Those of you who belong to St. Sebastian should be familiar with at least a couple of works by artist Eric Armusik. Two of his paintings of Saint Sebastian were displayed in our parish during our patronal feast day. Have you ever wondered what drives a Catholic painter? Mr. Armusik was kind enough to be a guest blogger today to let us find out. Thank you Eric.
January 20, 2012, the Feast of St. Sebastian is a day I'll never forget. Though I've been a professional artist now for 18 years, and I've created art for several churches, this day was special. It was as if I was trapped in a movie of my own life and a flashback happened, propelling me back 30 years into my childhood. You see, unlike a lot of successful artists in my genre, I didn't grow up with artistic parents, or have access to museums, art classes or even books on art history. I grew up in a small mining town in northeast Pennsylvania called, Ashley, just outside of Wilkes-Barre. All we had in abundance were mountains of black culm and abandoned coal breakers. There was a bright spot though for me, something I hadn't even reflected on until years later as an artist - I had an art lesson each and every week when I attended 9AM mass every Sunday, at St. Leos.
Now, for anyone who isn't familiar with the Wilkes-Barre area, the community was heavily populated with some of the most beautiful, Gothic cathedrals you'll find anywhere. It is not uncommon to find several Catholic churches on one block. I know it sounds strange. Why would they have so many churches on one block? Diversity of course! On one three block section in town, there was a Polish Catholic church, a Lithuanian Catholic church, an Irish Catholic church, a Russian Orthodox Church a Greek Orthodox Church, a Slovak Catholic church and a German Catholic church. And everyone knew if they went to the mass outside of their nationality, it didn't count. Ha!
Getting back to my being a child in that pew at St. Leos on Sunday...
For a very long time, I did not realize the impact my church and the churches in the area had on my career choice. I was just a little boy admiring and studying the very thing I so desperately wanted to do someday. Even then, when I had no idea where, or how I would learn how to paint; I knew it was all I wanted. I knew that a fire was set inside me and that I needed to find a way.
When I had the opportunity to study art in Italy during college, I found myself seeking out churches all over the country with any free time I had. To me, it was a calling. In my mind, nothing else existed but high art – the art commissioned by the Church. To me, it was not just paint, it was an experience. It did something, it was not ephemeral or stagnant – it inspired!
Years later, when I truly embraced my calling as a religious artist, I began to understand my attraction to this form of art. I desired to create art that spoke to the human heart. I want to inspire and motivate. I wanted to show what my faith meant to me and the best gift you can give others is to express your passion through inspirational art. In the end, I believe that is why I'm so successful as a religious painter. I have that connection, that deep faith and zeal for what I believe. And, because of this passion, it overflows and is made manifest through my work. I refuse to just paint a figure because any decent artist can accomplish that! I paint an experience, I capture a moment, a murmur, and a breath and though it may not always be peaceful or cheery, it means something.
When I painted Saint Sebastian, I was centered. I wanted to best express his suffering, his fortitude, his courage to stand up for his faith at any cost. The choice to use myself for the model was deliberate. Painting religious work is something not very popular in the art world. Often, I get negative feedback from other artists.
The process of painting this beautiful artwork was for me, extremely cathartic. I meditated on his suffering. In my mind, it was all about sacrifice. You feel St. Sebastian's pain. You see is legs are caught mid tremble as he attempts to remain standing but, the force of the arrows collapse his will. Five arrows representing the five wounds of Christ draw parallels between him and his faith. His mouth is open as he inhales from the pain and the shock of his torture. That hurt, that agony, is forever captured to reflect upon – trapped for all eternity in paint and varnish. He is animated by my admiration and understanding of his sacrifice. In my opinion, only a devout Catholic could translate that.
When Father commissioned me to paint yet another Saint Sebastian, I was thrilled! Not only did I have a fantastic patron, but a man who trusted my talent and vision – as an artist, that is a dream. Armed with enthusiasm and artistic license, I went to work. This time, I decided the moment would be more solemn that violent. I wanted St. Sebastian’s gaze to be mournful, thankful and quiet. There is something so tender in St. Irene’s hand as she extends it to tend to his wounds. There is an understanding between them and once again, it is forever captured to reflect upon.
These painting will outlive me, my wife, and my children. They are concrete reminders of my talent from God and the relationship forged between Father and I over the love of ar,t and its relevance to our faith. That understanding humbles me. It makes me continually reflect on God’s purpose for me. I know, without any doubt, I am right where He put me.
It is all about redemption and desiring to be better than we are. It is about never giving up on ourselves and others. Though I was a just a kid from a lower middle class family with no art direction, no idea how or where I’d learn to paint, God provided. He brought the art to me every Sunday and inspired and cultivated that desire right there, in His church. How awesome is that?
When I saw my painting, "St. Sebastian," being raised behind the cross of the main altar at St. Sebastian's Parish in Akron, Ohio, I felt a tremor within me. It was almost a tearful moment. I was that person now - the one that would inspire the congregation though dramatic and spiritually nurturing work. And then it hit me, maybe I would inspire that next little boy who may be sitting in a pew dissecting the layers of paint and trying to mentally figure out how to paint a hand. To me, that truly was a miracle of epic proportions. I feel blessed to have befriended Father Valencheck as both a patron, and a dear friend. To have my work enjoyed and cared for in such a profound way, gives me consolation that I am doing what God put me here on earth to do. God bless.
If you would like more information on Mr. Armusik you can find him at his website here. On his site is also his Email address if you would care to send him a message.