Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Way of the Cross-Interview with artist Anna Kocher Part 1

Christ is Condemned to Death

Anna, please share with us the history of the creation of these amazing paintings.

The Stations of the Cross, or Way of the Cross, is something that I first encountered at a convent called the Instituto de San Lodovico while studying art in Orvieto, Italy through Gordon College. We visited many different churches while we were there and were interested to see the Stations included in the permanent ornamentation of the sanctuaries. I was also able to participate in a Way of the Cross service at the small parish I was attending in the hill town of Orvieto. We met at the church around nightfall walked through the town by torchlight, pausing to remember the different moments of Christ's journey to the cross and to say the appropriate prayers. It was a group of 50-60 people in the most amazing landscape I've ever experienced, and the whole thing was very moving. It's the tradition of the program I was involved in to do a collaborative piece to be left as a gift for the nuns in the convent and the group my semester did bas relief sculptures of each of the traditional 14 Stations, with each student creating one individual Station within an agreed-upon format.

When I returned to the States and began attending the Church of the Good Samaritan, they were very open to the inclusion of artwork in worship in a way I hadn't experienced at other American churches. My husband was for a long time the worship leader of the contemporary service at the church, and he and the priest responsible for the service had made a big point of including many different artistic disciplines in their service. They were the first ones to ask me to do a series based on the Stations of the Cross. I did a series of oil paintings of hands, which were meant to be the hands of Jesus, in different positions that, to me, expressed the different stations. They started in black and white and gradually had more red introduced the closer you got to the actual crucifixion.

The paintings themselves were really not very good, and thankfully I had another opportunity to engage with the subject after having honed my style a bit more. The church always does a Way of the Cross service for children on Good Friday and the director of children's ministries commissioned me to do the most recent series of Stations for the service. I think they were a little stunned when they saw the actual paintings. I had tried to bear in mind, through their creation, that they were intended for a children's service; but it was a depiction of an execution, so there was only so much I could do to tone it down. They did use them for the service, but also realized that they could be used for the wider congregation as well since they weren't strictly "children's art."

Christ is Stripped

Tell us about your style. What is your hope in using this look with very traditional images?

I'm not really sure what I would call my style. When I do work like this, based on scripture or Biblical characters, I tend to think of it as being "nouveau iconography." I don't think that's an actual term, but it's what goes through my mind.
My general hope for my style is that it would subvert the kind of easy imagery that allows you to take for granted that you know the story and what it means. When the way we depict a story gets so old and stale that we know what the images will look like before we even see them it allows the story to become old and stale as well. I try to think around the stereotypical and dig into what seems real to me.

How would you advise people to use these paintings? As art, inspiration, meditation, prayer tools, all of the above?

I would say all of the above. The beautiful thing about art is that so much of its significance is given by the viewer. The artist creates it, but it will mean something different to everyone who experiences it.
If you missed the introduction to the Way of the Cross and artist Anna Kocher, click here!

Also, to see more of Anna's art, check out her website.

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