This August Pope Francis’ prayer intention is for Artists – That artists of our time, through their ingenuity, may help everyone discover the beauty of creation.
My name is Rachel Alem and I am a Catholic artist.
I draw on the tradition of imagery that has grown over more than 2000 years of Christianity. My work is universal and can be understood anywhere in any period of time since Christ. It is an amazing way to work.
Not that I’m some sort of weird purist, it’s just that it is straight-forward, long-lasting, and looks fabulous. (oil painting gives me a headache – literally!)
I discovered my vocation as a Christian artist and Iconographer by trial and error. I was obstinate and despite having little skill as a child I just wouldn’t stop trying to learn the mastery of my own hands. I deeply desired to create things that had meaning. I wanted to make beautiful things.
This came through the breakdown of my parents marriage and the misery of my inability to love. When I was 14, God intervened in the form of catechesis in my parish and a promise: that Jesus could truly free me from my hatred and set me free to love in union with him. It has taken a long time – 25 years so far.
If what is in one’s heart is what one speaks, how much more does one’s heart affect what one can sing or paint? As I discovered the reality of Jesus Christ and his love, the only thing I could ‘speak about’ was the beauty of Christ.
Cardinal Ratzinger in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy summed up art in his chapter “A Question of Images”. In essence if you believe in Christ, you believe in the Incarnation – that God seeing our desperate misery entered into everything that he is not – time, limitation and death – to bring us into the fullness of him who is love itself.
In other Abrahamic religions there is a total ban on imagery. God is infinite, sublime, totally beyond our understanding. And so He Is. But since Christ intervened in time, took on flesh, died and rose again, we can very definitely draw pictures of him. In fact we must. They announce the reality of the Incarnation.
Plus God knows who we are. We are limited and finite and we have a desperate need to see the one who loves us. Like the photographs we keep of our family and friends, we need pictures. As an artist my work is necessary. Like St Thomas we need to touch Jesus to be able to believe.
So this is what I do, as best I can.
I paint onto wood and cloth and paper. I can paint as big as a wall on cloth or directly into the plaster in fresco.
I can work in miniature and decorate hand-lettered pages in bibles.
I can make stained glass and work in ceramics.
I can sew and embroider. I can break up marble and make mosaic.
I can paint onto wax candles – which is very helpful to be able to decorate the Paschal candle for Westminster Cathedral (so far 2011 to 2017)
Turns out Catholic art has the greatest, deepest meaning that everyone needs to see.
Do not be afraid! Your God is coming to help you!
And that God, St John tells us, Is Love.
What is more beautiful than that?
Rachel official website: www.rachelsicons.com
All images copyright Rachel Alem, 2017.
Free to download from www.flickr.com/photos/rachelsworks. Please cite the artist, Rachel Alem as author and let her know you have used her work: firstname.lastname@example.org