New Year, New Icons

a damaged fresco from the monastery in Mystras, Greece.
a damaged fresco from the monastery in Mystras, Greece.

I am delighted to be back at work, after a break from both painting and teaching my daughter. Over the Christmas and Theophany break, I thought long and hard about how to continue in my work while also being a ‘good enough’ mother, wife, teacher, member of the Church, here in Edinburgh. I almost considered no longer painting, I will be honest, as it is not a question of sitting down for half an hour and pootling about with a paint brush. I have read articles, both inspiring and dispiriting, on the future of iconography within our Faith. At the Orthodox Arts Journal Fr Silouan pointed out the problems inherent in relying on modern digital reproductions of pre-existing Icons. While I am not going to argue for a second that a reproduction cannot be used in both private and community worship – that would be silly – I will agree that once one has seen the complexity and vibrancy found in a traditionally painted icon, using tempera, ground pigment, real gold leaf which dances, shines, lives, one cannot argue that they are no different. It’s rather like – to use an utterly secular example – the difference between a salad of vegetables grown in the Mediterranean sun, bursting with flavour, vitality and complex tastes to the limp, pale and lifeless example of salad encased within two slices of white bread in this country. Technically the same, in reality, very different!

In an ideal world, we would all have handpainted icons in both our Churches and our homes. That’s simply not possible and we work with what we have, we pray that the Holy Spirit works through what we have. By His Grace, reproduction icons can and do convey blessings.

However: I have been given the opportunity, in a small, tiny way, to pass on the baton of traditional iconography in these islands and, thanks to God, many other places. I have seen, first hand, the transformation of a piece of wood, a leaf of gold, a pile of ground stone, into an icon that can live and breathe new hope and joy into the hearts of those who are sent them. I can’t give up, no matter what.

As you know, I keep my costs to a minimum and indeed pay myself less than the minimum wage (not even a ‘living wage’, whatever that means). If you are interested in commissioning an icon, do please contact me. It helps if you know your budget and I can tell you straight away what is possible – buying panels means paying the craftsmen who carefully dry and carve the wood, who spend hours applying gesso and have their own families to support, as well as buying gold leaf, pigments and so on.

With all that in mind, I have a few spaces for icons this year and pray that you will feel able to contact me by email or on facebook to discuss your needs. In the meantime, it is good to be back and planning my tiny work in this corner of our Father’s world.

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