Making Psalms

By Nicora Gangi

My only objective is to paint a Christ so moving that those who see him will be converted.
—George Rouault

A God who lets us prove his existence would be an idol.
—Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Pondering the weighty parameters suggested above, I embark on the task of creating Scripture-inspired collages with no small amount of trepidation. Yielding to the process and to the Holy Spirit’s guidance, the hope is that my participation in this act of making will bear witness in a visible form to the love and character of the Divine.

Psalm18

 

In preparation, I turn—these days—to the Psalms for a time of concerted reading, study, and meditation. Focusing all my attention on the passage at hand, I read it through multiple times to determine the intent, timbre, and emotional overtones within the passage. Does it exude exuberant praise?—Praise to the Lord; sing to the Lord a new song (Ps. 149:1). Deep lamentation—How long, O Lord, will you forget me forever? (Ps. 13:1). A plea for justice?—Vindicate me, O God, and plead my case against an ungodly nation (Ps. 43:1). Or sheer awe at God’s mighty power?—He bowed the heavens also and came with thick darkness under his feet (Ps. 18:9).

Gangi.1A while ago, after some years of painting, I discovered that I experience the phenomenon known as synesthesia, whereby I see colors associated with words, numbers, and music. In studying the Psalms, I recognized that certain words appear darker and cooler, while others are brighter and warmer. As I reflect on the various words or phrases, I am prompted by those which yield for me a deeper understanding of the Trinity or perhaps the plight of mankind. As I jot these words and phrases, I note the colors prompted by each as well as the placement, directional surges, and contrasting values which suggest themselves.

Once I’ve sketched the colors of the entire psalm, I head to the drawer in my studio which contains collected magazine images, some already sorted by color and others by texture, and then begin placing these collage pieces on my sketchpad. Keeping the color notations close at hand on a page just above my working surface and the passage of Scripture open right next to me, I prayerfully rest on the Holy Spirit’s guidance as I search the drawer for the appropriate colors and textures to correspond with each phrase in the passage to convey its intent.

Gangi - PsalmGenerally, I don’t fall back on traditional or iconic Christian symbolism, as my hope is to view and reveal Scripture in a way that reflects how God has uniquely gifted and spoken to, and speaks through, me. During every step of the process, I am aware of God reminding me of his love, salvation, redemption, and restoration. In his book The Songs of Jesus, Timothy Keller reminds us of the importance of studying the Psalms as a vehicle for understanding Jesus:

There is every reason to assume that Jesus would have sung all the psalms, constantly, throughout his life, so that he knew them by heart. It is the book of the Bible that he quotes more than any other. But the psalms were not simply sung by Jesus; they are also about Jesus.[1]

I pray that these completed collages will reflect “deep calling to deep” (Ps. 42:7) to reveal and engender a closer bond between our Creator and his Creation, as we seek to reflect him by our participation in the Divine here on earth.

[1]Timothy Keller, Songs of Jesus (New York: Viking Press, 2015), 42.


Nicora Gangi earned her B.F.A. (1974) and M.F.A. (1976) from Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York. She served as professor of Art at Syracuse University for 29 years and has received many notable awards. Ms. Gangi was also the recipient of many grants, including the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Award. She is currently represented by the Bender Gallery in Asheville, North Carolina and the LM Gallery in Saratoga, Wyoming.