Distinctly different, distinctly Christian visions
Guy Chase crafted art that was sharply contemporary, the sort of work that causes me to stop and look more closely, and on reflection notice the gentle wit behind the composition. Sadao Watanabe’s paintings also make me pause, drawn in by the gentle warmth of his style that is deeply rooted in an ancient folk tradition of textile dyeing while remaining fully up-to-date. The art they produced is distinctly different but both were deeply committed Christians and their worldview clearly shapes the work of their imagination and hands.
The two books I recommend here are as similar as the artists’ work are different. Both are succinct, lavishly illustrated, so that frequent readings provoke new discoveries, fresh glimpses of creativity and beauty. Both consist of a variety of essays by a variety of authors that provides slightly different takes on the artwork and lives of the artists.
Over his career, Chase developed a number of projects or series, each thoughtful and unique. One work that helped me see reality more clearly is “Untitled (ledger for multiple adjustments)” he made in 2001. It is not a collage (at first glance I imagined it was), but a painting. Art historian Karen Mulder says, “it explores the way our lives might measure up or be found wanting in the final tally. To achieve a state of grace, we will all need the mercy of multiple adjustments on the complicated balance sheets of our lives.” While at a Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA) conference I heard Chase introduce his whimsical “Must Love Life,” series. It consists of handmade paper shopping bags on which images and messages from Internet dating sites are printed. Fascinating and ironic, detailing a haunting beauty, I know of no statement as deliciously subversive on this modern phenomenon.
Beautifully stylized, carefully composed, and wonderfully painted in clear black lines and simple subdued colors, Watanabe’s biblical prints thoughtfully serve the text and stories of Scripture. “A devout Christian,” writer John Kohan says, Watanabe “viewed himself simply as a channel through which the power of God worked, and believed that ‘profound faith will inevitably assume the form of profound beauty.’” He wanted his work in plain view, so it can be seen and appreciated by ordinary people not hidden away in some collection. “I owe my life to Christ and the gospel,” he said. “My way of expressing my gratitude is to witness to my faith through the medium of biblical scenes.”
Guy Chase (1955-2011) and Sadao Watanabe (1913-1996) are now both making art for the king they professed as sovereign. We can thank Square Halo for giving us a chance to live with their art, so we can see more clearly that Asaph had it correct so many centuries ago:
The Mighty One, God the LORD,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to its setting.
Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty,
God shines forth. [Psalm 50:21-2] Please get both The Art of Guy Chase and Beauty Given by Grace. Put them on your coffee table within easy reach—that’s where they need to be.
Source“From the Lines of Life: Guy Chase and the art of the (Extra)Ordinary” by Karen L. Mulder in Image (Number 72) p. 26
“Profound Faith, Profound Beauty: The Life and Art of Sadao Watanabe" by John A. Kohan in Image (Number 74) p. 30.