As an artist and a Christian, I consistently struggle with what to do with my time. What should I be pursuing, how can I love the people around me?
My motivation to create does not flow directly from Biblical texts. As friends and mentors encourage me to evangelize or lead a Bible study, I feel insufficient telling them I have to make time to write, to take photographs, to spend time doing nothing but staring at the ceiling, watching the light crawl around. I can’t back my actions up with a quick interpretation of a gospel text. I struggle to communicate why I believe God wants me to write letters on a page.
Mako Fujimura begins to answer that question. He is a Christian as well as a painter, a writer, a thinker, and more. He imagines and details how his art springs forth from his faith in his new book, Art+Faith. He practices a Japanese technique of painting known as Nihonga; he calls it slow art. He crushes minerals: gold, platinum, malachite, azurite, cinnabar… He allows them time to dry; he slowly layers them onto a canvas, sometimes 80 to 100 times, trapping light between the layers of paint.
His method embraces brokenness and death, acknowledging them as the path towards life. Art requires something to be broken in preparation for a resurrection. We introduced Mako’s Kintsugi workshop this Easter season; Kintsugi repairs broken pottery with gold; the broken is restored into something more beautiful. The remarkable symmetry between Kintsugi and Jesus’s resurrection prompted us to offer a Kintsugi workshop. Vesper Stamper trained under a Kintsugi master, and then led us in a workshop this past Eastertide.
A few All Angels folks were able to experience Mako’s work, exhibited in a gallery in Hopewell, New Jersey, not far from his home in Princeton. The gallery exhibited works that haven’t seen much sunlight. We were gifted with watercolors, silkscreens, and paintings formed from his traditional style. Ki-Seki: Candid in May captured my attention in the space. A world of diverse textures and colors circle around. A tree with blossoms can be seen in the center of the canvas, but abstract expression defines the piece. It’s composed of mineral pigment, gold, silver, platinum, and oyster shell on kumohada paper. The effect of Mako’s Nihonga practice was becoming clear. The painting was revealed slowly over time; new shapes, new forms, new movements. As I approached or stepped back from the painting, it danced in front of my eyes. It seemed to be hopping all over the wall, excited to be alive. I made a promise to myself to slow my life down. To find these paintings in the world around me. To care about how I do things, rather than be absorbed in rushing them to completion.
Mako pleads for this approach to life in his book Art+Faith. A number of parishioners have discussed this book through Eastertide. As I read the book I found out how to read it. It asks to be sat with, meditated on. Charging through with your head down to claim credit for the scalp of finishing it will leave you frustrated. My epiphanies come when I turn back the pages to re-read. When I hop between chapters, reflecting on the complex weaving of Mako’s thoughts.
In the book Mako wrestles with how we deal with our broken world. N. T. Wright, a prominent Anglican New testament scholar, writes in the forward, “We have here [Art+Faith] a remarkable collage of biblical exegesis and interpretation, dialogue with artists and poets, reflection on the horrors of the modern worlds, musings on the Holy Land, deep visible roots in the Japanese traditions of art, and the sense of a personal journey undertaken in humility, with weeping and worship never far from one another.” Culture wars and trauma and political decay and we are stuck, stuck, stuck. Mako discusses a path forward for Christians; he asks us to revive our imaginations as an inherent tool to usher Christ into the world. He thinks about the new creation and how our hope in the New Creation (a past, present, and future reality) can guide us as we live on planet Earth.
Mako plunges into theology, providing rigorous exegesis to compliment his wisdom gained by years of experience in painting and creating. He rejoices in the excess God had provided to us, continually reminding us of God’s promise of the New Heavens and the New Earth. Jesus “invited the New Creation” and Mako hopes we can live in the abundance of that reality. He reminds us that “God does not mend, repair, and restore; God renews and generates, transcending our expectation of even what we desire, beyond what we dare to ask or imagine.” This, he suggests, is a theology of making and the fundamental calling of all people.
I highly recommend sifting through his website: https://makotofujimura.com/, or watching some mini documentaries made about him: https://vimeo.com/16501697.
We are grateful and excited to welcome Mako to preach this coming Sunday, May 30th!