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Brendan's Voyage


The Gift

Michael Shelby Edwards
oil / dry media / ink 
Available:  Contact artist.  michaelshelbyedwards@gmail.com

I walked away from the Church in my late teens. After a long, difficult journey that included many confusing spiritual detours, failures and devastations, I found myself reborn, to my utter amazement, into the Catholic faith. I had moved to Philadelphia in 2006 to earn my MFA from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. I stayed for two more years after graduation, showing my work in Philadelphia and teaching.
In time, I began to feel a strong call to go home, back to my father’s house. I made plans to move back to Seattle. Just a few weeks before I was set to leave, despite all my prior efforts to avoid her, Holy Mother Church came to me. I found myself on my knees, in the parking lot of an all night diner around the corner from my studio in northeast Philadelphia, at midnight on my 28th birthday, receiving the Sacrament of Confession from a grandfatherly priest whom I had never met before, who seemed to have appeared out of nowhere at that hour. This turn of events I never could have predicted.
My penance was to receive Holy Communion the following Sunday, which happened to be Easter Sunday. I followed this direction and never turned back. This year, Holy Saturday marked the third anniversary of my re-communion with the Catholic Church. Now the Easter season always brings with it the celebration of both my temporal birthday and my spiritual re-birth.
Returning to Seattle, I enthusiastically embarked upon the next part of my voyage as an artist and a person of faith. I went back to my dad’s house where I’d grown up, and set to work converting the old garage building into my new studio. I found clothing and artifacts of my grandfathers’ buried beneath decades of junk, and set them all around me as I worked. I began to invite people back to the studio to work with them there as models, to pray with them and share the faith with them. I lovingly nicknamed the space, ‘The Chapel.’
I visited the St. James Cathedral almost every day during that time. Sometimes I walked for an hour from the studio to the Cathedral for daily mass, then back again to paint. The remaining time I spent contemplating the teachings and treasures of the Church. In a way those walks, and the Cathedral itself, became an extension of my studio, and visa versa. Conviction, The Gift, and Brendan’s Voyage were the first things to be born out of this sacred space. These little paintings bear a special connection to the St. James Cathedral, so is a distinct pleasure for me to see them come to this place, from one ‘Chapel’ to another.
Indeed, this is the first time my work has ever been installed in a Church, a public place of worship. To see painting placed here whispers of a kind of historic justice. As the history of painting in the Western world attests, the roots of painting in our culture lead inevitably back to the Church, her stories and devotions; her architectural spaces. This is as much a sign of homecoming for my own work as it is for painting itself.
I’m curious to see what can happen to painting, and to us, the beholders of painting, when we see it cross over from ‘Inside the White Cube’ of the contemporary gallery space into the softly-lit, intricate interior of the Church. To discover painting in the context of the sacred space invites us to a type of encounter with painting-as-object that usually doesn’t occur in a secular gallery or museum setting. The sacred space encourages an engagement with painting that harkens to sacramental devotion. Here, in the context of the Catholic Church, painting unapologetically invites touch that leads to reverence; contemplation that leads to prayer.
If you have the inclination, I hope you will feel emboldened to say a little prayer as you look upon these paintings. Here, if nowhere else, it would be fitting to do so. Perhaps you will add your prayers to those of St. Brendan, St. Mary Magdalene, or Blessed Fra Angelico, ‘The Angelic Painter,’ patron of Catholic artists. Perhaps you will be inspired to pray for the continued healing and purification of God’s people through the artistic vocation, and for the people whose faces gave these images form.


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