Icons in The American Style is an exhibition of icons in the developing contemporary American style. The emerging American style can be differentiated from that of the Greek or Russian in a number of ways. Deborah Sokolove has said that the style is known by “a distinct brightness, clarity, simplification of form and a crispness of line making.”
The medium used to paint may not be the traditional egg tempera, but acrylic. In addition to these visual differences, the subject matter one finds in the work of American iconographers may differ from the traditional list of subjects depicted in Orthodox iconography. Peter Pearson’s icons show the influence of the Russian style of icon writing where as the icons of Thomas Xenakis represent the Greek.
Alexandra Sherman, Curator
Peter Pearson has practiced iconography for over forty years. Pearson spent fifteen years studying on his own until 1984, when he began to study under a number of well known iconographers with backgrounds varying from the Russian tradition to the Greek. Pearson’s icons can be found in numerous private collections, churches and institutions around the world. In addition to his work as a priest he teaches courses, workshops and retreats throughout the U.S. where his students learn not only the technical aspects of creating icons but the spiritual. He encourages his students to treat each brush-stroke as an offering to God.
Since most of my life has been spent in the areas of art and faith, it is sometimes difficult to separate the two. Finding icon painting when I was twelve has provided the perfect blend of those two passions in my life and has charted the journey that is my life since that day. There was a great deal to learn and there remains a great deal more but step by step the work progresses along with my journey towards God. Above all, my desire is to serve through the images that I create. Father Abraham, a sage Russian monk, was recently quoted in the April 2009 issue of National Geographic as saying that when people look at an icon, a good icon should make them want to pray. Icons should come out of prayer and lead people back into prayer. Ultimately the best icons do not draw attention to themselves but to God, the origin and object of every prayer. So the work of a faithful iconographer is not about anything other than creating an image that will invite and facilitate the movement toward God in the hearts of every believer that passes before these images of faith. As an iconographer, this is my aim.
Thomas Xenakis began writing icons in 1987. In 1994 he traveled to Greece to the Holy Mount Athos, considered the center of Eastern Orthodox monasticism where he studied the theology and techniques of the Greek style of icon writing. Xenakis says of icons:The contemplative time during the painting of the icon is most important for me. I do not allow the product to overwhelm and pressure the process… I paint only about 8 -10 icons a year, I enjoy that. I want the traditional media and techniques from the early Christina periods and the Byzantine era to be part of all my creative work, secular and sacred. Although I use the traditional methods, the iconography I humbly present is different in its look, somewhat more modern…Xenakis has works in many private, corporate and museum collections and exhibits on a regular basis. He currently teaches at the Corcoran College of Art and Design, Georgetown University and Marymount University.
The contemplative time during the painting of the icon is most important for me. I do not allow the product to overwhelm and pressure the process of the making. I paint only about 8-10 icons a year. I enjoy that. I want the traditional media and techniques from the early Christian periods and the Byzantine era to be part of all my creative work, secular and sacred. Although I use traditional methods, the iconography I humbly present is different in its look, somewhat more modern, and possibly “American” in style. The visual language is old but the context is new in the face of an evolving appreciation of the holy image. The comfort and peace I glean in the writing of an icon transcends definition.