Divinity found in ordinary spaces

By Clyde Davis: Local Columnist

Contemporary iconography might well describe the paintings of Mary Ann Casey, whose work constitutes one-half of the art being shown in the Fort Sumner art exhibit “Sacred Spaces.” Her exhibit partner, Melinda Joy Russ, takes that theme in a different but complementary direction, with photographs focused on details that bring out the holy aspects embedded in the everyday.

Where can you see their work? The Fort Sumner Art Space is located in the Fort Sumner Community Development Corporation, on the left as you go north on the Santa Rosa Highway, about three blocks from the Clovis Road. The show runs through Halloween.

Halloween is the day before All Saints Day. An icon is an image of a saint, generally associated with the Eastern Orthodox practices of faith. Why is that phrase valid for Mary Ann’s work?

Look at this portrayal of baptism in a black congregation, men, women and children, all robed in white. The group is not large, perhaps one family, perhaps a closeup from a larger group. As is often true in spiritually intuitive art (I think I just coined a new phrase), much is suggested but left to the viewer’s interpretation. Perhaps they are in a church, perhaps not. Perhaps they are on a lake. Perhaps they are in that small, unpainted log chapel, surrounded by woodland, a starkly visual photograph by Russ, that is aligned in a complementary position on the wall. (This exhibit is carefully arranged, a fact that has to be applauded.)

In truth, the common thread running through both women’s art is the sacred present in the ordinary. In Casey’s words: “There is a Divineness in all we do, when we surrender our worldly expectations and experience God in our everyday lives. The painting of an icon, a mother holding a newborn, the lyrics of a special song,” all sanctified moments.

Let’s view a photograph, colorful and almost stylized in the closeup, of an old truck in a field. The beauty is in the concentration on the details, revealing something of the soul, the spirit, associated with this truck and its life story. The truck begins a narrative, which will be determined by the viewer. The photographer allows you space to create this narrative.

Men and women stand at the mission gate — at depictions of several mission gates — several bell towers — gathering to worship and presenting their gifts to the Lord. They can be in Florence, Santa Fe or Montgomery, Ala. In fact, the photos and paintings in this grouping come from each of these places.

Why “Sacred Spaces”? You hate to seem obtuse, conducting an interview, but sometimes the answer you think you see is not the real answer.

From Russ : “We both have deeply held spiritual beliefs that we carry moment to moment— not only a Sunday kind of thing; God is the artist.”

It’s my theory that, by the time we reach a certain stage, we have lived not a life, but several lives. Prior to coming to Fort Sumner, Russ lived a life in Troy, Ala., which is one of the many places Casey calls home.

The show itself, “Sacred Spaces,” is at home in the Fort Sumner gallery, but later plans may include taking it to other galleries and art spaces.
For now, however, make plans to visit it on the Santa Rosa Road.