What is Pax Bellissima? part 2: Art as Healing

During the summer of 2012, I travelled to Italy with my extended family for a reunion. When I was young, my father worked in Italy and I had many opportunities for extended stays and visits there. I’ve gone to art museums in Italy since I was a child. But this trip was the formal start of my art sabbatical. A time to focus on artists and their method and message.

In medieval times in Fiorenza (now Florence, Italy), workers belonged to a guilds that formed the basis for democratic voting on political decisions. Up until that time, being an artist was not considered a profession. But during the Renaissance, wealthy patrons started paying talented artists, allowing them to focus on art full time. But artists didn’t have a worker’s guild. Instead of creating their own guild, artists were lumped together with medical physicians.

To an outsider, their professions were similar: both used a mortar and pestle to “grind” natural ingredients used by their profession: paint and medicines.

I think this is quite fitting to lump all the healers together. Colors, textures, shapes, and sounds can be visual medicines that nourish just like food or medicine. Rather than take a pill to relax, I wanted to find more time in my life to make art.

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I love all of the arts. But I’ve chosen to use three art mediums for this Pax Bellissima show: photographs, painting and pottery.

For many years I have taken photographs of the national parks I have visited with my family. Many of these photos are of single trees on the horizon. Like a poem on a page, they carve out a silhouette on the horizon with curve and leaf. Asymmetrical and imperfect; they are beautiful. I love to just sit and let my eyes rest on them.

For this art show, I pair these photographs with a painting of the same trees in the photos, rendered with oil paints in shades of amethyst, gold, silver and bronze. A variety of artists inspire my approach. The Italian and French Impressionists use of color and light expands to include Gustav Klimt’s use of gold and iridescent minerals and the amethyst colors in Sigmar Polke’s stained glass windows. Renaissance artists painted gold halos over the heads of special people in their paintings. Halos, painted in a variety of stylized ways, signified a special spirit. I’ve painted gold halos (which look like a sun) on each of the trees I am painting, indicating that for me, they exude something beautiful.

Triangulating with the photos and paintings are ceramic pots. On the bottom of my pottery, I write the name of something that I’m concerned about; something that is suffering. Listening to the news is painful. Wars in Syria and Afghanistan, women raped in Congo, soldiers committing suicide, babies being abused, birds dying of pesticides, bees disappearing, crops failing, climate change shifting the whole planet to a desert or a flood plain. I can’t contain all of this pain in my brain. My pots give me a place to put that ache.


-Lisa Schirch