Promise of Paradise

 In Gallery Shows, Writings

My artwork for the Getting to Zero exhibit involved the very special experience of getting to know Mary Ann Bowen, a lovely and courageous woman who has suffered from HIV/AIDS since 1999. I wanted the art to tell Mary Ann’s story – parts of it, at least –

so I asked her a series of questions about her life since being diagnosed with HIV. She wrote the answers on pre-selected colored papers that I later used to form the feathers of a peacock in our mixed-media piece.

It was amazing how God wove the elements of my personal background into the creation of this piece. As an abuse survivor and graduate of Celebrate Recovery, I’ve had very positive experiences with art therapy from which I learned some useful expressive art techniques. That’s how I thought of using Mary Ann’s actual written words in the art we developed. I offered her the chance to write over her initial words in order to obscure them, but she said she has nothing to hide and is very open about sharing her story with all who care to listen.

I’ve always been interested in symbolism but didn’t know until I started research for this project that the peacock is an ancient Christian symbol for resurrection and eternal life. One of our fellow artists named Kevin Keller found a stylized peacock image in a design book from the Saddleback Visual Arts library, and I was able to use that image as a model for my Getting to Zero piece. Another artist named Steven Homestead suggested that the peacock’s talons could hold a branch containing the Bible verse (Psalm 63:7-8) that Mary Ann chose and hand-wrote for the piece.

I tried extremely hard to make something beautiful about Mary Ann and her faith-based battle against AIDS, and I was grateful to everyone at SVA who offered advice and suggestions. More fun was to come with the big, three-night endeavor of setting up the gallery exhibit in the worship center. The spirit of peaceful cooperation and teamwork was such a joy; the SVA artists are great people to work with, and Jason Leith is an incredibly gifted leader! I loved how Jason prayed aloud with us for the success of our exhibit and skillfully guided us through each step of setting up the display.

Sunday evening, November 30, 2014 was the opening night for our gallery exhibit. Driving over to the church with me, Mary Ann said she’d love to have the artwork that we created to hang in her home. I explained that the art is being offered for sale to the public, but certainly I’ll give it to her if no one buys it. We listened to Pastor Rick’s heart-felt message about friendship with God, and then joined the other SVA artists in hosting the exhibit. Mary Ann had fun meeting the artists and spectators and posing for photos with me, Pastor Rick, Jason, Steven, and others. I was very surprised to hear that two people are interested in buying our piece, named “Promise of Paradise.” This was a first in my life, like so many of the awesome experiences I’ve had since joining Saddleback Visual Arts!

Written by Sandhya Larsen / [email protected]

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