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Cathedral in the Trees | 2020

Short version, to be followed by expanded writings found in the family photo book with Aaron Hufty at First Baptist Church of San Antonio. 

August 2020


Cathedral in the Trees is a painting based on the story of Zakia‘s Jesus invited to dinner and the Ethiopian Eunuch whom Philip spoke with before the unit was baptized based on the story found in acts chapter 8.


 special thanks to Aaron Hufty, Elizabeth Williams and Dr Michael John Trotta. 


I suppose you should start by starting. In this painting you see at the center a phrase “ how am I supposed to know what I am reading if there is no one there to interpret it for me?” These two sentences are both literally taken from scripture as well as metaphorically speaking in terms of asking a question to the viewer who is viewing the painting hanging on the wall. The painting is quite large and positioned on quite a large expanse. The painting is colorful, so the viewer can enjoy the peace for what it is in and of itself or like scripture the reader can look deeper into the meeting. The painting itself is constructed in the time of an international pandemic so perhaps at this time we are all looking within ourselves asking some deeper meaning to all this mess we find ourselves in our families in. Perhaps a mess is too strong a word, regardless we’re definitely asking the question on many people's minds of how a good God allows such a thing to happen. I suppose patients and a disposition of faith in God is necessary at this time. Waiting on the way to work.


To start the painting itself is telling a story. The story of a modern day tax collector or a modern-day Ethiopian Eunuch. This could be a diplomat visiting the city or a city official of our hometown. The setting is creme de San Antonio, on the Riverwalk not too far from the very famous Salina bridge. In the process of this painting I sat with Matt Tulmenson who has a studio at the Millworks and chatted on the nature of painting. The setting of the painting is on any given day. The casual stroll of a board member of the world affairs Council or perhaps a High Up city official video from Latin America or Mexico either or both the Ethiopian Eunuch and the tax collector name is a kiss would have been a very worldly person at their time. During their visit they may stop by Rita’s on the River where the study for this painting was made with water from the San Antonio River. After they enjoyed an agreeable meal they would take a walk on the Riverwalk like the hundreds of thousands of tourists that visit San Antonio perhaps they would see the spire of First Baptist church. Seeing the spire may ask them the bigger questions in life… They may walk in the door. Perhaps it would be a Sunday and they would see the painting cathedral in the trees waiting in the lobby… As they would be visiting, maybe it’s coffee hour and they talk to a parishioner of the story of the painting, trying to understand the metaphor of living waterVery much like the Ethiopian Eunuch was the question to Phillip about what he was reading. Maybe the visitor had read a Gideons Bible in their hotel room not really understanding the full meaning of the scripture they stumbled upon. In a perfect world we would all hope They would find the living water of Christ as any person who is partaking of the holy Trinity and the daily relationship of prayer and devotion to Christ. Perhaps like Zacchaeus we would search for the tree only to have Jesus say come dine With me let’s enjoy a meal together… Perhaps they would grab dinner at your favorite local spot… This living relationship, this living water is what is at the heart of this painting. Four people see Christ in our daily lives. How we act, how we speak and how we tend to the daily rhythm of things.


Some specifics and thought process:


To start there are two canvases: these are two stories of equal size becoming one story. One canvas for the Ethiopian Eunuch the other for Zacchaeus. They are painted on very fine Italian linen, and stretched on Oak stretchers Built by a local craftsmen Of san antonio Mark The Frame Maker.


The nature of a narrative - What is so very special about scripture is that it relates to each one of us on a daily basis. The Bible is not an ancient text it is only historic in nature but a living manuscript. So, in current times scripture relates to us in this kind of way, does the setting of the painting is contemporary and colorful, informed as you will notice there or more than a few things that are oddly specific in this painting.


The color yellow - The bridge, the church, the color yellow to Vincent van Gogh was God himself usually in the form of sunflowers. As Vincent said in his letters to his brother Theo: “Yellow is capable of charming God.” Do you have your will to see the sun in the painting marked as SOL. This is the Spanish word for Sun.  The yellow is reflected in the trees as well as the bridge in the church in the water. The color yellow refracted throughout the entire painting very much like a Stainglass window.


The bridge - This is in current day the Salina bridge as it has become known ... The bridge is a metaphor for the road that the Ethiopian Eunuch was traveling on when Phillip asked him if he needed help interpreting what he was reading. With great joy the unique question Phillip and then quite cheerful he said he has water I need to be baptized. There’s water under the bridge literally spilling everywhere in the painting.


The water - As you can see this is no ordinary water, but water that is very much alive. Living water you could say. The water is based on refraction of light like Abbey Suggers light refraction found in his writings in Gothic architecture. And in particular the rose window found in the Abbey/church of Saint Denis outside of Paris that I myself have visited. This light refraction is a metaphor for how we are to live our lives in a way that brings glory to God in our daily activities like a celebration of life itself. In the expanded book You will see a picture taken by the music minister of First Baptist San Antonio Aaron Hufty. The picture is of a hallway where the painting will be hanging perfectly capturing the metaphor of the light that Abbot Suger was speaking of in his Abbey of Saint-Denis in 1144 AD. 


The cathedral in the trees - The cathedral in the trees started in France in 2015, leading later to Dallas in 2018 on a bench outside of a church under a tree in a conversation with John De Leon of the Millworks studios. Later it would be on a ranch under a tree on a hand hewn bench in 2019 and then In 2020 when my father had to visit the hospital due to some complications. Basically in each one of these instances I was personally looking for something more than encouraging Pep talk or an inspirational message. I was looking for some serious stability in life, basically looking to God and only God for some answers. As I was looking I saw the glory and creation as it is. The tree itself withstood many storms, many dry times and many falls in Winters. A system within itself that needed nothing more and nothing less than what it already had. In my time of questioning in prayer, the prayer of agur Found in Proverbs 30, the book of Job and James chapter 1 that I memorized as a child in the third grade class with Seth Merkens mom gave me some calm. Scripture calmed my questions, much like the Ethiopian Eunuch was inspired by Phillips' words.


The Gothic Arch - You will see this more in the process photos that were on Instagram and Facebook, and in the expanded versions of the writings. The Gothic arch that you can see buried in the trees of the painting is a direct reference to Abbett sugar and his Gothic philosophical dialogue as found in his writings "The Abbey Church of St Denis” and in terms of architectural history. The breezeway where the painting Hans has A colonnade of Roman arches, also at the end of the breezeway is a Stainglass window there is a direct bi product of Gothic architecture and philosophy.


The Dove - The dump is presented on Talavera tile. It has a funny story dealing with my brother's pizza oven that you will see in expanded writings. This of course is the Holy Spirit. The title that is above the dovetail is written by the pastor at First Baptist Church referencing a verse that was selected based on the Holy Spirit and baptism.


The Talavera tiles (and their placement) - The tiles have been coming into the world for some time. Probably about five or six years. I first started using these in 2016 to 2017 in the series of words called “the new emphasis' '. The tiles begin to represent San Antonio itself when I needed it most, to hold onto my home and my roots Of san antonio. I was making a body of work that was to be displayed in New York City at the Sheen Center in lower Manhattan. I was between New York and San Antonio quite a bit, trying to organize a very large exhibition At the All Things Project on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village with 42 artists As well as my own solo show at the Sheen Center.  Thus the necessity to stay tethered to home, even in my own mind. The tiles themselves represent craft in the simplicity found in the common everyday objects. San Antonio has roots in Spanish and Mexican traditions, Talavera tiles are part of the tradition. The tiles bring honor to a craft day society, people that work with their hands. Much like the architect O’Neal Ford would use in Trinity University, A place my father attended ... Or places like the Southwest school of Art and craft, also where my father taught as well as myself. Now the Southwest school of Art. The tiles themselves were placed on a day of celebration at the Millworks even during a pandemic with donuts and coffee! Three generations were present Of san Antonio's… The Hufty Family, The Williams Family and myself as well as a few studios they happened to be around at the time. There was even a young man present who is the fifth in a lineage if Artis (short is Art) as a name! 


The names of the family’s that places tiles:

The Williams Family: 

Artis the 4th, Elizabeth Williams, Artis the 5th and Selah 

The Hufty Family: 

Aaron, April, Rachel, Susannah & Jessica


The day was filled with much joy in the process. The communal context of the whole situation despite a pandemic (if the correct precautions were taken to the fullest) was refreshing to all who were in attendance. 


The light through the window - The light through the window is something of note. The refraction of light through trees and the layers of leaves are taking the same process of adding to the work of Anthony Gowdy in his Sagrada Familia is found in Barcelona Spain as well as Abbett sugar is found in the Abbey/church of Saint Denis outside of Paris. One adding a layer to the other in the form of philosophical construct as worked out in the daily practice Of thought in studio. Much like gardening or like wine making it is as in Artisanal winemaking and not mass production the piece is more of an endurance race than a sprint. 1 foot in front of the other wins the race. Both Gowdy and Sugar were looking for God’s handprint in his creation. As light is quite literally being filtered through creation is an active part of creation very much like the spirit hovering over the waters in genesis 1. When God separated the night from the day. So as we are to look to God for the things that are almost taken for granted, night and day. The passage of time. The Temporal nature of life itself. As Abbot Suger said : 


“Does the whole of the material universe becomes a big light composed of countless small ones as of so many lanterns every perceptible thing man-made or natural becomes a symbol of that which is not perceptible a stepping stone on the road to heaven, the human mind, abandoning itself to the harmony of radiance which is the criterion of terrestrial beauty, finds it self guided upwards to the transcendent cause of this harmony of radiance which is God.”


To me this describes the cathedral in the trees in essence what the Ethiopian Eunuch was looking for. We are the interpretation of Phillip in the baptism of water and what Zacchaeus was looking for and being connected with Christ in the end finding Friendship and love and kindness in something as simple as a meal.


The red square - You will see the red square presented in a number of works, in a word this is the signature of Christ presented in the holy Trinity. The blood of Christ shed on the cross was red. The dominance of the color red in the color spectrum. The cube is on the right side, up or down, but when you unfold it it turns into a cross. The red square is present throughout many of my works over a long period of time.


The musical notes - The notes of music are from Dr. Trotta And his composition is based on the painting. The philosophy of his music and that of the sound of the music or based on the bridge, both philosophically and metaphorically speaking. The notes representing a bridge are found in the painting itself in the Selena Bridge located on the San Antonio Riverwalk. And Dr. Trotta’s Philosophy on the subject has been quite fascinating.


Systems - Lastly do you have a system in place visually speaking. The composition of the painting is hemmed in by four Talavera tiles that set four points. Then there’s a circular composition that is framed by the painting itself as a cathedral in the trees. The trees drink the water to grow in the water beneath the trees offering what is most a necessity In life in South Texas water itself. You can see this in another painting called for water Por Vida both Spanish and English coming together that is located at the Toyota plant in San Antonio Texas in Avanzar Technologies. The sun is part of the whole process with the word Sol that is the Spanish word for sun. The sun is part of the whole process in the simplicity of giving the trees the necessary Photosynthesis for growing. At the heart of the painting you have the bridge, you have the church, you have the bell tower, you have the water of the Ethiopian Eunuch And the tree that Zacheus climbed. In the entire system of the painting you would have what is necessary for life. But in the complexity of life itself and the simplicity of the gospel itself.


In the stories and in the search I hope you find the cathedral in the trees.

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