Sunday, May 11, 2008


Okay, this painting is a departure from my usual stuff but I am experimenting with a few things right now. I started this piece on Easter, only working when I felt moved. Lo and behold - I finished today, Pentecost Sunday - 50 days later.

One thing I've mentioned before is my love of Byzantine mosaics, icons and all sorts of pre-Renaiassance Christian art. There are strong graphic elements, clear story telling and a directness to them are not found in art much nowadays. I also love how there are symbols common to many of these pieces which help describe people and ideas to the audience that they were designed for.

It wasn't unusual for God to be shown as a hand emerging from a cloud or the Holy Spirit being depicted as a Dove. When looking at a picture of the Disciples, you knew the man holding the key would probably be Peter. People who have halos are usually Saints, Martyrs or Major figures of the Bible.

Since a lot of these audiences were Pagan, so unfamiliar with Christian symbolism, you might find a mosaic of John the Baptist with a little figure holding an urn under the water - this would tell a non-Christian that they were talking about a river. The little figure would be a river god and the urn would contain the source of the flow. These sorts of elements would be not be meant to change the story of John the Baptist but rather be a translation to help the audience understand the scenario.

Although piece above has a lot of contemporary (almost cartoonish) elements, it actually shares quite a few similarities to paintings and mosaics done hundreds of years ago. Pentecost is one of those really interesting stories to illustrate because unlike other events where you can piece together the historic context, this has so many crazy supernatural elements to it, it is very difficult to describe in a two dimensional, frozen moment.

This is where the symbolism and lack of reality come in. By breaking down the elements into little pictograms and tying it together with unifying colours and composition, you can very easily tell the elements of the story. It doesn't matter that there is no background landscape of Jerusalem, no sky or landmarks. Those things are the least important parts of the story.

All you need to know is that the heavens were sending down tongues of fire to the people below - remembering a sermon or the passage in Acts would have a regular believer know that this was talking about Pentecost.

Anyways, long post for a small picture. I guess I got carried away there! Told you I had a slight obsession.

You can purchase this painting here.


Anonymous said...

Wow Michelle...pretty incredible. Have you ever used gold leaf in any pieces as they did in days of old? It's funny that this is what you're working on as I am currently reading "Left Behind" so this is quite a fascinating piece for me.

Ivan Chan Studio said...

Hi Michelle,

Thank you, thank you for the detailed post on the history and symbolism that inspired this moving piece!

A pleasure to read and your art, of course, is a pleasure to behold.

Take care,


Cheryl said...

Ahhh...., now you're talking my language. Just LOVE symbolism and anything spiritual in context. Love too that you made this your own - I like what you call the "cartoonish" style. Takes a traditional historic art form and makes it "Michelle Wiebe contemporary" Good on ya' girl!

Michelle said...

Veronica, I haven't used gold leaf, actually! I don't know if it would work well with acrylics.... anyone know?

Ivan, thanks for your kind words - I got a little carried away with the write up here. :)

Cheryl, thanks! I kind of thought you would like this piece - its so bright!