Thursday, May 17, 2012

What are you doing here, Elijah?

(Below is a short video showing a series of photos of a new mixed-media project I finished last weekend called, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" I like looking at works in progress done by artists, so I tried to sort of do that here. It's clumsy, but it's the first one I've done and I'm tired of it, ha! Above is the finished painting. We are framing it at the shop now and when we get finished, I will take a picture of it if I can remember. It's off to its new home mid-week so I'll have to get with it quick or it'll be too late!)

Who wouldn't be wild for Elijah: 

standing up to the wicked King Ahab and Queen Jezebel and tormenting all their prophets with his witty little diatribe about their fake gods.

But like so many of us, after the excitement of the moment was over and Elijah realized what he had done (and that Jezebel was after him to kill him dead), he simply just ran away.

Elijah, this man of tremendous faith and understanding, ran and ran and ran and ran. For forty days he peeled out across the desert. He didn't eat or drink unless the good Lord  delivered it to him with the same convenience and panache a pizza in a box is delivered to our front door, except Elijah didn't even bother to mutter, "much obliged, Lord." Poor old Elijah. I've never done anything great -- not one thing, not even close -- in my life... but I am simple and selfish enough to have felt discouraged enough to run and run and run and run.

Eventually, old human Elijah hid in a cave where he immersed himself in pity. That's when God presented himself to this incredible, faithful, frightened human. It's one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible.

The Lord Appears to Elijah

And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.

12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

This mixed-media piece, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" was made for a drama group in Florissant, Missouri, to present to their director. Their play is about the unseen work of angels, who are active all around us... but we are largely unaware of their presence or the miracles they provide for us right under our turned-up little self-important noses. (Okay, I added the turned-up little self-important noses part. I have no idea how humans are portrayed in this play. I only know how stupid I, myself, act.)

"What are you doing here, Elijah?"..........

"What are you doing here, Donna?" ...........

I have no earthly idea, Lord. Not even a single tiny clue. And I am so thankful for your gentle calling.

Love, d.

The painting process:

I started with just a  quick-quick rough sketch of Elijah  (If I spend too much time thinking about what to  do or how to begin, what ends up on the canvas is studied and stiff and self-conscious) and working as maniacally as possible with oil pastels and acrylics... (oh the glory of oil pastels and gel medium and paint-paint-paint!) 

I tried to figure out what sort of expression and feelings Elijah might have. 

Would Elijah simply be all worried and discouraged? That's kind of my default mode, but Elijah was ELIJAH, after all! not some dopey dim middle-aged house-wife. 

Would he be defensive and sort of half-mad? I mean, admit it, it's possible to feel that way, even toward God.

Would he feel betrayed and abandoned by God? I believe he did. Maybe he did and that's why God did what he did. He understands that stubborn, disquieting human nature so much better than we do.

He would have certainly been overwhelmed. 

Perhaps he was so depressed and exhausted that he simply  felt nothing. I don't know. I just don't know.

I went ahead and started on the background. 

I wanted to give a feeling conveyed by these powerful scriptures without being terribly trite and literal or worse, completely predictable. Within a couple hours,  I had used so many paintbrushes I had to stop and clean them... and I've been collecting brushes for 30+ years... I have over 100 brushes! 

Painting the fire was tremendous fun. Oh my goodness, I mean, I wanted to make that whole picture on firI loved it so much. Of course, maybe that's because I had my ka-billions of brushes all clean and ready to use again! 

I was uneasy about the lightning; how do you paint lightning that doesn't look cartoonish...? I've seen cartoonish lightning in paintings done by real artists. There's not even a laughable, remote hope for  my dumb lightning. But Elijah had to have his lightning. And so I hurried up and quickly quickly quickly streaked it in there.

Hardest of all:  how to portray the Lord as a gentle whisper??? 

What in the world does that look like? How in the world do I convey that feeling?

I set the painting on the easel and sat on the couch to look at it while I ate a snack. No ideas came to mind that seemed workable. I cleaned up my studio a little then went back to the couch and looked at Elijah again.

I figured out what I thought I might do after I took a picture of the painting with my flash on. It illuminated Elijah in a way that seemed like a possible solution to what I was hoping to render.  I thought maybe that was how I could signify the Lord: in a supernatural, pure, whispering breeze.

Once that was painted, I felt slightly more confident about Elijah's expression... a little bit better anyway... (although I am not an adept enough artist to convey all the things I wish I could. I'm actually just pleased I sort of know the correct layout of a face! ha ha!):
Renewed determination. 
Utter and stupefying wonderment. 
Even rest.
Even peace, maybe? 

"What are you doing here, Elijah?"


Unknown said...

Wow, Donna. I can hardly wait to see it in person! Thank you for your work, your creativity, for making the video showing the progress and process of the piece, for sharing your notes as you developed the work. Thank you for creating such a unique gift for our director using the special talents God has given you. You're a blessing! Love, Holly

Donna Roberts said...


I tried to send you this as I was working on it, but it would not go through; maybe picture sizes were too big. I am sorry! (I could have, of course, come in here and e-mailed them... but you know how HARD it is to follow through for some people. ha ha ha!)

Best of luck with your play. I am so happy for you. When are we going to see you at The Muny? Try to get into Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (my all-time favorite). Wouldn't that be sooooo awesome!

Lots of love, d.

Sierra said...

Aunt Donna!!! Wow! Took my breath away! I LOVE it. YOU are amazing! Just amazing. I could not even conceptualize that painting. I would've given up within 15 minutes of starting the face. lol. Blake loved the video too! Thanks for that! YOU ARE AN ARTIST!(said like a snobby person!)
and to think i was proud of my very first painting i painted in a wine and palette social painting class. lol. i am pathetic!