Symen van Donkelaar, The Washing, 2020, Egg tempera and gold leaf on wood, Private Collection, Santa Barbara, California.
Symen van Donkelaar, The Fiery Furnace, 2021, Egg tempera and gold leaf on wood, Private Collection, Papillion, Nebraska.
Symen van Donkelaar, St Mary the Guide, 2019, Egg tempera and gold leaf on wood, Private Collection, Conestoga, Ontario.
Symen van Donkelaar, St Anthony the Great, 2019, Egg tempera and gold leaf on wood, Private Collection, Waterloo, Ontario.
“If good art is about making the everyday strange, then sacred art is about making the everyday strangely holy.”
Symeon van Donkelaar offers a vision and experience of a strange holiness in his artwork. In it, the world’s perspective doesn’t conclude at a vanishing point but resolves across the multiple points only found in eternity. The saints become monumental in their compact proportions, appearing in storied strength. A saint can hold a building in her hand lightly and with ease or can appear in a single moment in a multitude of places. However, in such a strange vision of holiness, the reality of the unseen world and the mysterious workings of the Spirit of God is honestly depicted for us to meditate upon.
In the Christian tradition, sacred art is centred on Jesus Christ. He is the Son of God, making the whole cosmos in the beginning. In the fullness of time, he was miraculously born of the Virgin Mary and on that day, heaven and earth were joined. The universe has now become animated by God’s Holy Spirit. As a result, and through faith, we now are called to see every person and place as a unique revelation of God.
Symeon’s painting style is as unique as that understanding of reality. In it, people and events are revealed as radiantly illumined by their Creator in swaths of colour, contrasted like puzzle pieces. Clothes become geometry patterns and lines are bold and calligraphic. Symeon’s style of abstraction offers engaging simplicity—one that is captivating in its resolution of complexity.
The subject of each artwork comes from the holy scriptures and holy traditions of the Church, both East and West. However, Symeon’s belief that the creation of art is part of its vitality has resulted in his painting from the local land. To build the wooden panels of each piece, trees are harvested. To have bright pigments for paint, dirt and plants are harvested for their colours. Even the studio’s little flock of chickens and beehives plays a part by providing a binder for its paints and substance for its varnishes.
Day by day, Symeon’s work continues as a full-time artist in the faith that God will provide everything needed for his family and his sacred art. It is a labour of love blessed by a community of supporters and patrons. Because of his approach to working with the local land, he is blessed to collaborate with many artists, academics, curators, and scientists—exhibiting and lecturing widely. Symeon’s paintings can be found in homes and churches in Canada, the US, and the UK.