by Julie Gross
A recent graduate art student was contemplating the ideas set forth in the Bible. As he pondered the depth of the mysterious mind of God he reached for his plenty pack of chewing gum, unwrapped a thin stick of refreshment and carefully folded it into his mouth. As his thoughts were preoccupied with spiritual wonder, he unwrapped and chewed on several more pieces of gum until a sizeable mass became glued to the interior of his cheek. He looked down at the shiny golden wrappers accumulated at his feet and was moved by their simple gilded beauty. Another man happened to pass by and chided him for being a litterbug, but the student said, “Rejoice with me, I have just made art.” Artist Stephen Watson has learned that the Bible is full of good art making ideas.
Smell & See That the Lord is Good is Stephen Watson’s exhibit of biblically inspired contemporary art at Sojourn Community Church Midtown campus. The allusion to the gum wrappers is an actual piece in the show titled
consisting of a 46” diameter panel covered in gold foil wrappers. Watson created this “eye candy” to try and answer the precarious role pleasure plays in the Christian faith, even the nonsensical pleasure like eating candy.
Watson states, “Art and Christianity are not easy companions.” He doesn’t expand on this thought, but I would assume he is speaking about contemporary art and its disdain of making art solely to communicate religious ideas like that of the Renaissance. It’s no secret contemporary art can be difficult to interpret and sometimes to even like, so add the weight of conceptually conveying biblical teachings to viewers with preconceived notions of Christianity and you can understand the crux of the matter.
Although Watson graduated from the University of Alabama as a painter, he is a conceptual artist through and through. He states, “I do not think about how I will create an artwork until I know why I will create it.” His piece Plot Twist for Mutts III is a great example.
Four different colored window blinds are affixed to white canvas panels. The construction is simple and could easily be mistaken as common window coverings. Conceptually, the piece speaks to many different ideas. The colors are derived from the old Sunday school song, “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” The chorus of this song is “Red, yellow, black and white, All are precious in his sight,” and side-stepping any debate of its political correctness, Watson has chosen these colors to represent every color and race in the world like the song suggests. The “mutts” are the Gentiles meaning everyone who isn’t Jewish. The Bible says that Jesus deemed Gentiles equal with the Jews, which went against Jewish beliefs. Watson states, “This revelation is the plot twist of all plot twists,” making this statement pair quite nicely with the physical twisting action of opening the blind. Conceptually, this is a very sound piece. It’s also worth mentioning that there is another Plot Twist for Mutts on his blog site done in 2013 that shows the window blind askew in such a way that it resembles a bird’s wing or possibly an angel’s wing. It’s stunning in its imaginative simplicity.
Watson has also installed several pieces of spice art, which is the “smell” part of the exhibit. He calls these Fragrant Locations and made them to look like “targets, arrows or pins on a map” to mark the presence of holiness. The designs are visually pleasing and the fact that they are composed of ordinary cooking seasonings, such as salt and pepper, parsley and oregano, and cinnamon and chili powder, is also intriguing and more than likely a painstakingly slow process.
It’s refreshing to see an artist with Christian convictions working in the contemporary art world. For Stephan Watson the Meaning may come from THE Message, but the art can easily be appreciated by a wide range of audiences and faiths.