was for the community of wanderers to have this presence at night to calm their fears, comfort their mind, and direct their steps. Today I don’t have the same kind of visible symbol for God’s presence, but I have the Word of God to give comfort, calm my fears and direct my path and it is available to me day or night.
Exodus 13:20-22;*Numbers 12:5-6, NIV notes
©copyright, phyllis thomas, 2008
The summer rains, grey skies, billowing clouds, soft or torrential rain that falls almost predictably every day. Rain. It is undeserved, uncontrollable and given by our Creator to everyone, with no preference to race, creed or status. We wait for it every season to wash away dust and pollution, making way for a fresh start. It is life-giving, making sleeping or wilted plants wake up.
As I watch the rain, I see an analogy to mercy. As a daily Christian I need the life-giving restoration that God’s mercy provides. I prepare myself to love the LORD my God with all my heart mind and soul, but when I fail, I admit my failure and ask for His cleansing mercy. It’s between me and God. He comes to me and the invisible miracle of the gospel changes my heart.
See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You, too, be patient and stand firm, because the LORD’S coming is near.
©copyright, phyllis thomas 2004