I am trying to figure out how the writer reads art and is able to distinguish between expressions of faith and aesthetic concerns. It seems that he doesn’t like the obvious Christian iconography in a work, but then if it’s subtle, it’s good because it’s no longer primarily expressive of faith, but rather aesthetic or some other philosophical concern.
That most of the works in the show are bound up in outdated, illustrative and technical clichés should not necessarily be taken as an indictment of Christian faith as an artistic motivation. But in the show’s best works, you may find a different kind of ambition overriding the Christian purpose.
Two of the most impressive happen to be large collages. One by Mary Fielding McCleary, "Allegory of the Senses," pictures a family – father, mother, son and dog – in the living room of a suburban home. From a distance it looks as if it were vigorously painted in a Magic Realist style. Up close, you discover that it is made entirely of little bits and pieces of things, like string, rope, glitter, foil, sticks, nails, glass and painted toothpicks. Toy google eyes and used pencil stubs also punctuate the surface.
The technique creates an optical and tactile vividness bordering on the hallucinogenic. You may feel as if you are seeing through the eyes of a teenager who just came home from an evening of mind-bending pharmaceutical recreation. That the family is Christian, evidenced by a book on a foreground table open to pictures of Jesus, as well as by other symbols, makes the situation seem even more charged.
Anita Breitenberg Naylor’s collage "Revelation 3:5" resembles a Hindu or Buddhist mandala. On a diamond-shaped panel four feet square, Ms. Naylor has glued innumerable small images of Jesus, flowers and architectural elements cut from books or magazines. The effect is kaleidoscopic and mesmerizing.
What you feel more strongly than Christian faith animating the works of both Ms. McCleary and Ms. Naylor is a spirit that you might call Nietzschean – that is, a drive to play out the formal, technical and metaphorical terms of their projects as extremely as possible, without regard for orthodox limitations.