Saturday, April 28, 2012

William Congdon: the original "Painter of Light"

I just learned that the Knights of Columbus Museum is holding an exhibit by my favorite 20th century artist, William Congdon. Congdon was part of the "Action" movement in art (think: Jackson Pollock), but shocked his fellow artists when he became a Catholic. "Poor Bill," they all agreed, "As a Catholic, he'll never do worthwhile art again."

You decide if they were right:

Congdon spent the second half of his life in Italy and ended his days as a long-standing guest in a monastery. He never stopped painting. But rather than use a brush,  he used a kind of pastry spatula, the sort you use in frosting a cake. This gave his images heft and texture that is visible even in 72 ppi.  He also mixed gold into his paints, giving them a breathtakingly solar quality:

In his mature years, his characteristic theme was the Crucifixion. Having witnessed the liberation of the Bergen-Belson concentration camp, Congdon was indelibly marked by the suffering written into the bodies of the survivors. He came to realize that every suffering of ours is Christ's in us; every suffering of his is ours. (See the article linked to his name, above.)

There is one of Congdon's paintings I have only seen in a black and white reproduction in print; it is nowhere to be found on the Internet, but for me it is the Angelus in a few strokes. (I would so love to see it as it was meant to be seen!) Mary is depicted as a kind of "C" shape in the lower left corner. In the opposite corner, a heavy streak of white is tearing toward her. That is all. Perhaps because I saw this image when Pope John Paul had barely finished giving his "Theology of the Body" talks, it has become for me (even though I have not seen it since) a kind of Theology of the Body in essence.

So I am going to see what I can do to get to New Haven this summer when I am in Boston for my retreat and the sisters' Jubilee celebration. What about you?


oneeyedsmiley said...

thanks for the heads up! I hope to be able to take some time to go see this exhibit!

John Janaro said...

Congden is a great artist. I have seen his exhibits in Italy. His works express something of the interior mystery of his subjects. I'm so glad the Knights are doing this.

Anonymous said...

could anyone tell me the name of the crucifixion painting above and/or does anyone know if any of Congdon's works are available anywhere as prints/posters? Thanks