Artist Roger Hutchison is Canon for Children’s Ministries at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Columbia, SC. In his vocation, he has been privileged to gather around the Painting Table with those experiencing grief in a diverse variety of ways—everything from temporary housing, drug addiction, job loss, and poverty to the challenges and blessings of childhood and the elderly.
Your bio mentions that you are an artist that paints with his hands. Can you tell me more about how you create your art?
Late one evening, after my family had gone to bed, I found myself sitting at my Grandmother’s old kitchen table, which we had stored upstairs in our home after she died.
I had been working on a painting for several evenings, and was getting more frustrated with it—and with myself. In a reactive—and what I now know was a moment of grace— I took my brushes, threw them into the trash and thrust my hands into the paint. I discovered what could only be described as a holy joy when I moved my fingers through the puddles of color and across the canvas. I was surprised—and blessed—by the conversation that followed. This experience of painting as prayer continued deep into the night and changed the trajectory of my life forever.
I am now an artist who paints only with my fingers.
What was ordinary became extraordinary. The same simple oak table where my Grandmother would serve us delicious meals from her garden was now my painting table . . . an altar of remembrance and healing, baptized with splashes of color and tears.
At what point in your life did you start thinking of yourself as an artist?
I am not really sure. I am still uncomfortable with that title.
How does your spirituality find expression in your art?
I am an artist. I find joy when I move my paint-covered fingers across a blank canvas that sits atop my painting table. This is the place where I go to pray. This is the place where I go to listen with my heart. This is the place where the fullness of my life settles down and I can “pay attention” to that still small voice.
Can you share a story of how creating your art expanded your awareness of God?
I was invited to travel to Newtown and Sandy Hook, Connecticut in May 2013 to paint with the children, families, and teachers at Trinity Episcopal Church in Newtown.
A third-grade girl told me she’d had a really bad day. Her painting was dark and frantic. I listened to her for a little while—then encouraged her to paint another one. The second painting was a bit more colorful. She took her two paintings and smashed them together. When she pulled them apart, the darkness had lifted . . . and she smiled. That’s when I saw light and love in her face.
I saw God.
How do you connect with divine flow when you are creating? Is it an intentional process that you can duplicate?
Painting is the way I talk to God. I find joy when I move my fingers through puddles of color and across blank canvas. I am always surprised—and blessed—by the conversation that takes place. It is never the same.
How do ideas come to you?
I approach painting as a form of prayer. I sit at my painting table for a while in silence—listening for that “still small voice.” I then begin to select my colors and enter into the process of translating my prayers into paintings. I never know what the outcome will be.
I am not a professionally trained artist. I did take a class or two in college, but I am mostly self-taught. I had tried painting with brushes, but they got in the way. Now I paint with my hands.
Simply put—I cherish the life I have been given and I searched a long time for a way to say thank you. When I sit at the painting table, I find that I am able to do
this in a way that can only be described as holy.
How do you decide which ideas to pursue?
I never begin a painting with a plan. I let the colors . . . and the silence guide me.
If you were going to teach your creative process to someone else, what would be one or two of the key things you would share?
My painting table is an actual table, but the idea of the Painting Table is more than a wooden top with four legs. It is about the invitation. It is about our sharing our own sacred stories. It is a safe and holy space where conversation, prayer, and healing can take place. The canvas, paper, and other assorted art supplies are the simple tools that help bring us together.
You do not need any artistic experience or training to be a part of the Painting Table. It is not about what your final creation looks like. It is about the transformation that takes place when you sit with others around a table for a period of time—creating, sharing, dreaming, and praying—together. And it can certainly be done in solitude, all by yourself.
It is about what happens in your heart and in your soul.
Roger, thanks for sharing your art and your heart!
Roger’s book The Painting Table: A Journal of Loss and Joy was released December 1, 2013 from Church Publishing, Inc. Find out more about Roger and his work at http://www.thepaintingtable.com.
With the Art as Worship radio show on hiatus, we’ll continue to feature artists using their written words to describe the connection between their art and their spirituality. Access the Art as Worship radio interviews on Empower Radio. Listen to an encore presentation of an artist’s interviews each Wednesday at 9am Eastern on Empower Radio. Like us on Facebook at Art as Worship, then share your art and comments. Contact Vanessa Lowry at vlowry (@) gmail.com if you would like to be a featured artist on Art as Worship. Namaste!