Nicora Gangi (www.machairastudio.com) is committed to creating art that invites viewers to enter into a visual dialogue with pastel still life and landscapes that reflect a Christian aesthetic. Born in Indiana in 1952 she was educated at the Hartford Art School (Hartford, Connecticut), Montclair State College, and Syracuse University (BFA and MFA). Her fields include both fine arts and art education. She is on the faculty at Syracuse University in the Studio Arts and Design Programs. She is married to artist Bruce Manwaring and resides in Syracuse, NY.
LeAnne: Tell me about your journey as an artist who happens to be a Christian and how your work reflects your faith.
Nicora: First let me start with a quote I love from chapter one of Francis A. Schaeffer’s book, How Should We Then Live?: “There is a flow to history and culture. This flow is rooted and has its wellspring in the thoughts of people. People are unique in the inner life of the mind—what they are in their thought-world determines how they act. This is true of their value systems and it is true of their creativity. It is true of their corporate actions, such as political decisions, and it is true of their personal lives. The results of their thought-world flow through their fingers or from their tongues into the external world. This is true of Michelangelo’s chisel, and it is true of a dictator’s sword.”
Soon after I became a Christian, I attended a presentation by a young artist. Prior to this meeting, my husband, who also is an artist, and I had many discussions about using our talents in the church. We were reading works by H.R. Rookmaaker and Francis Schaeffer. We struggled with the fact that the church we had recently joined, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, no longer found it biblically correct for arts to be used in the worship service. This denomination originated in Scotland and was influenced by the iconoclasts of the Reformation in Europe. Much of the art in the churches was destroyed because of its association with the Roman Catholic Church. The reformer wanted no trace of its influence in the new buildings. “God is good at saving souls, but we have tended to keep him away from our big decisions in scholarship, science, art, politics and so on” (H.R. Rookmaaker, Art Needs No Justification, pg. 24). We asked many questions of our fellow Christians; however we were not getting any answers, let alone direction.
That evening we sat and listened to the speaker read Romans 12:1-2. “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (NAS).
After he finished reading from this passage, he held up one of his paintings. With this example before us, we knew our work could be a living and holy sacrifice acceptable to God. We understood that we did not have to abandon our talents for the new life in Christ. Our talents were meant for God and his glory. Rookmaaker clarified this further: “As the body moves, thinks, speaks not for its own sake but called by God to be the salt of the earth, artists are not just servants of a Christian subculture, but are called to work for the benefits of all” (Art Needs No Justification, pg 21).
I began thinking about works I had been drawing and printing. Those same images could have a new depth of meaning. Since then, I have devoted my life to studying the scriptures and understanding the metaphors God uses to teach his people.
Many biblical references have become completely incomprehensible to the present generation. Since the Bible is the bedrock of what Christians believe, I aim to help Christians and non-Christians focus on the scriptures through my still life and landscape drawings. Not every drawing may appear religious in nature, but every work symbolizes how Jesus Christ died for our sins so that we may have access to God.
This method of religious symbolism in artwork is nothing new. Early Christians saw God in everything. They attached religious and spiritual meaning to all they observed. Renaissance artists wove elaborate complicated allegories into their pictures. Still life painting, especially in the hands of the Dutch and Flemish masters of the 17th century, often has symbolic overtones. Courtship and love were seen through musical instruments. The vanity of human life was seen in a skull and hourglass. The Christian message was seen through a loaf of bread and a glass of wine. The Bible itself even displays symbolism through its Old Testament and New Testament counterparts. Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac foreshadowed God’s sacrifice of Christ. David is also seen as a type of Christ. David’s struggle with Goliath foreshadows Christ’s struggle with Satan.
I would love for all artists who happen to be Christians to be known as the best and most creative people in their field. The church has done a good job serving before obscure men, but not such a good job serving before kings (Proverbs 22:29). Christians were meant to “rule” the earth with their talents as leaders, as Genesis 1:26 commands. My challenge to all Christians everywhere is to recognize the gifts God has given you and develop them to their utmost potential so that you might serve Christ in an eternal way. We have all been called “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14, NIV).
“Through Jesus Christ, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name.” - Hebrews 13:15 (NIV)