I thought that today I’d share one of my paintings with you.
This isn’t a new work; it’s been completed for some time. But it came to mind today and it matches my present mood.
It’s called “The End of Ordinary”, and it’s stands in my inventory as my first major use of the palette knife as a painting tool.
The subject matter is a coffee pot with a broken handle, and taking up this theme of brokenness I went on to paint in the most broken way I could think of: using only a knife.
The painting itself is scarred and messy; my acrylic medium laid on literally with a trowel and scraped into place. The red highlights make the pot look as if it’s bleeding, and the background is a nondescript tan, scratched and distressed as I’ve scarified the paint with the trowel-like blade. Get up close, and it’s pretty ugly. Deliberately so.
But this painting also marks my first break with the tyranny of real edges. Before this, I’d always wanted crisp, clean edges to everything, sharply delineating the one from the other. But paint is not real life, and photographic realism only goes so far in capturing the heart of a subject.
The process is as much a metaphor as the painting itself. We are all broken. We all bear our scars. We often feel like we’ve been scraped into shape with the”wrong” tool. Like the coffee pot itself, we’re missing a handle; like the painting, we’re battered and bleeding.
But the choice of title is also deliberate. Like my breaking out of the need for hard photorealistic edges, the place of brokenness can be a beginning. Jesus calls us to step out of our broken ordinariness into a life extraordinary; paradoxically by becoming broken ourselves. The brokenness He wants is the end of ordinary, so that He can fill us with His extraordinary. We have to die in order to truly live, be broken in order to be made whole, make an end in order that there may be a beginning. As the saying goes, “It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it”.
Life is messy; anyone with children knows this. One of the things kids do, from the time they’re born onwards, is make messes. As evidence of this, the first thing my son did on being placed in my arms after he was born was to pee all over everything. Part of that new brokenness that signifies the end of ordinary is becoming comfortable with a certain amount of mess. You can set all of your pencils in a nice neat row, because pencils aren’t alive, but if you try doing the same thing with live cats, you’re doomed before you start. If it’s alive, it’s probably going to be messy, moving, restless, active, disordered, not staying put.
The alternative is death. And a good-looking corpse is still a corpse.