Contemporary artist, Mary Jane Miller, carries on the ancient tradition of icon painting, applying the same traditions and rules to her work as did the icon painters of old. As tradition dictates, her paintings are on wood panels, and her medium is egg tempera. Egg yolk mixed with earth pigment and water, sometimes adding a small amount of vinegar as a preservative make up the recipe for egg tempera.There is nothing I have experienced as an artist as wonderful and intimate as painting with egg tempera.
Moving small particles of sand around with a brush to create divine image is exhilarating. The iconographer shows almost no concern for true perspective, giving everything in the picture a flat appearance. The flesh is rendered in shapes and gentle graduations of tone. Standing figures at times seem to float on their tiptoes having no relationship to the ground. All facial features are serious, almost sad, expressions with no emotions. The eyes reveal the soul and the hands, service to God. The halos are not painted with egg tempera. Pure Gold is used instead, encircling the head which houses the divine knowledge and wisdom.
The icon is a link between the human and the divine.
It provides a space for the mystical encounter between the person gazing and God. It becomes a place for an appearance of Christ, the Theotokos and or some Saint—and potentially opens the heart and mind of the viewer. It creates a place of prayer. An icon is the window where the viewer participates in the event it depicts and can existentially re-creation that event mystically. Imagine this all this painted with little grains of sand and egg yolk called egg tempera.
Father Henri Nouwen says : ” Just as we are responsible for what we eat, likewise we are responsible for what we are looking at. When it is not possible to pray, we can always briefly look at an icon which is so intimately linked with the experience of love. “
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