Sacred Artist Interview: Anne Ierardi

 

I am delighted to be returning to these interviews again after a long hiatus.  I was introduced to Anne Ierardi's art through my work as art editor with Presence: An International Journal of Spiritual Direction. I am grateful to Anne for saying yes to my invitation to share her insights into the connections between art and spirituality with all of you, my wonderful readers.

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Are you rooted in a particular faith tradition? 

I’ve had a marvelous faith journey. The tree of life is still growing. My early roots are in Catholicism influenced by Thomas Merton’s ideas on faith as social action and contemplation. I also studied and practiced Buddhist meditation.

Later as a seminary student I was strongly moved by faith as liberation and relational. I attended a progressive American Baptist church and was ordained in 1989. Since living on Cape Cod, I am active in the United Church of Christ. My desire to integrate art and spirituality has been part of my faith quest. At Emmanuel College, Sr. Vincent de Paul was influential. She lived her faith through her art from painting to designing a beautiful chapel to art education. I was fascinated by the course “Human Bodies in Visual Arts and Christian Thought” given by Margaret Miles at Harvard Divinity School.

What is your primary art medium?

My primary art medium is oils. I began painting in oils in the early 1970’s when I was an art major in college. I also enjoy life drawing and painting. Five years ago I studied traditional Russian icon painting in New York. A few years ago I collaborated with Rev. Nanette Geertz, to illustrating her moving poem on the loss of her 19 year old daughter. After Nan died of breast cancer in 2005, Walking with Grief: A Healing Journey, became a book and a mission to reach out to those in grief. My latest series is Ladies of Jazz, paintings I created listening to the music of my favorite jazz greats including Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, and Dinah Washington.

How do you experience the connection between spirituality and creativity?

Art-making expresses one’s spiritual nature. For me practicing art is a triune process: co-creating with God to make the world beautiful, following Christ to heal and be healed, and finding inspiration through the Holy Spirit to renew the eye and the mind.

All the arts are a truly wholistic process: mind, body, and soul. They give my life joy and meaning. Our society and our religious bodies are broken and we desperately need the healing and transforming power of art. As an artist/minister, I am called to be both visionary and healer. I ponder the words of Jesus: where your heart is, there your treasure will be as I struggle with making a living as an artist.

What role does spiritual practice have in your art-making?

'All my life I have struggled to make one authentic gesture' -Isadora Duncan.

Intentionality and authenticity are keys to right living. Spiritual practices prepare me to enter into a space where I can become an instrument of God. God is one but I am many. I am easily distracted by my own many interests and the complications of life today. Some of my current practices include Chi Kung, praying the Celtic Psalter morning and evening, and writing. I also have creative and spiritual guides who keep me on the right track and a small faith group I attend.

What sparked your spiritual journey?

My early images as a child was the art in Catholic churches especially the stained glass and a ceiling Byzantine fresco of Christ surrounded by lambs. In junior high school, I pasted a picture in art appreciation class of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, a place I someday hoped to visit.

One day I heard a woman preach at my church, The Paulist Center in Boston. I realized trembling that I, too, could have a call. The fulfillment of that call came through the guidance of women priests at my Episcopal seminary and an open lesbian pastor at an ecumenical American Baptist congregation. The faith that grew out of my long coming out process shaped me to live a prophetic witness to a transformative spirituality that cannot be divorced from our bodies, our sexualities, and what Baptists call “soul freedom” – the freedom of the individual person to follow the promptings of their soul. The mystery of Christ’s incarnation into human form, the art of the Renaissance, and the prophetic witness of modern liberation movements are important symbols for me in this journey. My work as spiritual counselor and preacher are places where I put my faith into action.

What sparked your artistic journey? 

Art is a road to self-expression for me similar to my guitar playing. I was unable to be myself at a young age but I was determined to find my true nature and went on a quest to learn from teachers, friends, and masters. As a freshman at a Lutheran college, my art professor, John Solem, showed me paintings of the German Expressionist and I was amazed how my painting had the same intense color and emotion. My art history training and the ability to “see” blossomed during the three months I studied in Tuscany. Unfortunately, it also ended my desire to paint until I moved to Cape Cod where I had wonderful mentors from the abstract expressionist and Hoffman schools. That proved to be a revelation since my senior thesis in college was on “Energy vs. Repression,” contrasting Wilhelm Reich’s psychological theory with Hans Hoffman push and pull theory of painting. My approach, though I was naïve at the time at its not being well-received, was a radical departure from the expectations of the art department. But now in the 1990’s I was actually learning from Hoffman’s students and free to develop from my own path.

Do you have a particular process you use when entering into your creative work? 

Well, I sometimes have to clean my studio or push myself up the stairs to my studio. But, seriously, I would say music and movement are most essential to my artistic process. Once, in a life drawing class as I was hearing the Blue Danube waltz in my head, the instructor exclaimed: “I can feel dancing in your work.” Painting in my studio, I put on a CD. I move and become absorbed in the flow of the music from brush to canvas. This year I exhibited my “Jazz Series” of 12 portraits of jazz singers and abstracts. Rhythm and color are central elements in my work and music helps me access my emotions and open to the workings of the Holy Spirit. In the Icon painting workshops, we listen to Russian Orthodox chanting. We begin our time with prayer and the burning of incense.

How does your art-making shape your image of God?

I am fascinated with the human/divine paradox. Contrast Byzantine art with Renaissance art. See the image of the Archangel Michael and the Centurion detail of the fresco from the Sistine Chapel. Icons are “windows to the soul.” When I beheld “Our Lady of Vladimir” at the San Diego Museum of Art, I felt its transcendent power knock me over. In the Centurion, the man, his humaneness, is the entry into the divine. We are created according to the book of Genesis in the imago Dei, the image of God. Yet, we do not often see ourselves or others in this way. That is tragic.

People want to hang a landscape or still life in their home not a human figure. Frida Kahlo’s unique self-portraits show both a window into her soul, with the terrible suffering of her body from the accident in her youth, and the earthy but mythical joy of life in the flesh, in animals, in fruits and flowers. Our modern society has desacralized the human body and desecrated our environment. As an artist, I search for the primal and transcendent connection that is endangered, the soul wound, human and divine.

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A warm thank you to Anne for sharing herself so freely here.  As usual, there was much that resonated with me. I am especially moved by her connections between the art-making process and the Trinity — as co-creation, healing, and inspiration, the image of "soul freedom," and her reflections on the human body.

You can see more of her work at her website and you can find out more about the book she mentions, Walking with Grief: A Healing Journey and order copies here.

Images from top to bottom:

Candlelight, Ella, Season's End, Canciones, Provincetown Monument, Fog, Sarah, Archangel Gabriel, Centurion.

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