26 August 2013
Iconographer Ian Knowles works on a new icon for the shrine of Our Lady of the Mountain, in Anjara, depicting the risen Christ surrounded by scenes from his life. (photo: Nicholas Seeley)
The Summer issue of ONE takes us back to school, to learn about the art and spirituality behind creating icons:
The instructor is patient, demonstrating the basics again and again — how to draw a line with a brush, how to mix the paint, how to find a face in a sheet of white. “Move the paper so it’s easier to draw,” he explains. “Work to your strengths, and know your weaknesses — which is a good spiritual principle! Because what you’re doing is learning spiritual life, really — in a very practical way.”
The teacher is Ian Knowles, a British iconographer who has been working in churches and convents in the Holy Land since 2008. As an artist, he creates extraordinary, vivid images. Though hewing fast to traditional styles and techniques, his pieces can feel strikingly modern, alive with spiritual purpose. It is this, as much as brushwork and technique, that he is attempting to pass along to his students.
“The purpose of the icon is prayer,” he says. “What you need as you paint Christ is to be with him, to experience him.”
Slowly, in a few places, the holy countenance begins to come to life on paper.
It is October 2012, and this is the first class of the Bethlehem Icon Center, an initiative to train students from Palestine in the ancient art of iconography. It is a project at once modest and ambitious. The classes are small and the curriculum, highly specific. But by helping students reach a high level of craftsmanship, the center’s founders hope to create something lasting and profound: not just the seed of a local craft industry, but an expression of the Holy Land’s ancient Christian culture and its role in the development of Christian art.
“Empowering local Christians, finding a way for them to rediscover their artistic, religious tradition in a very specific way — that’s exciting,” says the Rev. Timothy Lowe, a priest of the Orthodox Church in America and the rector of the Tantur Ecumenical Institute, which is a partner of the center, along with Mr. Knowles.
Read more about Prayers in Paint in the Summer issue of ONE.
Tags: Palestine Christianity Bethlehem ONE magazine Icons