I’m excited to share a new name for the studio that has taken root here in Alberta: Red Earth Icons.
When the studio moved, I knew it would be time to change its name. Conestoga refers to a particular place—one that has inspired me as an artist for the last 20 years. So much of what I’ve created over that time finds its roots in the inspirited world I found just outside my studio’s doorstep. While I cherish every moment and adventure in that place, it’s no longer where I’ve been called to be, so a change reflecting that is timely.
Over the past few months, while I’ve been busy building, unpacking and setting up my new studio space outside the city of Red Deer, I’ve had time to ponder what name would be best suited for this new studio. I thought about naming it after the new place where I am or, perhaps, after a particular saint whose special intercession I seek each morning. Both of these were good, but neither named the heart of where I had been called, either.
As I’ve been setting up the new studio space, again and again, it’s been the unpacking of red earths and ochres that has given me a powerful experience. I’ve found that each one is especially dear to me in its memory, hue and existence. In setting up a couple of bowls along the shelve where I pray, these local colours took centre stage and especially drew my attention. It’s given me pause for thought …
I wonder about red earth being the primary colour in iconography. In every icon, we witness God become man in Jesus Christ in all its pigments through grace. But, from time out of memory, red ochres have always been connected to the divine in mankind’s understanding (for example, as I learned while I was in San Diego, its the trickster coyote who dabs the landscape of the Luiseño people with red gabbros as he runs away with the creator’s heart.) Why such an understanding of “heathen” gods can be pertinent in Christian iconography is best revealed in the beautiful words of Origen of Alexandria (†253), “In the Light of the Gospel, all things become Gospel.” And so, I believe we can be blessed to see such a witnessing to God in red earth across time and cultures as likewise becoming Gospel for the iconographer.
However, the phrase “Red Earth” also embodies the idea of pilgrimage for both ancient and personal reasons. I remember an elder from the Upper Similkameen Indian Band showing me the old buffalo hides that had been brought and traded for their beautiful ochre centuries ago when I visited the Vermilion Bluffs in BC. Likewise, all of the red ochres I have on my shelves are interwoven for me with the memory of long journeys and adventures—into wildernesses and up mountains—to collect each of these handfuls of the earth for the studio.
In changing the studio’s name to Red Earth Icons, I’m affirming the central role that iconography plays in my art-making and witnessing that my artistic practice is now entering a pilgrimage of sorts. In this next step of my journey, I wait with anticipation to see what will be revealed in my work.