When I received an email from John to commission a painting of Christ Church Cathedral, I was intrigued. The majority of my commissions arise from word-of-mouth, repeat business, or my extended network, but John's email came out of the blue.
His email suggested we set up a call so I might learn the personal meaning the building held for him and what he was hoping the painting might express.
We set up the call.
During our visit I learned what one might expect—that the cathedral was a sacred space for him. Many of us share a similar sentiment regarding our own sacred spaces, but it is always special to hear the “why" behind this. I have now had the opportunity to visit Christ Church Cathedral myself and know what John described to me that day—the quiet and peace within the cathedral is striking, given it's location amidst the bustle of a busy downtown business district that never sleeps. I imagine any historic stone church in the midst of a great metropolitan would have this same sense about it, but for John, the building was more than just a peaceful haven.
John became acquainted with the church after a particularly painful season of life. He found a community of parishioners within that became like family, with pseudo parents and grandparents. This development was a surprise to him, because the church's theological tradition was a departure from his own, yet here he experienced undeniable peace, rest, and quiet. And a welcoming, loving community. Some of John's favourite memories were of the early morning quiet, at 7am. He was often alone at that time, and the morning light through the stained glass was transcendent.
We discussed the particulars of the painting. He gave me liberty to determine whether to paint an interior scene or exterior, acknowledging that an interior would likely be exceedingly challenging, given the intricacies. “But what do you prefer?" I asked. Upon teasing out of him that an interior scene would be most meaningful, I determined this is what I would do (or attempt to do). With this now established, I proceeded to ask several questions.
"The cathedral motto you mentioned—Open Minds, Open Doors, Open Hearts—would you like this included in the painting?" No, he thought not.
"Where did you sit at 7am in the morning?" Usually on the right side, mid-way along the pew, and roughly halfway back. “Would you like me to sketch you into the painting? Or anyone else?" No, he thought not. He wanted the scene to be from his perspective in the pew, as though he were sitting there looking out. A scene of quiet stillness with the divine.
I confess I've had a few commissions in my time that have terrified me. Two of my pieces, for example, are driven up and down highways across North America, affixed to the side of semi-trailers. The sheer scale of the application and public nature of these two commissions was a terror to me while working on them.
Then there was the time I was commissioned to depict the vibrant life of one whose time was cut short by cancer; the painting was a gift to a widower. I almost declined it, due to the delicate nature of the circumstance and the impossible burden to produce something so personal and meaningful that it might be treasured by a grieving family.
This commission of Christ Church Cathedral was an ask that felt equally impossible. I felt sure from the outset (as I did with those other commissions) that my failure was imminent. How on earth was I to capture a sense of peace? How was I to capture the sacred transcendence of the early morning; a scene of quiet meeting with the divine?
By now you may have guessed that John was very happy with the outcome, which was a large, 9 x 12" original. He wrote to me upon receiving it. “It is absolutely wonderful. The detail on the stained glass, lanterns and arch work - the colour - the stream of light shining in - it is truly beautiful - exactly what I wanted and an incredibly meaningful addition to my home."
This painting is now offered as a greeting card, available for purchase. Zip me an email if interested!