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Eyes Are Windows and Windows Are Eyes

Eyes are windows for the soul, they say, and I do believe it. Some eyes beckon you in, and there is reality in the playfulness or life they display. The cornea of the eye is colored beautifully, a testament to divine light, which in its purity scatters all colors. Of course there are eyes that deceive and eyes all murky with the taste of darkness, the evil they have committed, but I’m leaving that thought alone, in favor of my hopeless optimism.

Windows are much like this. I have always loved painting windows. At one point, I was known for painting windows.

Now I have returned to it with this painting of a window on the famed island of Iona, off the coast of Scotland. Iona is famous as one of the most spiritual places on earth. I painted this window recently that called to me from the photos we made during our trip and walk over the grounds about five years ago. Formed from the oldest rocks known, it was once reputed as filled with stone circles of pagan influences. The island’s early name referenced the Druids before Christianity arrived on its shore. Columba, who founded a monastery in Ulster at 25, traveled 15 years in Ireland, preaching and establishing schools and monasteries. When he insisted on keeping a copy of a psalter belonging to the scriptorium, supposedly a bloody battle ensued. According to other sources I read, Columba murdered a man, much like Moses, and was thus banished from his beloved island so far that he could never even see it, and that took him to Iona. I like that story best, so even if it’s myth, I’ll hold onto it.

In any case, with 12 men, he landed and established a center which when we were there, had burgeoned to massive proportions of buildings, outbuildings and nunneries. Of course, they were in varying stages of ruin and repair. The nunnery, where I’m 98 percent sure the window came from, was absolutely gorgeous. How they did all that on an island is the question of a lifetime. The graves were guarded by the most gorgeous Celtic crosses one has ever seen. For some time the Book of Kells, a famous illuminated manuscript, was kept there. Royal burials developed–and include four Irish, eight Norwegian, and 48 Scottish kings–including Shakespeare’s Macbeth. From Iona the Christian faith spread far and wide through the Ionian monks.

Iona is no small deal on the spiritual horizon.

It was here that a standing stone, Lia Fail, the coronation stone of the High Kings of Ireland, was said to have been brought in by Columba as a travelling altar, interesting, as one of the legends of the Stone (Stone of Scone) was that it had carried the Jewish ark of the covenant for 40 years in the wilderness. Also interesting because this stone also figures in my novel, a work of gothic fiction, Stone of Her Destiny, for which I am even now painting what I hope and imagine to be the book’s cover, its debut projected for soon.

Well, from the Stone of Destiny on the Isle of Iona, I point to the stone which surrounds the window in my painting, “Sacred Ruins.” (link) I love the very archaic nature and roughness of the stone, its nooks and crannies which decry the making of slick beauty alone. Let me work this out on paper. I am a proponent of beauty in art. My UNC-Chapel Hill sculpture professor made friendly mockery of me for this, “Joanna thinks art—should be beautiful.” And I do. However, I do not subscribe to slick beauty, like every stroke must be a masterpiece itself. I think there should be random strokes, rough strokes. I think there is beauty in rough terrain, jagged rocks, not just the misty cloud transitions. Beauty in the unexpected colors, the whites trapped beside dark grey. I love the depth of the rock they used, the creativity with which they alternated shapes that accentuated the right section of the window and fitted them together without relying on the knife for beauty of the same size and proportion.

Rough beauty. Broken glass. Themes all through my artwork. The broken. Partial darkness lying beside the prisms of glass which transfer light. Such truth in the juxtaposition. Yes, my aunt taught me about writing letters and how to avoid revealing myself too much in them. She told me to watch out for juxtaposition. So that is now what I am doing, juxtaposing light and dark. Truth and lies. Smooth and rough. Reflective and absorbing. Earth colors and heavenly colors. And exposing who I am and what I love.

For me, these windows I found in Iona are terribly significant, and I will definitely do a series in them. For me, they are the eyes of the soul of a people, in this case, Irish and Scottish people of faith. They are the eyes of those who have gone before who admit to the struggle, the shipwrecks, the wrong, the repentance, the good, the lights which shine in pastel pinks and blues in spite of the gaping holes–for all time.

Nothing is as exciting for an artist as the last thing she worked on. That’s why sometimes I fail to see a few things not put in, because I’m seeing my own vision and can’t yet separate it from the product  turned out. Not bringing the contrast up to where it would have maximum effect is one thing that results. My latest piece, Sacred Ruins, a broken window in one of the mission buildings on the Isle of Iona, was finished at the beach. I had it photographed, cataloged, ready to enter big shows. But then I had to adjust by adding color, and then a few more color washes , until every pane of glass glowed. I believe intensifying and saturating worked, and am pleased with its increased impact.

Iona as a place tops the list for spiritual tone and calls Scots, Celts, Irish, Christian, pagan, and new agers scattered abroad to pilgrimage there among Celtic crosses and thoughts left on tombstones by St. Columba and his monks.

In my painting you see the stones used for centuries to build sacred and private structures, the encasement of the window, the metal work supporting the arched window, and the panes holding tightly past slings of fortune, surviving centuries of neglect. Mirrored in the window are clouds shining beside darkness inside cracked glass, shapes enlivening imagination, a heart, a board, fanciful figures, perhaps. One feels the spirits of those passed on, the mystery and solemnity of dedicated devotion.

I wanted you to feel the rough hewn rock, the lumps, gravel passages, rub your hand over sand. I wanted you to look heavenward at the grace of the new day reflected in glass no matter how aged, cracked, or broken. I wanted you to see the jagged edges of glass that bespeak danger, story, hundreds even, and if you are as fanciful as I am, hark back to the murders St. Columba committed that ended in his exile.

I have just entered Sacred Ruins in a watercolor show, so we will see what comes of it. Thank you for following my creative pilgrimage.

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