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Faith in Art

Art and church can be integrated creatively. Three artists with three styles talk about the way art can play a vital role in church.

(Top) The Juggler, from Tughans "Dreaming of Lions Suite," depicts a journey from prison to freedom. (Bottom) Themes of spiritual conflict and the quest for deliverance are woven into Tughans' The Gates.

Let Them Hear by Petra Zantingh, depicts the Gospel being blown across the world by the Holy Spirit. The work was commissioned for the Chicago offices of The Back to God Hour.

James Tughan

Oakville artist James Tughan feels called to help the church understand the vision of how art can make a valuable contribution to the Christian community. Mr. Tughan believes churches can support artists by involving artists at the leadership level and appreciating the gifts artists have.

He is quick to note that artists have to integrate themselves into faith communities, but to do so "artists need to become accountable to community, to learn about pastors' lives, and get used to working as part of a team, not just as individuals. As artists we have to understand our own language: how do we see, think and explain ourselves?"

By articulating these things artists can play a vital role in the church by "reflecting the richness of the world God sees" and "speaking to injustice and pain. The Bible is 80 percent picture language, and artists understand the aesthetic language used by David or in the Book of Revelation."

Mr. Tughan's faith influences his art in many ways. "I discovered really knowing God through experiencing difficulty early in life psychologically. Art was therapy for me, although I didn't put it all together until I was in university. I was encoding my life into art from my emotions." His faith gave him the ability to see art as a community language and he credits the Lord with managing his career while he was self-employed for 30 years. The Lord gave him a prophetic vision that led to the enormous project "Dreams of Lions" which takes up more than 100 feet of wall space. The highly detailed, monumental work took four years of drawing.

Petra Zantingh

Hamilton's Petra Zantingh works on both design and fine art. Her most recent work, "Let Them Hear" was a corporate commission for The Back to God Hour's offices in Chicago. The Back to God Hour broadcasts the Gospel in nine languages via radio and television, and Ms. Zantingh worked with the theme "He who has ears to hear, let him hear" (Matthew 11:15), to capture the values of her client. She typed the text on a computer, laid it out in a linear manner, and then shows it being blown across the world by the Holy Spirit. "As the Word of God gets into people's lives, it doesn't stagnate but continues to move, and I have shown this by the textural twirls on the canvas." The exquisite mixed media work is colourful and dynamic and at five by ten feet, is very large.

Another recent commission was for someone leaving Hamilton and includes a picture of the Hamilton skyline. It is titled "As the Father Has Sent Me." It too is a mixed media piece, made from encaustic, oil and a photo.

"I feel like my art is a calling I have felt since I was young. Aesthetics are an important part of the world, and we need to incorporate visual art as much as possible. All visuals should be as important to us as they are to God. I feel very spiritual when I paint, and I pray as I work," Ms. Zantingh explains.

As the chair of Re-Create, an open studio for street-involved youth, Ms. Zantingh shares her faith and passion and introduces art to young people. She organized a well-received show of the youths' art at her church, First Christian Reformed in Hamilton, and is looking for a larger space for the program in the fall.

Petra Zantingh and her mixed media piece,

As the Father Has Sent Me.

As well as her work with youth and her teaching at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ms. Zantingh works "to gently lead people to the arts" to encourage Christians to integrate art into their churches. She encourages worship committees to make resources available to involve artists of all levels and to consider church space holistically, taking into account light, space, and even carpeting in the process. As an artist herself, she networks with other Christian artists to strengthen their community and believes local artists should have group shows that include artists with fewer pieces and various styles and media. One of Ms. Zantingh's most recent shows was in her hometown of Chatham, and more of her work can be seen at

Rob Roi

A lot of activity goes on each year in Rob Roi's Copetown studio. The printmaker does a large volume of his work in the winter, producing approximately 40 prints on a particular theme during that season. The influence of Mr. Roi's faith is evident in his many works examining persons and events of the Bible. Creating both linoleum block and mono prints, Mr. Roi has completed series on many themes including: Jesus the Man, Jesus the Christ; Parent and Child; and Angles of Angels examining both biblical and popular images of angels. The print The Face of God is from the latter series and is a mono print.

Mr. Roi, who has a Master of Fine Arts, also curates the gallery in the sanctuary of St. James Church, 137 Melville Street, Dundas, Ontario. After a fire 27 years ago, the congregation, which included an art committee, envisioned "a flexible, movable church" open to the arts. This goal was achieved with a sanctuary with details like moveable chairs instead of pews. The space now serves as a forum for monthly art shows and jazz concerts.

The Face of God

The community welcomes artists from outside the congregation and some come from out of town to show their works. Unlike most commercial galleries, the church doesn't require artists to frame their work for a show, nor does it take commission. Because of the enormous popularity of this unique opportunity, the artists usually book two years in advance and are responsible for their advertising, invitations, insurance and the opening reception.

Mr. Roi himself exhibits at the gallery every two years, usually around Lent. He titled his show for the 2006 Lent season Women of the Bible. As with his other works, Mr. Roi has done a lot of research to create the images in these prints. His next series will be on birds and will emphasize colour and form more than "the economy of line" of many of his earlier works. To contact Mr Roi, call St. James Church, (905) 627-1424.

How you can help

• Encourage artists to join worship committees or fill other leadership roles
• Support committing church resources to include the arts
• Examine your church's physical space for opportunities to incorporate visual art either permanently or with changing shows
• Attend art shows and learn about the work
• Host an art show at your home or church or invite the artist to speak on current works
• Invest in a piece of art for your home or faith community
• Donate art supplies to Re-Create at the Living Rock, 30 Wilson Street, Hamilton

Sarah Lampson is an art lover and writer who lives in Hamilton, Ontario.

Originally published in Beacon, March/April 2006.




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