Trip to Ballarat Art Gallery Part 1

I took a trip to Ballarat (a city located 1.5 hours outside of Melbourne) a week before my recent trip to the United States to catch the last day of an exhibition called "Eikon: Icons of The Orthodox Christian World".

I wanted to document it here so that it did not get lost amongst the enormity that my US trip became. Besides providing much inspiration for future work, I was surprised to find other points of inspiration within the vastness of this rather spectacular gallery, one item of which is the + 1 of the 8 + 1 paintings that will form my Netjeru In America series (revealed in Part 2 of this blog).

Eikon: Icons Of The Orthodox Christian World
The practice of creating and maintaining sacred images as a means of communing with the divine is of course of great interest to me.

This exhibition featured the Greek and Russian Orthodox Christian icons from around the 9th to around the 18th century. I am particularly interested in identifying relationships between this work and that of Ancient Egypt, and that relationship does exist.

Some of the icons were beautiful, but I found many to be sombre and at times depressing.  

I display below some of the main points from the exhibition entrance plaque (and invite the reader to consider in relation to my own artworks):

  • the primary function of icons is devotional
  • they are governed by strict artistic conventions 
  • they must be 2 dimensional
  • the personages depicted must be readily identifiable
  • icons are not intended to reflect the personality of the artist "writing" them
  • they do not have to be visually pleasing
  • they do not have to introduce new concepts
  • viewers who accept these images on the images own terms will be moved by their spiritual power

I feature below four of the paintings that struck chords for me:

"The Fiery Ascent of Elijah", Russia, 17th century
Elijah is one of 3 Christian figures reported to have have escaped death, and this fascinates me more than words can convey; this icon speaks to me on a level hard to articulate.

"Mother of God Of the Burning Bush", Russia, circa 1800
An icon revealing the incarnation of Jesus, with references to Moses and the Burning Bush.

"The Dormition Of The Mother Of God", Northern Greece, 16th Century
Mary the mother of Jesus was one of the 3 that I mentioned above who in Christian lore did not die; this icon tells us that she "went to sleep", different to the Catholic story I was brought up with where she ascended (celebrated as The Assumption), but still claiming she did not die. I am particularly fascinated by the "six winged seriph" centre top, and wonder if this is in fact representative of Mary's soul anatomy beginning a transformation process? Her akh perhaps?

"The Transfiguration", Russia, 17th Century
I have considered this icon before thanks to the work and research of William Henry; does this image represent the complex knowledge of soul antomy as understood in Ancient Egypt, rendered in a work that we can comprehend?

I was also impressed by the way that this exhibition was curated. Rather than subject these images to the standard white walls of so many exhibits, the icons were displayed across rooms each with a colour that enhanced the experience of viewing. The lighting of same also showed some consideration in creating a place for contemplation.

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