Part 1

I seek to facilitate a potent and meaningful discussion across time by revealing the connections central to Christianity.

– Sandra Bowden

I have spent more than five decades in my personal art practice exploring the great gift and mystery of language over the history of humankind, with a singular focus on how it has related to the Bible, Judaism, and Christianity. I find it remarkable that a small group of marks or symbols that we call letters can signify sound, form words, fill books, carry meaning, and allow us to communicate with one another, even across the barriers of time and space.

Near the beginning of my career (1965), I was invited to participate in an arts festival at a Baptist church on Boston’s north shore. One of my paintings in that show was Ancient Writings, a seminal work that contained all the elements of my future life’s work—texture, fabric, text, collage, and the suggestion of language. I have often wondered whether I would have come to the place where my art and faith intersected so thoroughly had it not been for that church-sponsored art show.

Text

Fast forward five years and biblical text itself dominated my iconography. By 1972, I was studying Hebrew. With my interest in Old Testament studies and my Protestant background, where the Bible is held in high regard, it seemed appropriate to learn Hebrew and use Hebrew text in my art. I think I was searching for something mysterious and beautiful found in the language that would add depth to my work. A whole series of artworks evolved using Hebrew text, one leading to the next.

These works recall the Jewish midrash, a Hebrew word that translates to “interpretation” or “exegesis.” Midrash can take the form of a commentary where the primary text is in the center of the page, surrounded by another scripture that sheds light on the central passage, sometimes with additional commentaries from other great thinkers.

In my text series, I used Biblical text in Hebrew not as language but as an image. While the text for each piece imbues meaning to the artwork, it is not necessary to read Hebrew to understand the work. In fact, it may not even help because I veiled the text by creating an overall pattern from compacted writing using a script similar to that from the Dead Sea Scrolls. While the exact text is embedded in the block, it is challenging to decipher—hiding and revealing at the same time.

He Spake and He Was Done - By Sandra Bowen
He Spake and He Was Done - By Sandra Bowen

This series often featured an embossed white border with more Hebrew or Greek lettering that framed an interior panel of images or ancient script. He Spake and It Was Done alludes to the biblical proposition that creation itself was accomplished by the power of words when God spoke the universe into existence. The center section contains the first chapter of Genesis. It is surrounded by a passage from Psalms that comments on creation, “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made . . . He commanded and it stood fast.” The idea of this artistic midrash is that David and Moses are in conversation. In the Beginning Was the Word is a similar collagraph but with a passage from John 1 where John is in conversation with Moses. This insight—that I seek to facilitate a potent and meaningful discussion across time by revealing the connections central to Christianity—is the very essence of my work.

Law and Gospel - By Sandra Bowen
Law and Gospel - By Sandra Bowen

Another piece from this series, Law and Gospel, was a turning point for my body of work. Created in 1994, it transformed the Hebrew text characteristic of my work with an added layer of gold leaf. The Gospel builds upon the Law, their relationship deeply intertwined, but Jesus said he came to fulfill the Law. When I have finished an item on our list of things to do, I put a line through it, marking it done. This is what I was thinking as I took the Law and marked it “done” with a horizontal line. With that additional cut, the tablets of the Law become four quadrants, revealing a cross.

Author Bio

Sandra Bowen

Visual artist Sandra Bowden has been interpreting Scripture and her own spiritual walk through mixed media for more than forty years. She has been acclaimed as one of the most unique, impressive and inspiring Christian artists in America. Bowden’s work has been featured in books, magazines and gallery shows across the United States, Canada, Italy and Jerusalem.