These Contemporary Icons Show the Saints Among Us in a New Light – Baptist News Global

Martin Luther King Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Maya Angelou and Mister Rogers are crowned with halos in the iconography of Kelly Latimore, a Missouri artist whose popular works adorn a growing number of homes and shrines.

Describing these and other inspirational figures as saints illustrates that manifestations of the divine are not limited to ancient settings, Latimore said. “I’m always looking for ways iconography can be used to shed light on the different ways Christ is prominently displayed in the world and in all of our communities.”

“Good Samaritan”, by Kelly Latimore

In other pieces, Latimore incorporates familiar biblical events and characters into modern clothing and settings, such as the Good Samaritan helping a victim of the Flint, Michigan water crisis, Jesus portrayed as homeless modern and Mary, Joseph and the child Jesus represented. as contemporary refugees and asylum seekers.

Latimore says he employs the icon style for these and other renders because it does more than just present images of important people and situations.

“Any art can create more dialogue, but icons help us look at God in a new way and help us see ourselves and our neighbors in a new way. Icons put symbols together in such a way that they are beautiful, and you can easily understand what is going on.

As Orthodox Christians have long known, icons also invite viewers into an adoring relationship with the sacred, he said. “Icons can be revered and help us see the sacredness of everyone. In their traditional sense, icons can guide us in thought, word and prayer.

Another quality of iconography is its ability to make viewers contemporary with their subjects, said Robert Black, rector of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Salisbury, North Carolina. We are part of something that continues to unfold.

Robert Black

Black Parish commissioned and installed two 5ft by 7ft Latimore Icons, one featuring the Transfiguration of Christ, the other depicting the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Both were hung on the back wall of the shrine and dedicated earlier this year.

Although the works generally follow the Orthodox format for these two biblical events, both also differ significantly from most Western-influenced stained glass depictions.

In other words, the characters have dark skin. “’The Transfiguration’ exalts the Jewishness of Jesus. We wanted it to emphasize the Jewishness of Christ and our faith,” Black said.

The other room features people of different races, genders and ages wearing contemporary or ancient clothing and gathered around a table as they encounter the Holy Spirit.

“We wanted people to come into the church to find someone like them in this picture.”

“We asked Kelly not to feel constrained by traditional depictions of Pentecost,” Black said. “We wanted people to come into the church to find someone like them in this picture.”

St. Luke’s contacted Latimore after investigating its stained glass windows following the death of George Floyd and the ensuing social unrest, he said. “We were in conversation with African American leaders at the time and realized that if they walked into St. Luke’s and saw our stained glass windows, they would say, ‘This is a white people’s church.’ At the end of our study, we confirmed that we had a lot of characters that seemed to come out of 17th century France.

Icons commissioned by St. Luke’s

Since the icons were hung on the back wall of the sanctuary, the church receives frequent visitors, including foreigners, who come to see the works.

“The icons are quite large and the colors are vibrant and radiant, and they remind me of the wonderful diversity of the body of Christ and that these are living traditions,” Black said.

Latimore, 36, was a part-time landscape and portrait painter living and working in an intentional Christian farming community when he was asked to create an icon representing the spirit of ministry.

“It was called ‘Christ Considers the Lilies.’ It was a good first try. The lines were a bit shaky. Jesus is almost surprised that the lilies are in his hands. That was in 2010,” he explained.

But the Ohio community adopted the icon, which became part of its visual identity. And it wasn’t long before other members were asking for custom icons.

This sparked an awareness of the spiritual power of icons, Latimore said. “Iconography can be a benchmark for the thought, prayer and, above all, the action of a community.”

La Sagrada Familia by Kelly Latimore

The 2016 election year also propelled Latimore iconography forward. “There was this rise in the country of a lot of anti-foreigner and anti-refugee rhetoric, and that was really troubling to me.”

In response, he painted a picture of a modern version of the holy family as refugees fleeing through the desert. “That image – ‘La Sagrada Familia’ – blew everything up,” added Latimore, who said he was primarily involved with the Episcopal Church.

He added that he considered himself to be a painter of icons, rather than one who “prays” them or “writes” them in the traditional sense of iconography. “I’ve always considered it painting because that’s really what it does.”

Today, Latimore iconography ranges from church-commissioned images such as Christ on the Throne or Jesus as Good Shepherd, to social justice themes that may or may not evoke scriptural scenes or settings.

In “The Good Neighbor”, an African-American woman is the Good Samaritan who serves clean water to a black man and victim of toxic water in Flint.

“This one came from a group pastors involved in the Flint water crisis who thought I would paint a picture of how people in power hurt their neighbors,” the artist explained.

“Jesus Breaks the Gun” by Kelly Latimore

“Jesus Breaks Rifle” was a response to several high-profile shootings that culminated in the massacre of Texas school children in May. “After the Uvalde shooting, I thought how sad it is that we protect guns on children,” he said.

Icons can show individuals and communities how to respond to tragedy, he added. “There is this need now in the church for new representations of God and Christ in images that will move us forward and lead to change.”

Depicting Jesus and others in scripture in darker skin colors is another change Latimore said he tries to inspire through his iconography. “In America, especially in our sacred art, we have encased Jesus in a single image, a blue-eyed white representation of Jesus. But there is a growing conversation in the church around saints of color and more accurate portrayals of Jesus as a Middle Eastern man.

Latimore added that he is also pushing back the tradition of what and who is considered a saint and how they are chosen as such.

Kelly Latimore

“For me, in the church for the first 1,000 years, it was the local congregations and the people who chose the saints and the people they knew who had lived lives of love and compassion and cared for the poor and sick.”

“Mom”, by Kelly Latimore

Icons in which Desmond Tutu, James Baldwin, Flannery O’Connor, John Lewis, Fyodor Dostoevsky and Fannie Lou Hamer are adorned with halos intentionally contradicting the control that religious hierarchies currently have over sainthood, he said. “These people showed us something about what it means to be Christ in the world. They are physical representations of God’s life in the world. They also show us that miracles are not something in the clouds, but are expressed when someone loved where it hurts and created communion and love in the world.

And that is precisely the role of icons, believes Latimore.

“My greatest hope for my work is to create a dialogue around sacred art. Is it just glorified wallpaper, or could it be something that galvanizes us into thought and action? How can we bring more art into our spaces to create more conversation, especially with the tougher topics unfolding in our world? »

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