Threshold

Euro

Once in a while I get an idea in my head and it captures me. This time, I had to do a painting of my thoughts… While wondering the streets if Assisi, Italy in March, I was confronted by many images, all of which converged one day while enjoying a double espresso in a street side cafe. Here I will describe these images.

First, as I took my change from the barista, I looked at the one Euro coin, which has the image of DiVinci’s Vitruvian Man on one side (…named after the architect Vitruvius who talked of the proportions of the human body, which Leonardo quotes in the header of his famous sketch.) Vitruvius wrote,

“…in the human body the central point is naturally the navel. For if a man be placed flat on his back, with his hands and feet extended, and a pair of compasses centered at his navel, the fingers and toes of his two hands and feet will touch the circumference of a circle described therefrom. And just as the human body yields a circular outline, so too a square figure may be found from it. For if we measure the distance from the soles of the feet to the top of the head, and them apply that measure to the outstretched arms, the breadth will be found to be the same as the height …”

Assisi

Second, There is the unending beauty of the ancient hilltop city. From the valley below, you can see the sweeping landscape rise to the centuries old city walls. I had taken many photos of this view, as well as many others of its interior vistas. While sitting in the valley, eating from a block of cheese and a stick of local salami, I decided that this view would be among the first I would paint upon my return to my home studio.

Lastly, San Francesco himself – Brother Sun. There is a very important scene from his life where he stands in front of the Bishop of Umbria, telling him of his desire to be rid of the trappings of this world. Understanding that his father, being the wealthy merchant that he was, Francis was surrounded with fine clothes and many other shows of wealth. His life and values were in opposition to his desire to serve Jesus and the poor by being one of them. He looked at his father and then back at the bishop and began to remove his clothing explaining that he was rejecting his worldly positions and trading them in for a freedom that most of us do not begin to understand. This freedom is both physical and spiritual. There is a great scene from “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” I hope to post here.

Vitruvian man - The OriginalSo, I was drinking my last sips of espresso thinking of all of this, while wondering how I could put this all together in a meaningful way. Below you can see my working out this conflux of images and meaning. Perhaps not exactly the whole meaning, as I am still working some of that out for myself… however, you can see my meager attempts to convey on canvas what I envisioned in that cafe at dusk in Assisi. In this bold self-portrait, there is a sense of humble exposure of myself before God (and everyone else) presenting myself as moving past some of the things I hid behind and the trappings of my past. There is a movement toward being whole seeing that, in my body, I was created to be perfect – we are created to be perfect. (BTW… If you are interested, you can find many fascinating factoids about the original drawing and the perfect proportions of the human body. Do a Google search on “vitruvian man” sometime and see what you find.)

So, this new work is an image of me, as I leave the lessons and inspiration of Assisi behind, going forward to the possibilities of the now and future.

Psalm 139: 13-16
“Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day.”
~The Message

Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.” – Romans 1:20

John O’donohue tells us about “thresholds”…

thresholds… which comes from “thrashing” – which is to separate the grain from the husk. So, the threshold is a place – you move into a more critical, challenging and worthy fullness… So the given world we think is there, and the solid ground we’re on is so tentative, and I think a threshold is a line which separates two territories of spirit… and I think that how we cross is the key thing.

Beauty is about a more rounded substantial “becoming”. When we cross a new threshold, if we cross worthily, we heal the patterns of repetition that were in us, that had us “caught” somewhere. And in our crossing, we cross on to new ground where we don’t just repeat what we’ve been through in the last place we were. So, beauty is about an emerging fullness, a greater sense of grace and elegance, a deeper sense of depth and also a kind of homecoming for your unfolding life. (Interviewed on Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippit)

So beginning with a simple monochrome sketch of the body on a terracotta background. I then added highlights to the body and then copperleaf to the outside of the circle, giving a sort of halo around the entire painting. Then, after being somewhat satisfied with the beginnings of the figure, I began to work in a loose rendition of the Assisi landscape, which I did in about an hour. There’s much more left to do on the background, but I am anxious to get back to work on the hands and head next…

 

BC Man

BC Man

 

Working back and forth between painting on highlights and shadow is giving a much better depth to the figure. I have wanted to do a painting in this fashion since watching Cyn McCurry work on her paintings at CLU last year ( Cyn’s slideshow ). So, I have gone back in and worked a lot on the face and right hands. The figure is much darker than the copper-leaf that I wanted to I do an orange glaze over the copper-leaf, to begin to let it fall back much more and not be so bright. Next I will work on the sky and hillside city of Assisi, but not with much detail.

Brother Sun Head N Shoulders 5 A bit out of focus... oh well

So, never really happy with the reference photo of my face, I had Lucy take some new photos for me. Below is the newest state after the first round of adjustments, with some new shadow work on the figure’s torso….

Rich Face

Now the background begins to take shape with the sky starting to be added and some of the buildings of the city. There will be a few layers, so it will bot end up as bold and bright as it appears now. Once I get the background more worked out, I will get back to work on the hands. I will also take one more shot at bringing out a smile too, as many have requested. :-)

Now having done an initial glaze on the sky to knock it back a bit, here are a couple new close-ups…

Threshold” 36″ x 36″ Oil on Canvas – $5800

The painting “Threshold” is now finished and has already been hung in three galleries.  Thanks for all the encouraging and helpful comments. Keep them coming. You can also read more about this painting in the Ventura County Star in the article called “Nude art up, down, up again on a T.O. Public Wall

22 Comments

  1. I am impressed by your composition describing your process. Your process as shared, illustrates Western Man’s need to experience a rebirth of the ancient and to reconnect with many ideas surrounding the truth: the visible speaks of the invisible.

  2. The Vitruvian Rich — I really dig his knees, but his arms are wimpy. Stretch them out firmly, extending fingertips to edges. He’s got really great configuration — all anatomically correct, am I right? A little too much pubic hair, maybe you can fix that. Although I must say, you have great courage to venture into this realm. Is thou aware of what thou has done? I am thoroughly enjoying the ride!

  3. The amazing creativity of God. He views us, His personal creation without any lenses. So what we know, who we know, what we do with our lives, or what we wear has absolutely no impact on the transendent love God has for anyone who choses to believe in Him. I wonder who we actually dress for everyday as it is. Especially “sunday go to meeting clothes”, and our business and casual garb. I am in love with freedom but with true abondoned freedom comes purpose and structure. This symbol of symetrical order in the frame of open totally exposed honesty is where I want to connect with my God who calls me His child!

  4. Well Rich, you know I love the nudes! I think this is a bold and wonderful move. Sometimes it is a risk to express oneself as an artist. You have chosen to paint the outside of yourself nude to represent a particular journey you are on. Some artists choose to paint the inside of themselves nude showing emotions like the pain of rejection or abandonment or even anger. This is also exposing. It is so important to be true to yourself as you paint. You paint for you, and if other people like it, then that is a bonus. I love the look on your face. You know what happens when a person chooses to become more transparent and honest? It invites others to do the same. So not only is the painting amazing, but your blog about it is eloquent. I was in Italy with you as I was reading it. You know the scene in the movie was so fascinating. Here is this pure man wanting nothing but to forsake all things for the love of God and he was naked in front of the whole crowd, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, but was not in sin. Then you have the crowd, some of whom were richly dressed in their fine robes but the look on their faces exposed the sin of judgment in their hearts. The spirit of religion causes us to be so worried about how things look on the outside but it is inside a man that is important.

    You know Rich one thing that I so appreciate about you is that you are always doing something new. You are always evolving and accomplishing so much. Thanks for letting me be a part of the journey!

    Deb

  5. You look timeless, my friend. In fact, you are timeless. You have an absolutely splendid job in the works with a great concept!

  6. I think the work is beautiful…interesting your wife is a little uncomfortable…I would think she would be proud. People are so funny about nudity, sensual or not…It is beautiful…God created a gorgeous piece or art…enjoy it, be proud of it, own it. Not everyone is 20 and built…and the body is no less beautiful. I have seen 70+ year old couples walking hand in hand on a nude beach…I wanted to cry it was so terrific. They were so secure, so in love…how could anyone object. But as usual I digress…I really just wanted to say how much I liked your paintings…and I read the interview link (Christianity Today)…

    David

  7. It’s great to see that some Christian artists are not afraid to paint the nude! Figurative painters get censored repeatedly for reasons that entirely elude me!

    Good for you, Rich Brimer.

  8. from a friend…

    Sometimes dialouge can create energy that inspires the ebb and flow of the creative spirit. Just like music, or other artwork, or company or comraderie… I admire what you are trying to accomplish in your life. You have honor and genuine desire to do what is right, while trying to go within….it is not an easy path and I wish you all the best blessings and occurrences as you work it out…

  9. There is nothing more gorgeous than the wobble filliped into the mind by spiritually tensed art. This piece, this vitruvian man as both self and as emblem of the operation of God-in-man, as sublime hypothesis of ecce homo and ecce ipse, effulges in that category. It immediately (and I’ve seen it in person) gaps awareness, tears a hole into the center of what was a quotidian shuffle through the day, and pulls the viewer into a freefall of connection: from the subject to the painter, from the painter to man, from man to “God-is-man” in the figure of Christ, and then all of this back again. And in your bold attempt to frame the spiritual fundament that solidifies in that triad of connections you also intimate what lies above it–a concept-stuffed universe, one bulging with history and culture and mind and element. The painting contains almost everything to be contained: man and God and the creation, man-in-the-image of God, the earth as Gaia and the earth as cosmic bosom, the enfleshment of spirit and the spiritualization of flesh. And finally, in the center of its beautifully disorienting bleeds of color, the coup de grace–an intimation of the metamorphosis of man at the simultaneous and paradoxical nexus of material sacrifice and cosmic epiphany, at a quantum place where the laws of the universe are reversed and where the self is immediately (and only) found when it is first abandoned. The painting is beautiful already–you don’t seem to so much be painting it as you are bruising the canvas with a shamanistic ball pein, convincing it to ooze out the colors of creation like blood leaking beneath translucent skin. I can’t wait to see this meditation unfold.

  10. Thanks for the invite to comment. I consider myself an intelligent person, one who doesn’t know all the answers, but seeks to be true to what the Lord is speaking to me personally. I am an artist, but my medium is not canvas or paper. I do not pretend to understand than the basic artistic terms. I read this this morning, and then took some time to consider how I felt about it. With that said, here goes……
    The human body is an incredible thing. How it is built, how it functions, how it looks. God created humans, and then gave us the eyes to see each others’ beauty. It seems to me that in the Garden, after the Dreaded Eating the Apple Situation, our ability to see the human body the way Adam and Eve saw each other was changed forever.
    It was with trepidation I scrolled down the page, wondering how detailed this image would be of a person I know and have spent time with. I did think of Samantha and how she would feel, seeing this likeness of her husband, not only at home where it was painted, but on the internet for all to see.
    So what I came to for me is this: Our epiphanies are important to us, each one as different as God intends. The process of becoming free to express ourselves with the talents God gives us should be walked out. How we do it? That is up to each one of us, to feel confident that we are honest with those around us to the extent we know they can handle.
    I pray that God continues to revolutionize your heart like he is already doing.

  11. Hey Rich,
    Sorry I missed talking to you yesterday. I was zonkered. Linda told me to check out this entry, so I have. Very bold, my friend. I can see where Samantha might be concerned, but I also appreciated the artistic angle. I am pleased to see the “Christian” cookie-cutter images broken down, and I think you are doing so with this. I really loved the scripture tied to this work. We are all wonderfully made, even though our world wants to “photo-shop” everything that is out there. (and truth be told, if I were painting myself like that, I am quite sure that I would be VERY tempted to photoshop quite a bit of my own image) I get the impression that you painted exactly what the photograph captured, and that I think is a wonderful, free, and dare I say it holy thing, as you are exactly who you are from God’s original creation of you and the circumstances that He has placed you in over the years, combined with His gift of free will….
    Gosh, I think I am getting a bit too metaphysical here, but whatever. Great work Rich, keep it up….Love you bro’.

    I also read the Christianity today article, and thought it was very enlightening.

  12. May I suggest two companion pieces…..Vitruvian Woman ( Isha) and Vitruvian “Ur- Creature” ( Ha’Adam) All together they would then form a perfect triptych.

  13. Hey Rich,

    when I read the prologue above and then saw the painting, I thought of two things. Three things really, but modesty won’t allow the first comment in mixed company.

    First, while I’m impressed with your skill as a painter, I was wondering if you are being completely honest with yourself in this work. I say this because I see your image placed in the work of another person’s idea. I love the seminal elements you describe, the spiritual struggle within that inspires you to shed all the layers and be Rich, and only Rich, before God—and before others. Hope this doesn’t offend because it’s a question, not a judgment. I’m not that cool and I could be completely missing the point.

    Knowing what I do about you, I really believe that if there were a way to see the essential Rich, the person God has made you to be, it would be completely amazing and original, as in like no one before (and, for sure, no one after). However, being something of an artist myself I know it’s pretty tough to present any idea without people seeing all the artistic influences that have made you who you are as an artist.

    Second, I wondered if the statement you’re making requires anatomical accuracy. I am working on my first fiction piece and I struggle with how much detail I should share. You have to tell the truth. No question there. But how to go about it? Don’t have answers on that and, the mediums or our art are very different. I felt a little strange looking at you naked. I wanted to hand you a towel. But maybe this piece is about me being uncomfortable.

    BTW, the Italy photos are awesome, as are the painting of your kids.

    See ya,
    Will

  14. I enjoyed our conversation on Sunday and did not get a chance to comment or really look at this post till today. The thing that probably strikes me the most is how personal/powerful this process/work of yours is and the healing you have expressed by it. Healing art has a tendency to be very raw and “in your face”–reaction provoking–and that is as it should be. Yours has exposure physically as well as emotionally. I can honestly say that I am not as shocked at this as other appear to be. I understand Samatha’s feelings. I get squeamish when Scott exposes himself to others emotionally. Is it because we are one flesh and it will expose me too? Would it provoke as much of a response if it showed you with a gaping wound ala Mark Ryden’s “Blood” series? Or if you had made a public confession of a deep dark secret sin? Art work such as this demands a response–and it will also act as a mirror. We are forced to look at our own responses–are they appropriate? Why, why not?

    I see in this work exposure and openness but also vulnerability to God and man–an extreme act of trust. A freedom and trust for acceptance not rejection.
    (and I could LIVE in psalm 139!!!!)
    God Bless you on your pilgrimage.

  15. I am still working on reading through the process. I often tend to push through a process, but thought I would pause to comment and take some time to reflect…

    The beauty of the human body… amazing geometrical and mathematical elements pointing intrinsically toward a Divine creator. Followed by an impressive feat of man-kinds ingenuity and creativity, that points to an articulate and creative being, and finally, a God that possesses nothing, yet holds the world in the palms of his Benevolent hands.

  16. You know it’s interesting to see what shadow and a little darkening of the lines will do to shape an image, and bring it more to life. An interesting process, one I am not familiar with, but one I hope to become more familiar with as I observe more artists and their work. Thank you for the process.

  17. To Will F.,

    You ARE “that cool”, dude. So, it’s OK if you completely missed the point. However, your “question” is awesome and hope it inspires Rich to do something like what you suggested.

    In hope of Peace y Synergy

  18. Hey Required,
    How are you? Thanks for post. Where are you living these days? What are you doing? Great to hear from you.
    Your friend,
    Will

  19. When you said I should check this painting out I wasn’t too sure about seeing my colleague naked… but then, as we’ve never actually met in person and I have loved all your other pieces of work, I figured it couldn’t be so bad….

    It’s a very brave piece, and a wonderful exploration of who you are and that is something to be incredibly proud of. It’s very powerful and I definitely think the softer face you have given yourself works. There’s a determination in your eyes but you don’t look cross… or like you’re frowning which you did in the earlier versions. Contemplative – and it works.

    I look forward to seeing the finished piece… and shall try not to be such a prude (I can’t promise that). :o) -Lisa

  20. Now that is the Rich that I know – open and vulnerable, wears his heart on his sleeve, and is always ready for an adventure, no matter how controversial. Good to see you getting back to your roots.

    Bravo, my friend. ‘Tis a beautiful work.

  21. Although I appreciate your God-given artistic talent, knowing you’re a believer, I have to ask why it is so important to you to have your painting displayed in a public arena when it is obviously a stumbling block to some? You have your Blog, private studios, galleries, etc., yet you insist on your right, your freedom to show that which makes others uncomfortable. Mind you, Rich, I really like your work, but I found your quote in the Star to be revealing; “For ME, this kind of nude SELF-portrait is this very PERSONAL disclosure, revealing to MYself and the world that I have something to say.” (Caps are mine.)

    Hi Sharon. The thing is that it is not obviously a “stumbling block” to anyone. I guess the question here would be how has anyone here been stumbled? What is the biblical definition of a stumbling block anyway? When was “that which makes others uncomfortable” the litmus test of acceptable to show in public? There are many things that make me uncomfortable and that is exactly WHY I will be painting some of them. I am uncomfortable with the lack of clean water in African villages, so I am preparing a painting of a small child laying in the dust, clutching an empty water bottle in their frail hand. The story is that their parents both died of AIDS and in this village with no clean water, and because of this, AIDS have taken 25% of the adults. Now THAT is uncomfortable. I think it says something about an individual that is uncomfortable about having the depiction of a human body in a modest nude painting. You see more at the supermarket checkout stand than what is depicted here.

    Thank you for your comments because it is important to have the discussion and to be a mirror to our fellow believers from all stripes of the church, even when we have different opinions. Depicting the true injustices of the world is a calling that I have been given. Turning people to the source of the Beautiful in our lives is something that I am compelled to do and perhaps some will stumble on Christ along the way (Rom 9:33) especially when the subject of a painting is not just a beautiful flower.

    Peace, Rich

  22. Again, I’m impressed, Rich. You’ve got … what it takes … to do this ‘art’ thing.

    “Every great action is extreme” … ~Duc de la Rochefoucauld

    The nude and ‘feeling uncomfortable’ is not a bad thing… related to all we know about getting outside one’s comfort zone. You’re the decision-maker re: what you’re going to present, and how (as your fiction writing friend discussed).

    Your skills are increasing with every production! Keep going; and once in a while, really really really hold onto a painting until you know you have done all that you can – sometimes we’re enamored by the beauty of the ‘unfinished’… and that is beautiful. But investing more, pushing ourselves further … great.

    Thank god you’re in this place, with the support, encouragement, teachers, inspiration to accompany your skills and desires. Rare synchrony. Go for it.

    Gail, good words of encouragement. Thank you. I do intend to continue to take my art further and further. I am still learning when to stop on a piece, and how and when to forage ahead into new territory. Peace, Rich

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