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Icons to be featured at UNM-LA

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By Special to the Monitor

Ancient meets modern in “Icons: Windows on Eternity,” an exhibit of icons painted in the traditional style by Los Alamos artists. The exhibit is on display through May 5 in the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos Library. There will be an opening reception for the show from 5-7 p.m. Thursday. The opening will include a gallery talk by Father John Hennies of Saint Dimitri Orthodox Church on the history and religious significance of icons. The talk will begin around 5:30 p.m. Refreshments will be served. This event is free and open to the public.The painters featured in the exhibit are part of a group of 12 artists who meet weekly to paint icons on Monday and Thursday evenings. The group began meeting is a result of a weeklong class taught by Shelly Riebe in 2005. Riebe wanted to share her love of icon painting with others. Each student produced an icon during the class.The passion to create icons took hold with some students and they continue to meet and paint. The group includes UNM-LA faculty member Maryjane Giesler. Giesler is currently working on her seventh icon.“The face is the most difficult part,” Giesler said. “The life of the icon is in the face.”The icons in the show are painted in the traditional style, handed down for generations in Greece, Russia and other places where the Greek and Russian Orthodox Church have preserved the tradition. An icon consists of around 70 layers of paint, numerous egg washes and a layer of varnish, meticulously applied to the design. Twenty-four karat gold is pressed into a layer of clay to create the gleaming halos that typify icon design. The special look of an icon makes the lengthy process worthwhile, Giesler said.Icons always depict saints or the Madonna. The designs are traditional and follow a stylized form. In some places, the colors are predetermined and have symbolic significance.In Orthodox tradition, monks paint icons; they spend years perfecting their technique. A monk might spend a decade copying masters before creating his own icons. Since coming to the West, the tradition of icon painting has been taken up by people of other religions, including women. Classes teaching the technique have become popular. Painters feel a deep religious connection to the creation of an icon, Giesler said. It’s not simply an act of artist creation, it’s a spiritual act.Painters in the current show include: Shelley Riebe, Maryjane Giesler, Toni Rogers, Sherie Trottier, Pam Paine, Isabel Cummings, Jessie G. Valdez, Katrina Rupprecht, Ken Neble and Lisa Brenner.