(this was my primary project of the 1990’s)
This series of essays and paintings is an attempt to explore some of the religions of the world from the perspective of an artist. When I look at religious structures, I view them as attempts to form order out of the parts of our existence and create a sense of purpose and direction in our lives.
My motivation in creating this series is primarily self-education and the need I feel to find more meaning and direction in my own life. In the post-industrial world the true guidance of religion has been largely supplanted by economic designs that may or may not pay lip service to religion. Most of our lives are guided down a path of consumption and careers that form the purpose of our lives. It is my intent in these essays and paintings to study alternative ways of designing our relationships from many cultural sources.
The content of the essays focus on the foundation history of the religions and the basic moral and ethical teachings of the faith. It is not my intent to investigate the many variations, factions, and directions that these basic religions have spawned over the centuries.
The series includes Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Baha’i, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, the Dreaming Religion of Aboriginal Australia, Inuit Spiritualism, Hopi Religion, and Ifa Divination of the Yoruba of West Africa. The Designs of Faith Project was begun in 1992 and completed in 1998.
My research approach to each religion begins with reading the basic religious writings of the faith if they are available. I then read a sampling of both the scholarly and spiritual writings on the religion as well. After taking extensive notes, the framework of the essay evolves in my mind and the writing begins. Early drafts of the essay were reviewed by two individuals who have been my valued friends and critics for many years, Tom Hansen and Legia Spicer.
The completed essay and research experience form the beginning of the visual inspiration for the canvas. Additional research is done on the artistic tradition of the faith, stimulating many possible solutions on how to express my ideas in the language of design. I then execute an initial 19 ½” X 16 ½” watercolor study, working on five separate pieces of paper to prepare myself for the five section quintych canvas. A second study of the same size is sometimes produced, working out the various inadequacies and problems of the first. I then move on to the production of the 92” X 79” five sectioned canvases, done with textural acrylic. I have also produced a statement of symbolism and sources for each painting to give interested viewers information on the evolution of the imagery of the quintych.
I would like to be clear in that I, in no way, see this study as being definitive. Each of the religions covered in the essays and paintings is tremendously complex with an abundance of variations that have grown from the foundation. People approach these religions from many different perspectives and for many different reasons. Their experiences are certainly no less valid than mine.
Designs of Faith has been the most thought-provoking and enjoyable of any of the research-based projects I have undertaken in the past eighteen years. I hope I can share some of this enjoyment and appreciation with others.
Mark W. McGinnis 1998
Addendum: In this current published edition of the project, some fifteen years after its completion, the paintings published are of the preliminary watercolor studies for the quintychs. My reason for this choice is the better graphic qualities of the studies. The large scale canvases with their textural and reflective surfaces do not reproduce as well. The essays in this publication have also had the good fortune of a fresh editing by Professor Elton Hall.
Mark W. McGinnis 2013
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The 100 paintings in this book are based on haiku poems by Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828), who is considered to be one of the four greatest masters of the Japanese haiku tradition. Issa’s short poems explore nearly all aspects of human experience with delightful brevity. In my selection of poems for this project I favored those that had qualities I knew I would enjoy translating to visual form. The poems were translated from Japanese by David G. Lanoue of Xavier University of Louisiana and were used with his permission.
The works are painted with acrylic (mostly Golden Fluid Acrylics) on paper (300 lb. Fabriano Artistico soft press). The originals are 8” X 8”.
A number of the haikus I chose might be viewed as being melancholy — dealing with topics such as death and loss. What appeals to me in these poems is the clear sense of acceptance and non-resistance. These are qualities that I find (as I grow older) to be of importance for living a life of contentment. The paintings were a joy for me to create. My hope is that they will also be a joy for you.
Mark W. McGinnis
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(note: It does seem a strange time of the year to be writing on this topic but a request for input came from my Unitarian/Universalist Fellowship and the following is the result)
For some time I have labeled myself as a naturalist, using the term in a bit larger sense than some have in the past. I believe all, from the largest to the smallest, is a natural process — from the unfolding of the universe, or universes, to the organization of sub atomic particles and waves and everything in between. Nothing is SUPERnatural. Human beings, as a small but interesting piece of this vast natural cosmos, are limited creatures. We are limited physically, mentally, and yes, even creatively we are limited. There is no way we can expect to have anywhere near a complete understanding of this system of which we are a part. It is a noble undertaking to try to expand our understanding, and I revel in my small endeavors and greatly admire those who have added so much in the past several centuries. But I do believe that what we can understand can only be done so within our natural limitations.
It is a very common wish of human beings to want to fill this very uncomfortable gap in our understanding. God or gods have performed this task ably since consciousness evolved in our species. Theism can be used to fill in all unknowns and justify any social and moral structure desired by those in power.
In my view of naturalism I see great beauty, inspiration, creation, destruction, and unending change. It would be very easy to deify this process, but I feel it would be just one more comforting illusion. I can live with the understanding that there is much that I do not know and I cannot know. I have come to accept that my form of naturalism is atheistic. I do not believe in any form of god. But I do believe in this glorious unfolding process of which I get to play my role — so tiny, but oh so important to me.
Belief in a deity can offer many kinds of support to an individual and a society. For those who wish to follow a theistic understanding of life, I can only hope they do not wish to force their way on others. Theism in all its many forms has imposed many blessings and sufferings on the people of this little planet. I hope that in the future we see more of the blessings.
In early April we took a day drive through the Sawtooth mountains in West-Central Idaho. It was a glorious day with breathtaking views and mild shirtsleeve weather. I took an abundance of pictures and back at my studio used them as inspiration for a series of black ink paintings shown to you below.
This is the fourth paintings in a series of works expressing the great variety of the Snake River Basin that includes most of Idaho and extends into sections of Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Oregon, and Washington. The painting is done on seventeen Claybord panels and painted with Golden Fluid acrylics. The size is approximately 70″ X 50″. It was done in 2012.
This is the third paintings in a series of works expressing the great variety of the Snake River Basin that includes most of Idaho and extends into sections of Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Oregon, and Washington. The painting is done on eleven Claybord panels and painted with Golden Fluid acrylics. The size is approximately 72″ X 50″. It was done in 2012.
This is the second paintings in a series of works expressing the great variety of the Snake River Basin that includes most of Idaho and extends into sections of Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Oregon, and Washington. The painting is done on eight Claybord panels and painted with Golden Fluid acrylics. The size is approximately 72″ X 48″. It was done in 2011.
This is the first paintings in a series of works expressing the great variety of the Snake River Basin that includes most of Idaho and extends into sections of Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Oregon, and Washington. The painting is done on nine Claybord panels and painted with Golden Fluid acrylics. The size is approximately 68″ X 68″. It was done in 2011.