Archive for the 'Advent Painting' Category


The Latest from Matt Whitney

The Painting as of 12.21

Watch an exclusive interview with Matt Whitney as he discusses some of his reflection on his Advent piece, “Yesterday, Today, Forever.”


I completed the Advent Art this past Sunday, right on schedule! Truth be told, I cheated a little bit – coming in throughout the week and working on it unscheduled. I reworked parts of the painting, adding abstracted swaths and halos of color. I layered a lighter paint over the darker parts, evoking images of stars layered in the sky. If you look carefully enough, these dark sections of the canvas are in a way brighter and more vivid than the lighter values. I invite you to get close to the painting, and to find those layers of paint and look closely at the sections where the paint is carved, grooved, and scratched. The overall composition is good to experience as a whole, but my favorite parts of the painting are very small sections, such as the white paint sparsely scraped over the dark areas around the angel. Or the dark halo that stretches across the center and right canvases, where the surface of the sky appears to collapse into an unknown space.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend sent me this link to an Advent Calendar comprised of Hubble Telescope images. Space images like these completely blow my mind: these stunning scenes of black holes swallowing time, nebulas exploding with unbelievable spectrums of color, stars in array by the millions and billions. You can’t deny their beauty, and their sense of total order amidst what rationally seems to us as vast chaos. The other mind-blowing aspect of these images is that, due to the speed of light, what we see in these images has taken millions or even billions of years to reach the Earth. Our eyes are seeing today in these images scenes of the universe that occurred billions of years ago.

I love that these images are assembled as an Advent calendar! The experience of these pictures in the context of Advent is the experience I am trying to convey in the artwork. My images are akin to caveman drawings of these. Honestly, what better visual of Advent season than that of an exploding nebula that took a million years to reach our eyes today? Or a black hole that distorts and reshapes space and time as we know it? For me these really bring the concept of Advent into a new clarity. In God’s perfect timing, these beautiful cosmic events took billions of years to reach our eyes. So also we wait for Christ to return in His perfect timing, in a way that we can’t begin to describe or fathom, except that it will be good and will restore us. The first time, Christ came as a small helpless baby in a humble manger. The Kingdom of Heaven surprises us and sometimes confounds us. Yet while we wait, glimpses of glory are revealed as we wait and listen, not with our ears but with our souls. Beauty and Truth are made visible by our Maker through the colors of a star burst, a conversation overheard on the sidewalk, a song we hear performed, a perfectly formed ring of a galaxy, or a painting we encounter and experience.


Waiting for Glimpses of Glory

Advent Art as of Dec. 9Matt Whitney’s Painting as of Dec. 9. Here’s what he says:

I finished the under-painting of the Advent art this past Sunday, working at all three morning services, as well as with the Sunday School kids at 5 pm. Up to this point I have been using acrylic paint, which is fast drying, to sketch out the composition, define values (where there is light and dark), and create a textured surface above the cotton canvas. From here, I will start working in oil paint – covering the canvas and all the under-painted sections with a new layer of paint. Color will become more luminous and the texture crustier and scratched. I added the figure on the left, a lady waiting for the bus, modeled after a friend.  I wanted this figure to have a more realistic look, in contrast with the abstracted elements of the painting.

I want to reflect a little about this figure because the imagery is very personal to me, and George’s sermon really brings some depth to its purpose.  This lady is waiting at a bus stop. People tease me because of the Metro buses that appear in my work from time to time. It’s a well-known fact among my friends that I am a public transit fan. I ride the bus around town pretty frequently – to work, to the studio, and sometimes to church. My first experience of riding the bus was one of necessity rather than choice – my first job out of college was downtown, and my choices were either to ride the bus or pay $125 dollars a month in parking. Do you ever ride the bus? I will say that most of the time it takes twice or sometimes three times as long to get where you’re going, compared with driving.

I am telling you this because riding the bus forces me to wait.  It’s in these waiting moments that I seem to have glimpses of glory – kind deeds done amongst strangers crammed into an overcrowded bus, catching a sunset over the Ballard Locks, or the seemingly random flourishes of inspiration that strike me when my mind wanders. Spaces between immanence and transcendence are revealed. I have a heightened sense of spiritual awareness when I ride the bus – such an unlikely place for this to happen!

Back to George’s sermon…  He points out that in Advent we are reminded to wait and listen for God’s glory, that this glory is so great that on the surface we don’t even know to want it. The text from Hebrews, Chapter 2 says, “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” Riding the bus causes me to pay more careful attention. So does art in, perhaps, its most definable purpose! Art is made because someone is trying to pay more careful attention, and likewise viewing and experiencing art is also about trying to pay more careful attention.

In his sermon, George talked about those moments when we slow ourselves down and listen, and perhaps catch an occasional glimpse of glory. I would summarize the Advent art in this way. The narrative is of a figure at a bus stop. The Advent Star blazes in glory above a darkened city skyline. To the right, an abstracted angel bursts forth, trumpeting the return of Christ. These are not things that we “see” with our eyes, but they are things we know to be true, and when we slow down and “listen,” we can occasionally sense and know it. I put the words “see” and “listen” in quotations because our five senses may aid us in recognizing glory, but our greater reality is something we experience outside of these senses. It’s something larger than I can really define or fully explain. As George said, we don’t necessarily “see” Christ in his throne, seated in Glory, but we can “behold” the Glory. We listen for God, but we don’t necessarily use our ears. However, hearing a particular song can point one towards God, through the music. In the same way, art uses visual images (usually) that can point to a greater truth. You can point to the star, and the skyline, and the angel, and recognize those objects, but taken collectively and experienced, my hope and prayer is that the greater truth is made known.


Westward Leading, Still Proceeding…

From Matt Whitney…

Yesterday Today Forever

Matt’s painting as of December 1

Tuesday was a slamming day for me. I stayed home in the morning to watch my baby son Grey. Once the babysitter came to relieve me, it was off to get a van, transport art to a photographer for a photo shoot, returning the van, delivering a sold painting, quick dinner at a Mexican restaurant with my family, then off to UPC. I was invited by Jon Epps to share with friends at Convergence a short witness and description of the Advent Project. I spoke to the concept of Incarnation in my work. As the Word was made Flesh, and as we were made in His Image at the Creation, I described that humans have a little bit of that inherent need to create in us, and that’s part of what makes art important in the world. I also spoke to concepts of Grace and Truth in my work, and that though we dwell in a dark world and are ourselves wholly broken, we are made wholly good by the work of Christ on our behalf. Thus, my images don’t always comfort; but they always point to Hope and Truth.

As I reflect on the season, heeding the call that Tim Snow gave during his sermon to “live awake” during Advent, my desire to see the world fully restored becomes much more acute.  I’m not going to dance around it: it’s been a dark couple of months here in Seattle. My neighborhood was plagued with arsons, a Seattle police officer was murdered, and then the horrible attack on the four police officers in Lakewood this past Sunday morning. Just senseless acts of evil that shake us to our core and make us cry out in pain and agony for the world. As Tim said, we long for Jesus to make us whole. The Advent painting is a contemplation of this longing. The painted image of the star over the city is one we cannot see but represents that ultimate truth that God is with us now, as he was 2000 years ago. The hope of the Advent star still resonates in our souls today, guiding us to that perfect light.

After the witness, I went to paint at the Inn. As I was setting up my materials, I realized I had forgotten my brushes at my studio. I can guarantee that in all the rushing back and forth between Church, Home, and Studio, I will always forget something at one of those places! So I find myself with no brushes, but I did have my palette knifes, so I painted with those. I spent some time on the stars in the painting, adding texture with heavily applied acrylic paint. Then I sat back and listened for a while. This is part of the painting process – I do some painting, stop to listen to what is happening in the artwork, and adjust. As I listened, the Inn Worship Team was singing O Come, O Come Emmanuel, which was being performed in an epic, haunting melody (Sufjan Stevens does an incredible version of this song).  I love when artists take a familiar song and perform it with a new voice; a new authenticity to make it relevant and real for us today. With this on my heart, I began working on the angel. I want the angel to appear a little bit terrible; a little bit haunting; there to announce Christ’s triumph over death, then now and forever.

Back to not having brushes: the knives I was using are great for creating nice textures, but are clumsy at shape and line. For the first time I can remember, I finger painted. I have an artist friend who does this; smearing and smudging with her fingers, the palm of her hand, the flat of her wrist. It is a fascinating process. I figured if she can make that work, then so can I.

I’m pleased with the progress in our first week. I was buoyed and strengthened by the encouragement I received from people while I painted. One gentleman told me he would pray for inspiration. Several others told me how excited they were to see the painting take shape and come into being. Parents helped their curious children by explaining some of the imagery and its meanings.  I’m finding that this is no longer just my painting – it belongs to the community of believers and witnesses that are all now participating in its creation. We all are experiencing the making and unfolding of the image together and are sharing in the process. This is fascinating to me and I really love this.


Painting Photos Uploaded

Matt began his Advent painting tonight at the evening services at UPC. The feeling in the room was electric. Matt painted and chatted with people who stopped to watch or passed by. Make sure you catch Matt in action sometime this advent. Check out Matt’s progress from tonight by clicking on the link below.

Click here to see the rest of the pictures



From the Pen of the Artist: Entry IV

So, this is not the most traditional Advent image. There are no Christmas trees or manger scenes playing out. No religious iconography in a traditional sense. UPC has allowed me to meditate on the sermon themes and to come up with my own imagery, as opposed to commissioning something specific. We use and are comforted by the rich tradition of artworks and images that past believers have created. However, Christ tells us in Mark 2:22 that “no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the wine would burst the wineskins, and the wine and the skins would both be lost. New wine calls for new wineskins.” I believe that our tradition helps us, but that faith must be examined and reexamined anew in each of our lives, and thus it is proper and necessary to create new imagery and new artwork that reflects this. God spoke to believers in Christ’s time, in the early Christian period, Medieval times, the Renaissance, and He speaks today to us. It’s New Wine for us to drink, so let’s together find some new wineskins to put it in so we can share it with others in genuineness and authenticity.

by Matt Whitney


From the Pen of the Artist: Entry III


Matt Whitney's water color concept of the painting he will be doing through advent at UPC.


Back to the watercolor sketch. I’ll try to describe a little bit of it here for you. The Advent Sermon theme is “Yesterday, Today, Forever.” In thinking on this, I try to comprehend them as one and the same, not thinking about them too much in a linear fashion but as a grander reality. Similar to how the Holy Trinity is God in Three Persons, sometimes its hard to wrap my brain around, but when I just allow myself to accept that it’s bigger than I can possibly understand, it becomes a beautiful freedom. You’ll see some familiar Advent imagery, but rearranged to provide deeper context and meaning; thus, the large star in the middle of the piece, overlooking our city. There are some abstract elements that may not be apparent in the image, but they serve to obscure or divide the space between the star and our reality. Nevertheless, the star is big and is the focal point of the piece. On the left, people are waiting for a bus. Perhaps they are slowing to listen and be attentive, perhaps not. The female figure in the foreground has a handbag that contains an iconic image of the Christ Child (idealizing the past, or wanting to contain the definition of Kingdom). On the right is the Angel of the Fifth Trumpet from Revelation. It is an image of the Biblical future, which was revealed in our past. Thus completing the narrative of the artwork.

by Matt Whitney


From the Pen of the Artist: Entry II

I believe that art, like music, is a creative expression of our praise and adoration of God, and thus is meant to be worship. My sincerest hope is that you will thus have an intimate engagement with the artwork as it takes shape, as well as with the finished piece. This whole thing may seem new and strange to you, and that’s OK. It’s certainly strange to me! I am a shy and introverted person, myself. If I allowed my fears to dictate my actions, I would probably much rather just make this painting in isolation in my studio. But God calls us into community, and if in sharing my process with you a new window into worship is created, then a good thing has happened. My prayer is that the images I create and the process of its making will be such a window into which you can also worship and experience God.

by Matt Whitney

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