Book of Nails - By Sandra Bowen
Following the Work: Part 2 | Sandra Bowden

Engage Art | Artist to Artist, Faith, Reflection & Growth | March 2, 2021

In just these examples, you can see how a topic, the way materials are used, and reinterpreting work in different media can flow naturally in an art practice.

~Sandra Bowden

The Crucifixion

Book of Nails - By Sandra Bowden
Book of Nails - By Sandra Bowden

How is it that a Crucifixion found its way into the body of work by an artist whose entire oeuvre celebrates text and words? The cross appearing within my work naturally led me to explore the idea that Christ is the “word made flesh,” according to John. To me, this helped explain the mystery of the Word as Image. God, who was the Word, became Image. In fact, the New Testament says that Christ is the ICON (image) of the unseen God. I started to think about this layering of ideas in relation to the crucifixion.

For me, one of the most powerful crucifixion images in all of art history is Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece. This masterpiece heavily influenced my series of collaged crucifixion oil paintings, including a three-dimensional crown of thorns created by embedding old floor nails into gesso and modeling paste. I used the same keg of old nails to fill a hollowed-out, gilt book in Book of Nails. In this way, materials and ideas recycle, giving birth to new, related insights. These paintings, in turn, raised questions about how they would respond to being translated into collagraph prints. The result, It is Finished and Do This in Remembrance of Me, both were included in the 2019 Vatican exhibition Signs of the Sacred.

The collagraphs about the crucifixion were not the only time I revisited including artifacts in my art. Tel Suite (1983) is informed by biblical archaeology and traveling to Israel. Various artifacts are embedded into the overall design of each collagraph and work to unveil the secrets of these ancient biblical cities.

In just these examples, you can see how a topic, the way materials are used, and reinterpreting work in different media can flow naturally in an art practice. Series invite you to think more deeply or in new ways and explore multiple facets of an idea.

Psalm XXIII - By Sandra Bowden
Psalm XXIII - By Sandra Bowden

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.


Logos - By Sandra Bowen
Logos - By Sandra Bowen

My Music series draws from both my experience with collage and with using words as images. Music is a unique written language that transcends barriers of tongue and time, allowing an orchestra with musicians from all over the world to evoke universal emotion via the written score. More than any other source in Western history, the Scriptures have inspired musicians to compose literally thousands of sacred compositions. In this series, copies of the masters’ facsimiles are incorporated into the artworks, as are archaeological artifacts, images from art history, imaginary musical scoring, and Hebrew text, thus revisiting the idea of Word as Image. One of my favorites, Psalm XXIII, combines the Hebrew text from Psalm 23, the title page of Leonard Bernstein’s Psalm XXIII written for the Chichester Cathedral in England, and a cherished early Christian sculpture of the Good Shepherd with the lost sheep.

While collage has had a recurring presence in my work, after back surgery in 1994, when I could not manage the strenuous printing process, I began to literally cannibalize my previous work to create a series of collaged mixed-media pieces. Logos, from that period, contains a page from a Greek Bible’s John 1 under a veil of Japanese paper along with a gilded Hebrew panel from Genesis 1. The two passages juxtaposed on the collage become what a midrash would consider a conversation between John and Moses—reopening another recurring theme in my work—facilitating conversations through time.

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.

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