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Bob’s Art Blog: “Icons” during 3rd in the Burg

What do you get when you combine an “Iconic” art exhibit on a grand scale?

In bygone days, pilgrimages were made as a way of life, generally of a religious nature in their origin and purpose. Two landmark exhibits, mere miles apart, share that commonality.

One exhibit, “Icons in Transformation” currently resides at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Cathedral as part of an ongoing world tour, while the other, “Mamacha Carmen: The Festival of the Lady of Mount Carmel,” is opening for its first public exhibition at the Paper Lion Gallery in Lemoyne.

Both are blockbusters in the sense of the power of art. “Icons” was the focus of Fridays’ 3rd in the Burg, and that exhibit continues through Nov. 3. “Mamacha Carmen” opens at the Paper Gallery in Lemoyne this Saturday, Sept. 28.

There is no more powerful emotion than grief. Love may come close, and there will be those who argue that love is the most all-encompassing emotion. Grief often consumes love in its wake. As it is because of love, grief is so overwhelmingly powerful.

Ludmila Pawlowska worked through her grief after the untimely loss of her mother. She embraced painting contemporary icons, which became a cathartic experience, lifting her out of loss and filling her with a purpose for the rest of her life. Pawlowska, through that grief, found a clarity of vision. The passion for her art transcended her grief, and this passion is her gift to the people far and wide who have experienced “Icons.”

For now, the collection at the Riverfront Gallery (St. Stephen’s) completely envelops the sanctuary as paintings permeate the cathedral’s walls, are prayerfully placed on pedestals, and hang suspended in silence from the ceiling. Surrounded in serenity, the exhibit’s icons inhabit a realm somewhere between Earth and heaven, both of this world and the next.

There is something ever so humbling about entering a place of worship. The experience puts one in touch with the spirituality of life and its greater meeting. Perhaps it’s that presence of place and how we fit into the meaning of the cosmos. It is in realizing that what we do that connects us as vital to the world around us. The sheer size and scope of the works are breathtaking, and the subject matter is inspiring.

Pawlowska’s works of contemporary religious icons focus on the eyes, riveting and revealing both at the same time.

William Shakespeare wrote, “The eyes are the windows of the soul.” The paintings are radiantly revelatory in their range as timeless questions take on a deeper meaning and, within the context of the setting, posit life as a theme of transformation. Born in Russia and a child of the gulag, she was discovered in her youth as a prodigy in art. She advanced through the art schools and ended her studies with advanced classes in Moscow. As an adult today, she lives in Sweden, albeit when she is able to stay in one place as her exhibit travels the world.

The collection has been viewed across European museums as well as cathedrals in the United States. It has played to over 100,000 visitors in Brussels and 70,000 in Dublin, Ireland.

Pawlowska’s style is sweeping at times in its bold use of color incorporating vibrant blue and gilt resplendent in producing pronounced poetry with paint. Her art is a love letter to the past and tradition rendered in a modern 21st century take on 16th century Old World style. Her exhibit entails 136 works, 17 of which cling to the traditional representation of egg tempera technique. Pawlowska’s works use disproportionate measures in their focus as, time and again, the eyes are accentuated, becoming the main focal point. Her interpretations incorporate varied materials (burlap, metal, stone, copper and granite on wood panels). Her color palette reveals that “blue is the color of the sky, red is the symbol of life, gold is the divine light…the light eternal. No matter what technique and colors I use, I still want to go after the eternal, meaningful aspects of painting.”

If paintings could talk, hers would be listening instead to the world around them. The artist stated, “The people do not choose the icons, the icons choose them.”

Placed behind a pedestal is a multimedia collage of fabric folded in such a way that it looks like vines reaching up to the eyes, separated by a metal hasp—in this representation all attention is drawn to the eyes of the portrait. The color red is used effectively in a minimalistic way, as is a vibrant blue giving the effect of a blood spatter reaching to the eyes.

Pawlowska’s works at times focus on the atrocities of war, featuring spent bullet casings that stand out in bas relief, making a two-dimensional work not only thought-provoking but chilling, with a broken cross at the center and the title, “I Hate War.” As a whole, Pawlowska’s “Icons” puts a modern spin on an ancient form of art.  They are transcendent as they provide a tether to mankind’s temporal state here on Earth. Connections to beyond the here and now are solely individualistic and carried within the viewers framework of reference.

Pawlowska’s paintings speak to the silent communique between a daughter and her mother, and that may well be her greatest work of all. Through her reverie, a greater hand came into play, guiding her every step of the way, lighting the path not only for herself but for all those that would see her works of art.

Art can sustain us in time of sorrow. Art can lift us out of the darkness and towards the light. Art can give us hope and imbue us with a sense of peace. Art has the power to transform lives. Amen.

“Icons in Transformation” runs through Nov. 3 at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Cathedral, 221 N. Front St., Harrisburg. Click this link for more information. Pictured above: “Your Face I Am Looking For” and “I Hate War”

“Mamacha Carmen” opens on Sept. 28 at the Paper Lion Gallery, 1217 Hummel Ave., Lemoyne. For more information, visit their Facebook page.

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